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Monday Thoughts: Theo is back & the Chron Interviews Mike Williams

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Theo Robertson hired as assistant coach

If there is a guiding principle behind Cal’s recent hiring strategy (other than ‘we’re hugely in debt’), it can be summed up thusly:

You need to understand what makes Cal unique to succeed at Cal.

Taken more cynically, it’s like the athletic department is warning coaches before they even start: If you come here, you’re going to have to jump over twice as many hurdles for less pay than any comparable job and we’re much more interested in finding candidates that will bend for us because you know damned well Cal isn’t bending for you.

It’s not a super encouraging strategy, but it might be the only strategy we have available to us. And if that’s the way we have to go, we’re going to have to find coaches who can make that philosophy work.

Hiring Theo Robertson is a sign that Wyking Jones just might be able to pull that off.

The collection of people who are a) credible coaches with upside who b) understand the challenges of winning at Cal and c) are available and willing to come are few and far between. Theo brings with him multiple years working at Cal and multiple years working in the NBA, and his career has been on a pretty steady rise.

Was he an obvious guy to target given Cal’s stated strategy? Probably. But Wyking still had to convince him to come, had to convince Theo that it’s worth leaving the NBA because Wyking has what it takes to build a successful program.

Are there still doubts? Sure. While a young Cal alum with experience working with the Lakers and the Warriors seems like an excellent recruiter profile, we have no idea if Theo will be able to attract high end talent to Berkeley. But that was likely to be the case for almost any hire Cal was going to make.

The Chronicle interviews Mike Williams

You can find the entire thing here. It’s all pretty interesting, if a bit boiler plate in a way you’d expect. I’d like to pull a couple of specific quotes out and consider what they mean for Cal sports.

I know that there’s a feeling out there that we could have done a better job communicating with donors, and maybe that’s true. We can learn from that.

I also have no idea if this search was truly handled differently than other searches. But regardless, complaints about poor communication from the athletic department towards donors and season ticket holders have been frequent and disheartening. I hope the athletic department has the grace to fix the issue and generally improve on the perception that they have failed at keeping donors engaged, whether coaching search related or not. The short and long term future of Cal athletics depends on it.

Q: There is a perception that you promoted Jones from assistant to head men’s basketball coach because it was an inexpensive move. What do you say to that?

A: I had approval to go all the way up to what Cuonzo (Martin) was making (about $1.84 million per year). That’s one of those things that whoever is saying it is just wrong.

1.84 sounds like (and is!) lots and lots of money. But I think it’s worth noting that a quick survey of the rest of the Pac-12 reveals that a salary of 1.84 million is meaningfully more than only the following programs:

Tad Boyle (Colorado), 1.5 million/year
Ernie Kent (Washington State), 1.4 million/year
Bobby Hurley (Arizona State), 1.3 million/year

Stanford might be paying Jerod Haase less than 1.84 million (damned private schools), but everybody else in the conference is paying at least that much for their head coach, if not more. So while it’s good news that Cal apparently isn’t getting cheaper, it has to be noted that we weren’t exactly big spenders, which has something to do with why we had to have a coaching search in the first place.

Colorado appears to be getting a good deal with Tad Boyle, but I can’t say I’m comforted thinking that we’re more similar to Wazzu and ASU than Oregon or Utah.

Q: Do you expect to have to cut sports?

A: I think that our model is not sustainable. I think it’s obvious that it’s not financially sustainable. I firmly believe that we should be offering the opportunity to as many student-athletes as possible, but we’re going to have to find a way to make this model work.

This is a reasonably political answer that says ‘our hands are tied and we feel really bad about it . . . but yes.’

Which I get. But we’ve been talking about this issue for a long time, and I really feel for all of Cal’s smaller programs that have been trying to succeed under the constant fear of major cuts.

The initial task force given the responsibility of making recommendations to the chancellor was initially scheduled to finish their job in January. However, they were granted an extension and it’s unclear if there is a new deadline or not. Heck, we’ve got an entirely new chancellor now, which may or may not render much of the task force’s work less relevant. Either way, Cal is no closer to resolution for non-revenue programs or fiscal sustainability for the department as a whole.

Pac-12 NBA draft decisions

The deadline to declare for the NBA draft is still two weeks away, but with the season done most decisions have been made. Happy trails to the following Pac-12 athletes who have hired agents:

Kobi Simmons, Lauri Markkanen - Arizona
Lonzo Ball, T.J. Leaf - UCLA
Tyler Dorsey - Oregon
Markelle Fultz, Washington
Ivan Rabb, Cal

Potential happy trails to the following players who still reserve the right to return to college ball:

Chance Comanche, Arizona
Bennie Boatwright, Shaqquan Aaron, USC
Drew Eubanks, Stephen Thompson, Oregon State
Kyle Kuzma, Utah
Ike Anigbogu, Thomas Welsh, Aaron Holiday, UCLA

Many of these (Ball, Markkanen, Fultz, Rabb) were foregone conclusions. But Utah, Oregon State, and USC may get hit by some mild surprises that could significantly impact their seasons next year.

UCLA and Arizona will be fine because they both have four top 100 recruits each for next season. For that matter, seven Pac-12 teams are in the top 25 of the 247 composite team rankings for next season, which could indicate that the conference is on the upswing after a season that saw the bottom fall out of half the conference. Still, the spring signing period opens this week and will have a major impact on 2017-18 rosters of every team - so keep your eyes open for roster news around the conference over the next month.