Cal Basketball: An Analysis of Cal's Record in Its Hiring of Past Head Coaches
The choice of a men’s basketball coach always reflects on the person doing the hiring, which is usually the athletic director. An A.D.’s reputation is based on the hires he makes in the football and basketball programs.
The results and length of service produced by the next Bears basketball coach will, to a large degree, determine the respect the public has for current Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton, who has been on the job less than a year but has already taken the first step by firing Wyking Jones.
Let’s take a look at the Cal men’s basketball coach hirings over the past 65 years, starting in 1954, which is when Nibs Price retired after 30 years as basketball coach.
1954: Pete Newell (1954-60)
Athletic director: Brutus Hamilton
Record: 119-44, 6 seasons
Newell was coaching at Michigan State when he got a call from Hamilton telling him that Price was planning to retire and asking Newell if he was interested. Despite Michigan State’s offer to give Newell full professorship and sizable raise in an attempt to keep him, Newell took a big pay cut to come to Cal.
Newell had already won an NIT championship in 1949 while coaching at nearby University of San Francisco, but Michigan State was just 9-13 overall, including 4-10 in the Big Ten, in Newell’s final year at Michigan State in 1954 when Hamilton called him.
Newell took over a Cal team that had gone 17-7 the previous year and went 9-16, including 1-11 in the conference, in his first season.
But four years later, after steady improvement, the Bears won their only NCAA championship in 1959 and were national runnersup in 1960, losing in the finals to an Ohio State team that featured future NBA starts Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and Larry Siegfried.
The only down side of the Newell hire was that he only coached at Cal for six years before becoming athletic director following the 1960 season.
Hiring grade: A. It would have been an A-plus if Newell had remained head coach for, say, 10 years.
1960: Rene Herrerias (1960-68)
Athletic director: Greg Engelhard
Record: 92-100, 8 seasons.
Herrerias was Newell’s assistant, and Newell recommended Herrerais to be his successor. After Newell completed the 1959-60 season and announced his retirement, but before he took over as athletic director in the summer, Herrerias was named head coach, when Engelhard was still the A.D.
Herrierais had a decent overall record, but had a winning conference mark only once—8-7 in 1964—and was forced to resign in 1968 following complaints by a group of African American athletes.
Hiring grade: C-plus. The way it ended was not pleasant. It also led to Newell resigning as athletic director.
1968: Jim Padgett (1968-72)
Athletic director: Pete Newell had resigned as athletic director before Padgett was promoted to head coach, and Paul Brechler became Cal’s athletic director after Padgett was named. Chancellor Roger Heyns apparently made the call to promote Padgett from assistant coach to head coach.
Record: 52-53, 4 seasons
Padgett, who was 37 years old, had been a successful freshman coach at Cal, and his appointment as head coach was supported by the African American group that had protested actions of the previous staff.
There is something to be said for a hire that brings some harmony to the program and to the campus, but Padgett had only one winning season: 1970-71, when the Bears went 16-9 overall and 8-6 in the conference. He left following the 1971-72 season to take the head coaching job at Nevada-Reno.
Hiring grade: B-minus
1972: Dick Edwards (1972-78)
Athletic director: Dave Maggard
Record: 73-85, 6 seasons
Edwards had been a highly successful coach at Pacific, which was a Division II program until Edwards’ final season there, 1971-72, when the Tigers went 17-9 and finished second in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association. Maggard, who had been promoted from acting athletic director to athletic director in January 1972, hired Edwards.
A taskmaster who was demanding of his players, Edwards had one winning season at Cal—17-9 in 1974-75—but never had a winning Pac-8 record. He resigned less than a week after the Bears’ final game of the 1977-78 season.
Home attendance averaged 3,913 in his final season.
Hiring grade: C
1978: Dick Kuchen (1978-85)
Athletic director: Dave Maggard
Record: 80-112, 7 seasons
Kuchen was an assistant coach on the 1978 Notre Dame Final Four team that was coached by Digger Phelps and included Bill Laimbeer, Kelly Tripucka and Orlando Woolridge. After Edwards left for the Nevada-Reno job, Kuchen was hired by Cal soon after the 1978 NCAA Tournament.
Kuchen, who had never been a head coach, recruited some quality players to Cal, including Kevin Johnson, Leonard Taylor and Dave Butler, but had only one winning season—14-13 in 1981-82—and never had a winning conference record in seven seasons. Cal went 5-13 in the Pac-10 in each of his final two seasons, and he resigned under pressure following the 1984-85 season. Average home attendance was 3,224 in 1983-84 and 3,548 in his final season.
Hiring grade: D-plus
1985: Lou Campanelli (1985-93)
Athletic director: Dave Maggard
Record: 123-108, 7.5 seasons
Campanelli had been successful head coach at James Madison for 13 years, and although the Dukes were just 14-14 in his final year in 1984-85, he has gained fame for James Madison’s first-round NCAA Tournament wins in 1981 (over Georgetown), 1982 (over Ohio State) and 1983 (over West Virginia), as well as losing to eventual 1982 national champ North Carolina by two points in the second round of the 1982 tournament.
At Cal, Campanelli was able to organize and develop the existing talent in his first year to get the Bears to the NIT, Cal’s first postseason tournament since 1960. Campanelli got the Bears back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 30 years in 1990, and Cal won a first-round game over Indiana.
His biggest accomplishment, though, came on Jan. 26, 1986, in Campanelli’s first season, when Cal ended its 52-game, 25-year losing streak to UCLA.
Cal had losing seasons in 1990-91 and 1991-92, but big things were expected in 1992-93 with prized freshmen Jason Kidd and Lamond Murray joining the team. The Bears were a disappointing 10-7 when players took complaints to athletic director Bob Bockrath, leading to Campanelli’s dismissal and the elevation of Todd Bozeman to interim head coach.
Attendance rose to 5,565 per game in Campanelli’s first season at Cal, and it was up to 9,344 in 1992-93, although that was partly due to the presence of Jason Kidd and the fact that some games were played at the Oakland Coliseum.
Hiring Grade: B-plus. The messy ending could not have been foreseen when Campanelli was hired.
1993: Todd Bozeman (1993-96)
Athletic director: Bob Bockrath
Record: 63-45, 3.5 years (does not include games later forfeited because of NCAA violations)
Bozeman was appointed interim head coach after the dismissal of Campanelli 17 games into the 1992-93 season with Cal holding a 10-7 record overall and 3-4 in the Pac-10 and riding a three-game losing streak. Under Bozeman and led by Jason Kidd, Cal won nine of its final 10 regular-season games, and got into the NCAA Tournament. Bozeman, who was 29 years old and had never been a head coach, was named permanent head coach on March 17. Although Bockrath was the athletic director at the time, university administrators played a role in having Bozeman named permanent head coach.
The Bears then beat LSU and two-time defending champion Duke in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament before losing to Kansas in the Sweet 16.
Cal reached the NCAA Tournament two more times under Bozeman (1994 and 1996), but the Bears lost in the first round both times.
In August 1996, Bozeman submitted his resignation after athletic director John Kasser confirmed that Cal was under an NCAA investigation for rules violation. Bozeman was subsequently banned from college basketball for eight years after admitting to paying $30,000 to the parents of former Bears recruit Jelani Gardner.
In Bozeman’s final season average home attendance was 8,914.
Hiring Grade: C-plus. Tough call because Bozeman helped Cal to its best postseason performance since 1960 and got Cal to the NCAA Tournament two other times. He brought in outstanding players and was also Cal’s first African American head basketball coach, which is significant. But he had several off-court transgressions and ultimately was forced to resign during an NCAA investigation that led to him being expelled from coaching for eight years.
Perhaps this hiring should receive an A-minus for team performance and an F for embarrassment to the university.
1996: Ben Braun (1996-2008)
Athletic director: John Kasser
Record: 219-154, 12 years
Braun had success as Eastern Michigan’s head coach and was a hot commodity following the Eagles’ 25-6 season in 1995-96 that included a 15-point first-round NCAA Tournament win over Duke. He was lured to Cal, and his disciplined approach with the available talent helped him finish his first Cal season 25-9, including two victories in the NCAA Tournament for a Sweet 16 berth.
Cal earned four more NCAA Tournament berths under Braun, earning first-round wins in 2002 and 2003, and Braun’s Bears finished second in the conference twice and third twice. But the Bears had losing conference marks in six of his 12 seasons, and Cal went 6-12 in the Pac-10 in each of his final two seasons before being let go.
Haas Pavilion (an expansion of Harmon Gym) was completed for the start of the 1999-2000 season, and Cal averaged 10,707 in home attendance that season. Cal averaged 7,919 fans per game in Braun’s final season.
Hiring grade: B-plus. 12 years is a lot of continuity.
2008: Mike Montgomery (2008-14)
Athletic director: Sandy Barbour
Record: 130-73, 6 years
Montgomery was working as a consultant in the Stanford athletic department when he was a surprise hire by Cal, but he had a resume that included 18 highly successful seasons as Stanford’s head coach and two less than successful seasons as Golden State’s head coach. Coming from Cal’s archrival raised some eyebrows, but Montgomery produced consistent success.
Cal had a winning conference record in all six of his seasons, and won more than 20 games in five of them. The Bears claimed their first regular-season conference title since 1960 in Montgomery’s second season in Berkeley, and they earned NCAA Tournament berths four times, winning first-round games in 2010 and 2013. The Bears finished among the top 25 in the AP rankings in three of his seasons.
Montgomery was 61 when he was hired and signed a six-year contract. When the contract expired, he retired after a 21-14 season.
Cal averaged 9,423 in home attendance in 2009-10 (the season Cal won the conference title) and 7,754 in Montgomery’s final season.
Hiring grade: A
2014: Cuonzo Martin (2014-17)
Athletic director: Sandy Barbour
Record: 62-39, 3 seasons
Martin had a winning Southeastern Conference record in all three seasons as head coach at Tennessee, and the Vols reached the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 in 2014 before Martin took the job at Cal.
The Bears had winning records in all three seasons under Martin, and had winning conference marks in two of them. Cal reached the NCAA Tournament in 2016, when the Bears finished ranked No. 23, but Cal, beset by injuries, was upset in the first round by Hawaii.
The Bears went 21-13, including 10-8 in the Pac-12, in his final season of 2016-17 before he left to take the head coaching job at Missouri.
Cal averaged 8,910 in home attendance his final season.
Hiring grade: B-minus. Martin won games, but he left in a hurry in what was essentially a lateral move.
2017: Wyking Jones (2017-19)
Athletic director: Michael Williams
Record: 16-47, 2 years
Jones had never been a head coach when he was elevated to the head-coaching position at Cal after being an assistant under Martin. He had a two-year conference record of 5-31, and the Bears lost 16 games in a row at one point of the 2018-19 season. He was dismissed by new athletic director Jim Knowlton with three years left on his five-year contract.
Cal averaged 5,627 in home attendance this past season.
Hiring grade: F
Athletic director: Jim Knowlton
Hiring Grade: ?