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Take my hand, we’re making a leap of faith

What is your burden of truth, and how much faith do you have left?

NCAA Basketball: Utah at California Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Today, we’re going mundane. Let’s talk about the concrete and the unknown.

(You were probably hoping for insight on Cal’s new basketball coach, right? We’ll get there eventually, I promise.)

I love the concrete. You love the concrete. When Davis Webb completes a 50 yard go route to Demetris Robertson or when Sam Singer funnels a driving guard to Kingsley Okoroh for a block and a rebound, those are discrete, concrete events. Same for when a Cal linebacker misses his gap assignment or when Cal’s offense commits another turnover.

Granted, sometimes we have trouble synthesizing a series of discrete events into a holistic measure of success and failure. That’s why we have increasingly holistic stats that are getting better and better at contextualizing those concrete individual numbers into a larger picture of team success. I can feel confident saying that Cal’s basketball defense this year was elite, or that Cal’s football offense was ‘merely’ very good. And it’s typically a fun (or at least interesting) exercise to try to analyze the what and the why surrounding these concrete measures. WHY did Cal’s football offense play well despite major personnel turnover? WHAT caused Cal’s basketball defense to shut down so many teams?

Unfortunately, for a fan that is invested in the success or failure of Cal sports, there’s a very important topic that is largely devoid of direct, concrete measures of success or failure*. Thus, we must enter the realm of the unknown. Of rumor, innuendo, and subjective guesswork.

Yes, sometimes we must talk about the Cal athletic department.

Consider, just in the past week, the following examples or conjecture, hearsay, and rumors:

  • Cuonzo Martin had been actively listening to potential suitors because he did not feel adequately supported at Cal.
  • Cal has been conducting an insular, secretive coaching search that has left certain members of the campus community feeling ignored
  • Cal has in fact included key stakeholders and everything is fine please move along move along
  • Cal has made at least one offer to a prospective candidate
  • That prospective candidate rejected Cal to avoid the circus that is Cal’s athletic department
  • No, in fact no candidate has received an offer and the search is still ongoing.
  • Cal is looking at ‘big name’ candidates
  • lol nevermind we’re hiring an internal career assistant

You get the idea.

Some people see the above and shrug it off. Any coaching search is going to be full of rumors, and most of them are going to prove to be stretching the truth at best. Those people will take everything with a grain of salt and wait to analyze the final decision.

Some people see the above and see evidence of an athletic department that could be described as (just to start) fractious, insular, and chaotic.

If I didn’t know anything about Cal’s athletic department, if I hadn’t followed coaching searches past, and wasn’t aware of various . . . issues . . . that have plagued Cal athletics over the last few years, I would strongly advocate for the first approach - patience, skepticism towards rumors, and giving Cal’s administration the benefit of the doubt.

But that’s just it. I do know about all of the various snafus and missteps, big and small. I’ve experienced many of them first hand and witnessed others from afar. So what do you think when you see a tweet like this?

In the past, I’d scoff. Two different mid-major coaches passing up on Cal? Come on, be serious. But here are things we know about Cal right now:

  1. A history of athletic department dysfunction.
  2. Two revenue sport coaches that were generally acknowledged to be looking for good landing spots elsewhere.
  3. A new chancellor with unknown priorities.
  4. A relatively new athletic director without a background in collegiate athletics.
  5. Just about the only Power 5 program in the nation NOT flush with cash thanks to a variety of factors, both structural and self-inflicted.

So, what’s your personal burden of proof? At what point do you no longer grant the athletic department the benefit of the doubt? I have no concrete facts about this coaching search. No insider knowledge. Just a series of rumors . . . and disturbingly, I find many of them plausible. How much faith do you have?

Because Cal’s athletic department has just asked you to take another leap of faith.

It is entirely possible that Wyking Jones is the right man for this job. His career is long enough and enough people have good things to say about him that we cannot dismiss the possibility that he can succeed at Cal.

But let’s be real - he is the least proven head coach Cal has hired since the fateful decision to promote Todd Bozeman in 1993. For that matter, he’s one of the least proven hires in recent conference history. Here’s a list of Pac-12 coaches that have been hired since roughly the turn of the century who didn’t have any college or professional head coaching experience upon their hire:

Johnny Dawkins (Stanford)
Steve Lavin (UCLA)
Ricardo Patton (Colorado)
Henry Bibby (USC)
Tony Bennett (Washington State)
Paul Graham (Washington State)
Mike Hopkins (Washington)
Wyking Jones (Cal)

And I’m actually being generous. Henry Bibby spent roughly a decade as a head coach in Canada’s professional league, winning two titles, and Tony Bennett was the head coach for an Australian professional team. Mike Hopkins was interim head coach for 9 games during Jim Boeheim’s suspension.

And as you can see from the list above, Wyking isn’t doomed to failure. The list runs the gamut from great (Bennett) to solid (Lavin) to eh (Bibby, Dawkins) to bad (Patton, Graham). More than anything else, the list is just very, very small. I counted 41 different coaches in the Pac-12 (including Colorado as a Big-12 team and not including Utah’s pre-power-conference years) and 33 of them had meaningful head coaching experience prior to their hire.

To bring us full circle: I have no concrete information that would allow me to say that Wyking Jones will succeed or fail. For the average fan, there’s barely any data, period. There isn’t even enough information to say that hires without prior head coaching experience are more or less likely to fail.

You’re going to have to take this one on faith. You have to hope that Wyking was involved in all of the good things that happened over the past few years, and that he knows how to fix (but wasn’t given the opportunity to address?) all of the weaknesses we saw over the last three years.

I hope you’re ready to take a leap of faith, because Oski’s holding your hand at the edge of the precipice.

*True, there’s wins and losses, the director’s cup, revenue vs. debt, etc. to judge the functioning of an athletic department. But those are rough figures heavily influenced by so many factors that may or may not be in the control of the people in charge. My point? I don’t get to watch the athletic department through the hiring process on the Pac-12 Network, and there’s no footballoutsiders equivalent that analyzes athletic directors.