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Cal Coaching Across Time

1916-2016, Cal Football by Coaching Eras

Stanford v California Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Cal football quietly celebrated its 100th anniversary of its football team being in a major sports conference. In 1916 Cal joined the PCC and the rest was history. Sports-Reference has information on Cal from 1916. The same year the Great War was ravaging Europe and there were only 4 teams in the PCC, and 81 college head football coaches. Remember Andy Smith? He was tapped as Cal’s HC in 1916 and served in that role until 1925.

Since then, Cal has had 20 head coaches, each with varying levels of success at Cal and length of tenure (from Jeff Tedford’s 11 years to Buck Shaw/Frank Wickhorst/Steve Mariucci 1 year tenures).

With all these head coaches and 100 years, I want to look into each era and how we can define them? How did they measure up to the greater context of other college football coaches and especially Stanfurd?

In this article I will continue to use data visualization as the main medium.

Winning Percentage

First we will look at the main thing we care about: “winning”.

After the Andy Smith era Cal suffered a great regression to the mean outside of the Pappy Waldorf era and the beginning of the Jeff Tedford era. With 20 HCs only 6 have had their mean Win Pct. above the Cal 100 year mean and over the 0.500 mark.

In the context of Stanfurd, both teams have had similar patterns, especially in the post-War and pre-1990’s era. This could be the function of the strong conference dominated by UCLA/USC. Only in the most recent history has there been a divergence in the

However, does this mean that Cal coaches have coached teams are fall right in the grand field of mediocrity?


We can see here that some of the early Cal success can be ascribed to the fact that the teams they faced were much weaker. Outside of Joe Kapp, Keith Gilbertson, and Steve Mariucci all of the post Frank Wickhorst teams had to, on average, face opponents who were above average. This reinforces our theory that some of the decline in Win Pct. could be ascribed by the increase in the difficulty of schedule. With both Cal’s and Furd’s SOS’s following the same pattern we can see that it was a conference level effect with differences being a combination of Cal having to face Furd and vice-versa as well as the OOC games.

So we can see here that there is a direct relationship between wins and difficulty, but can the decline in win pct. be ascribed to a more difficult schedule or was it also caused by a weaker Cal teams of the second half of the 20th Century.


SRS is used to measure the strength of a team using a simple metric:

uses a team's point differential and strength of schedule to assign a rating to each team, with 0.0 considered average. The difference in two teams' SRS ratings can be considered to be a point spread should they play each other, disregarding home field advantage. - Pro-Football-Reference

What we can see here is that it wasn’t just the difficulty of the schedule that lead to the overall decline in outcomes for Cal football. It was also the decline in relative quality of the Cal teams. In the Post-Waldorf era Cal has had difficulty living up to the standard set by previous teams.

However, Cal hasn’t had a problem in fielding above average teams sans the Joe Kapp/Marv Levy eras. A little solace in the fact that though we may not be remarkable as it was during the Waldorf era, we still are decent. Another note is that the worst Cal team ever was the 2013 Sonny Dykes 1-11 season, being slightly worse than the 2001 1-10 Tom Holmoe season. Sad indeed.


Here we can see how the SOS/SRS distribution looks like with a polynomial line of best fit projected over it for all teams, Cal, and Furd. What we can see here is that Cal and Furd do not follow the tail ends on the overall lines of best fit, and have much more variance in the midsections, however, if we note the confidence intervals we can see that despite the differences in the shapes of the curves there is a lot of similarity across the two schools.

The general story of Cal, and Furd is that historically we have fielded above average teams it also has had to face a tougher schedule due to the Pac-10/12 being more difficult.

Win Percentage and SRS

We can see here that the higher the win pct. the higher the SRS... duh! However, we can see how both Cal and Furd both follow similar trajectories, and in both cases to achieve the same win percentage they have to be better teams than the average college ball team.

Win Percentage and SOS

We can see here is this: Cal and Furd break the trend overall between SOS and win pct. What we can see here is that no matter how easy or hard your schedule is on paper, most of the time you’re an average team. For example Furd had both a 0.000 and 1.000 season on SOS of ~10. One would traditionally associate harder schedules with lower performance, as it is with Cal.