Tedford, players will pay for
previous regime’s lack of
discipline and respect
While the sanctions handed down Wednesday by the NCAA concerning Cal football bring up a whole new set of questions for next season’s team, the transgressions brought to light certainly put an exclamation point on the disaster that was Tom Holmoe’s reign over the program.
Not only did Holmoe manage to take the Bears from a bowl team to a squad that was lucky to get a last-gasp victory over hapless Rutgers to avoid a winless season in 2001. Not only did he leave the talent cupboard as bare as it gets in the Pac-10. Holmoe also had such a lack of control and respect from his players that cheating was apparently rampant under his watch.
The grading scandal that resulted in two players leaving school and a professor resigning his post was bad enough, a black mark on both the program and the university. But two bad apples and some tremendously poor judgement by a faculty member weren’t necessarily Holmoe’s fault. After all, a head coach can’t be watching his players every minute, and there’s no indication of any pressure brought to bear by the coaching staff to change grades.
But the new charges of 34 instances of extra benefits for players while staying in hotels before games are, while less scandalous, more indicative of the lack of respect Holmoe’s players had for him. That number of players doing things against the rules was likely common knowledge to the majority of the team. The fact that no one alerted Holmoe to the infractions is more than players covering for their friends; it amounts to the players thumbing their noses at the coaching staff.
Holmoe was and is, by most accounts, a nice and well-meaning fellow. But a part of any coach’s influence over players is fear: fear of losing playing time, fear of losing a scholarship, or simply the fear of getting yelled at. That fear didn’t exist with Holmoe as head coach. Being nice and being successful quite often don’t go hand-in-hand, especially in the sports world. Bear Bryant didn’t go around asking about his players’ feelings, and chances are Vince Lombardi didn’t attend poetry readings.
So now who will pay for the failures of Holmoe’s administration? The current players and coaches, that’s who. Jeff Tedford, through no fault of his own, has been handicapped as he tries to bring the Cal program back from the depths of a 1-10 season. He’ll have fewer scholarships to award in the coming years, and the probation can only hurt recruiting. Even worse, the possibility of a bowl game for this season’s seniors, none of whom has been to the postseason, has been taken away.
How will Kyle Boller and his classmates react? They’ll be playing for pride and a shot at the NFL, maybe even to avenge the embarrassment of last season. Besides, hoping for the Bears to earn a bowl bid in 2002 would have been like voting for Ralph Nader for president: you feel good for staying loyal, but you don’t actually want to see the resulting carnage.
There is a small bit of justice in the NCAA penalties. The Bears were forced to forfeit their 1999 win over Arizona State, since the two players involved in the grade scandal, wide receivers Ronnie Davenport and Michael Ainsworth, both played in the game. That drops Holmoe’s record at Cal to 15-40, fourth worst in the school’s history.
All the blame can’t be placed on Holmoe. The players involved in the infractions clearly should have known better. Then-athletic director John Kasser reportedly brushed aside the fake academic credits as “an academic issue, not an athletic issue,” and stuck with Holmoe even after it was clear the BYU graduate and NFL All-Pro was in over his head. Don’t think it’s a coincidence that Kasser resigned last year, just before it really started to hit the fan.
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