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Coaches and fan trust: A silly exercise in quantifying the unquantifiable

Or: an early analysis of the still-fresh Wyking Jones era

NCAA Basketball: St. Mary's at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve barely written a word about Cal men’s basketball since their lost week in Hawaii, because I’ve been trying to collect my thoughts.

On one hand, it feels wildly premature to make any kind of pronouncement. We’re eight games into the season and by extension just eight games into Wyking Jones’ entire tenure as a head coach in any capacity.

On the other hand, it’s been an unusually eventful quarter of a season. We’ve seen three performances (UC Riverside, Wichita State, Chaminade) that defied expectations in various directions, and a very unusual mid-season shift in the coaching staff.

I’ve been spending my time thinking about how coaching staffs build or lose trust with their fans, and how we fans absorb and react to the pieces of information we get. So I started playing a silly game with numbers in my head:

Let’s pretend that your average Pac-12 basketball hire starts with $100 worth of COACH TRUST POINTS™. A typical Pac-12 hire of a successful mid-major head coach would start with $100. Hiring hall of fame Mike Montgomery might be worth $150. Hiring Ernie Kent is probably worth $37.25.

Where you start matters. But how a coach adds or subtracts from their Trust Points fund as they move through their tenure matters more. Let’s take a look at Mike Montgomery’s years in charge of Cal basketball:

Mike Montgomery: Baseline 100 points, +60 for being a hall of fame head coach with 4 Pac-10 titles and a Final Four on his resume, -5 for inherent anti-Stanford biases, -5 for general concerns about his Golden State tenure/time away from college basketball. So, we start at 150 trust points.

  • Brings on desperation 2 star recruit to fill out a transition recruiting class: -5 trust points
  • Immediately transforms turnover prone sophomore Jerome Randle into destroyer of defenses junior Jerome Randle: +20 trust points
  • Wins first conference title in 1,000,000 years with a team built around joyous offensive basketball: +40 trust points
  • It turns out that the desperation 2 star recruit is Jorge Gutierrez: +10 trust points
  • The Gary Franklin experience: -10 trust points
  • Allen Crabbe is unleashed after the Gary Franklin experience: +10 trust points
  • Wildly disheartening collapse in the last 5 games of the 2012 season: -15 trust points
  • A bunch of marginal recruits (Emerson Murray, Bak Bak, Christian Behrens) never make much of an impact: -10 trust points
  • But turns other unheralded players like Robert Thurman and Jeff Powers (and Jorge!) into really, really valuable players in their respective roles: +10 trust points
  • Shoves Allen Crabbe: -10 trust points
  • Shoving him kinda worked? +3 trust points
  • Clearly not interested in recruiting as he approaches the twilight of his career: -10 trust points
  • At least you know he’s as clean as clean gets for Power 5 basketball recruiting: +5 points
  • Still by far the best basketball coach Cal had since Newell: + 15 trust points

Final tally: 203 trust points! That’s really high – and I would know, being that I’m the inventor of this completely arbitrary measuring stick.

So let’s play this game for our newest head coach:

Wyking Jones: Baseline 100 points, -50 for zero head coaching experience, +10 for apparently he learned a bunch under Pitino and Rick Pitino speaks highly of him, +5 for maybe he was involved in successful recruiting under Cuonzo?, -5 for do we have any particular reason to trust Mike Williams’ basketball acumen? -5 for tons of media reports that the hiring process was mismanaged and chaotic. So, we’re starting at 55 trust points.

  • Cal’s best returning player immediately transfers: -5 points
  • Cal’s best recruit immediately decommits: -10 points
  • Constructs a seemingly solid staff of assistant coaches that includes a beloved former Bear who has built an impressive resume of work with various smart NBA franchises: +20 trust points
  • Takes over in a really difficult spot and brings in a few recruits who look like they might be valuable rebuilding pieces: +10 trust points
  • Unexpectedly secures commitments from two 4-star recruits for 2018: +15 trust points
  • Has Cal involved with a local 5 star recruit: +5 points
  • Coach (Pitino) and program (Louisville) that is biggest selling point on his resume is caught up in massive, multi-year recruiting scandal: -20 trust points
  • Cal loses to UC Riverside at home: -5 trust points
  • Cal looks much improved over the next two games, then gives Wichita State a massive scare: +15 trust points
  • Cal loses to Chaminade: -10 trust points
  • By 24 points: -5 trust points
  • And in the post game presser he rips into the effort of his players and indicates that he will be completely rethinking everything: -5 trust points
  • Beloved assistant coach disappears from the bench, a week of rumors and speculations follow before Cal puts out a press release with basically zero information: -15 trust points.

If you’re adding all of that up, Coach Jones has lost 10 points off of a pretty low number entering the season, and after building up a pretty solid amount of goodwill thanks to impressive success on the recruiting trail.

Why play this contrived game? Mostly, it’s to summarize everything that’s happened and try to wrap my head around how/why I feel even more discouraged now about the Wyking Jones era than I did when it began earlier this year.

Which leads to my thesis, which I’ve danced around in podcasts in the past and will again in the future: Wyking Jones started out as head coach with significantly less trust from his fan base than any Cal coach that I can recall, and subsequent events have, in total, hurt his standing more than they have helped, and that’s a dangerous place to be even (especially?) as a first year head coach

We all know how Cal fans react when they no longer trust the direction of a program. We don’t picket our athletic director and revolt against a hiring decision. We tune out. Just two years after practically selling out of season tickets, the atmosphere at Haas has plummeted.

It’s probably not hard to figure out that I’m pessimistic about the entire situation. But I will be trying my best to not tune out*, and I’ll be rooting hard for this regime to work out, if for no other reason but that the consequences of failure for Cal basketball could be drastic.

Mostly, I’m just hoping that Wyking and his staff give Cal fans tangible reasons to stay engaged with this program. Build back up some trust points with on-court results or recruiting wins or skill development from freshmen. Anything and everything that can give me some glimmer of hope in the distance is something I’ll consider seizing upon.

*And not just because I’m hypothetically supposed to analyze this team for this website!