As we progress through these previews, one fact becomes increasingly clear: Justin Wilcox wants to land some dang recruits. Just look at how he’s organized his staff. What (some of) his assistants lack in experience, recent success, or star power, they make up for with an ability to bring in elite talent. Perhaps that’s something necessitated by the athletic department’s budget constraints, or perhaps it’s a direct response to Sonny Dykes’ inability to lock down local talent. Either way, if you’re a California Golden Bears fan who’s tired of losing recruiting battles to our conference rivals, you should be feeling very optimistic.
Charlie Ragle is a perfect example of this. Here’s a coach with limited college experience and not much in the way of remarkable on-field achievements. And yet, he’s coming to Cal with a three year deal. Why? Because the man can recruit.
Ragle spent the first decade of his coaching career dominating the Arizona high school football circuit. After five seasons as the defensive coordinator at Moon Valley High School in Phoenix, he moved to Scottsdale’s Chaparral HS where he reeled off three consecutive state titles as head coach. Rich Rodriguez took note of the local talent upon his arrival to Arizona in 2012, hiring Ragle as the Wildcats’ Assistant Director of Operations.
The following season, Ragle was given control of Arizona’s special teams and tight ends, a position he’s held ever since. His units’ production was unremarkable—tight ends were never a huge part of the Wildcats’ offense, and his special teams fluttered around the bottom half of the league in most statistical categories. 2016 was likely his worst season yet, as the Wildcats ranked a lackluster 123rd in kick return yardage and 107th in field goal percentage (for comparison, Cal’s anemic return game ranked 78th).
How, then, can Justin Wilcox justify giving Ragle a three-year deal? It’s simple: the man is an ace recruiter. Ragle has landed commits from Hawaii to Pennsylvania and headed up in-state recruiting on Rich Rod’s staff. He pulled down multiple top 10 recruits in their respective position groups (both offensive and defensive), and even nabbed current Denver Broncos safety Will Parks. Expect that he will be in charge a Golden Bear push into Arizona and New Mexico during the next few years.
Still though, that leaves the question of on-field performance. Nick makes the excellent point that it’s hard to evaluate Ragle based on such a small sample. In a nutshell, special teams performance is so dependent on individual players and random variance that four years as ST coach doesn’t actually provide that much information towards his abilities. And we may not learn too much more this year—Cal’s special teams players are pretty well-known commodities at this point. Matt Anderson, for example, has made between 84 and 86 percent of his field goal attempts in each of his first thee seasons.
In terms of tight ends, Ragle will be building from the ground up. As a result of Sonny Dykes’ aversion to the position, the Bears’ roster at TE is woefully thin. Ragle will have to make do with Ray Hudson and a crew of walk-ons, as well as any other players he can lure into a position change. Reinforcements will be arriving in the fall in the form of Ben Moos and Gavin Reinwald, two late-season commits who will provide depth at the position.
Though OC Beau Baldwin has stressed his commitment to using tight ends in his offense, the transition could take a year or two to unfold pending some changes to the roster. Ragle should be no stranger to this situation, as his top two tight ends at Arizona combined for just a dozen catches in 2016. And while he may be relegated to a supporting role within the offense, he’ll surely be busy looking for his next great TE on the recruiting trail.