Dear Potential Cal coach,
The simplistic attitude that just wants Cal to win basketball games and couldn’t care less about how players are faring as students no longer has a home in Berkeley. If your idea of winning is only captured on the hardwood, thank you for your interest in the position. It is better for everyone if you just move along.
Far too many Cal basketball players have departed Berkeley with more questions than answers. As two former Cal basketball players, our initial questions first led us to graduate school at Berkeley, and then on to receive PhDs, and eventually to careers in higher education. In addition to designing and teaching college courses about sports in higher education, we have had the opportunity to view college basketball from multiple angles, many of them unflattering.
We see this current vacancy as a potential juncture to continue to raise aspirations-- as the beckoning of an opportunity to continue to push Cal basketball culture forward and further away from a legacy of murky ethics, abysmal graduation and retention rates, and an unfortunate resemblance to the wasteland that is college hoops nationally.
During the Cal vs Arizona basketball game last year, video of current players doing their best impersonation of Coach Martin aired during a timeout in Haas Pavilion. "How are you doing, how is your heart, how is your soul?" one player playfully asked, repeating the greeting that they routinely receive(d) from Coach Martin. The moment was one of many captured in clips that played during breaks in the game. It stands out as an indicator of a program attitude that considered people holistically and a team morale trending in a positive direction. Sure, the bar has been low for Cal, but nonetheless, we had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of a coach who cared about his students and as a result, saw slight improvement in the classroom.
We are all too aware of the coaches and administrators who flagrantly disregard the academic experiences and lives of the student-athletes in their programs. While profound challenges and a need for considerable progress yet remain, we see evidence that attitudes about unethical coaches and administrators who view student athletes simply as a means to a win are slowly changing. There is a growing awareness that student athletes should be academically engaged in and by their institutions, which will better enable them to grow into future leaders in a range of endeavors.
It is crucial that athletes are holistically developed. How many student athletes study abroad, hold a leadership role in an organization, complete an internship, conduct research, or participate in academic/professional enterprises outside of the classroom, etc.? Student-athletes are paid with an education, and we know that due to the constraints of a rigorous schedule, it is nearly impossible for them to fully access the rich educational opportunities that Cal offers. Therefore, it is critical that you can coach the game of basketball and return Cal to hoops royalty, but more importantly that you can support the maturation of your players into well-rounded individuals. It should be mandated that student athletes represent a wide variety of majors and fully partake in a holistic Cal education.
As a coach, you want to be held to the highest standards. We will take into account your entire body of work as it relates to how you supported the holistic development of your students. This is not the NBA, and these are first and foremost students, not simply a means to a win.So as you ponder what it would be like to lead students at our beloved alma mater, please know that we fully expect you to push the culture forward. The shadowy eras of Cal basketball have shown us where we do not want to go. Follow the light.
Martin Smith, PhD
University of California at Berkeley ‘06, ‘07
Solomon Hughes, PhD
University of California at Berkeley ‘03, ‘07