The primary story of this weekend's men's IRA national rowing championships (June 3-5 at Mercer Lake in West Windsor, N.J.) is that it pits No. 1-ranked Cal, which has dominated races in the West this year, against No. 2 Yale, which has been the king pen of the East and the nation for the past several years.
However, the more interesting story is the relationship of the Cal and Yale head coaches and their ties to Cal.
The Bulldogs are coached by Steve Gladstone, the 81-year-old coaching guru who was hired at Cal 50 years ago, coached the Golden Bears for 20 years and led the Golden Bears to six national titles. He also was Cal's athletic director for three years.
The Golden Bears are coached by a man 40 years Gladstone's junior, Scott Frandsen, who was the star rower on three of the Golden Bears' national championship varsity eights under Gladstone (2000, 2001, 2002).
They remain close despite being on opposite sides of the country, but they will be fierce competitors if Sunday's varsity eight grand finals come down to a tight sprint to the finish between Cal and Yale, as many expect. They are clearly the two best varsity eights in the country, with Cal looking to win its first national championship since 2016, and Yale looking to win its fourth title in row (2017, 2018, 2019; there was no IRA nationals in 2020, and the Ivy League did not allow intercollegiate sports in 2021).
"He had a big impact on my life," Frandsen said of Gladstone. "A key figure in formative years for me. It's morphed into more of a mentor role. Even though we're competitors, this year and the last couple of years, we still chat on the phone at least once a month and go over challenges we are facing or just life in general."
The mutual respect is obvious.
"I have a very, very strong attachment to Scott," said Gladstone.
The respect and attachment started when Frandsen arrived at Cal as an athlete who seemed to be too small to operate effectively on high-level heavyweight crews.
"Right from the get-go he was driven, like a lot of guys who are not as big and powerful," said Gladstone. "And he had a burn on.
"He is intelligent, organized and a fierce competitor, and I love it. I love the fact that I was able to guide him to the extent he needed guidance. What could be more flattering than one of your great athletes deciding they want to coach."
Coaching was not immediately in Frandsen's plans. He graduated from Cal's Haas School of Business and attended Oxford for graduate work. He won a silver medal in rowing at the 2008 Olympics, and eventually embarked on a career in the lucrative field of investment banking.
Then the opportunity to be an assistant coach Cal arrived in 2012.
"It was an interesting decision," Frandsen said. "To challenge myself with the business degree I got from Berkeley and the potential for a good amount of money, maybe, or getting involved in the program and styaing involved in the sport that has been so influential and has changed my life."
He chose the less lucrative path -- coaching -- and was named the Bears' head coach in 2018.
"Most days I'm very, very grateful to be in the role I'm in," he said. "Providing that formative experience that I had. There's a lot of value there, a lot of meaning and a ot of lives impacted, hopefully."
Gladstone impacted a lot of lives while at Cal, but the biggest impact he had at Cal was as athletic director, when he hired Jeff Tedford as Cal's football coach. Tedford had not been a head coach at any level before Gladstone pegged him to lead a Cal program that had a winning record the previous eight seasons and only three winning seasons the previous 19 years. Cal had winning seasons in the first eight years under Tedford,.
Gladstone dismissed narratives of eternal failure, such as the one that suggested Cal could never have outstanding football.
"All those narratives end up simply as narratives," he said in latter stages of the video below. "The notion that something can't be done is fallacious."
The question is which coach will be offering a congratulatory handshake to the winning coach on Sunday -- the 41-year-old Cal and Oxford alumnus in his fourth year as a college head coach or the 81-year-old former Cal head coach who is seeking his 15th national championship?
Cover photo of Scott Frandsen by Michael Modlin
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