The route less traveled

Cal wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau went from Corporate America to a series of college football teams before resettling in Berkeley.

kiesau gameday
Jan Flatley-Feldman/File

Eight minutes.

A decent amount of time to show up before an appointment or the amount of time for a daily abs workout if you purchase videos from infomercials.

It should take you about eight minutes to read this story.

It’s 10:18 a.m. The air horn blares and practice ends. The Cal football team breaks the huddle and hustles toward the Gatorade cooler. Head coach Jeff Tedford paces slowly for his daily interview with men that hold recorders too closely to his face and ask him modified versions of the same questions. Tedford gives modified versions of his same answers.

I am motioned by media relations toward my interview subject, wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau. “Hurry,” I am told. “He has to go soon.”

So I’ve got about eight minutes.

It’s now 10:28 and the clock is running.

Like all college football coaches, eight minutes is a significant amount of time for Eric Kiesau, especially in the midst of a three-game losing streak. The preparations and film get exponentially more important when the team is winless in conference play.

So what can one learn about somebody in eight minutes? What can one learn about a man whose calling wasn’t originally football, whose mind couldn’t escape the playbook when he was trying to stabilize a wife and newborn daughter and whose outlook just seems all-together too calm and grounded for the demands of a Pac-12 college football coach?

Not the full story, of course, but one can learn about growth, maturity and risk. One can learn about wisdom, loyalty and the importance of being earnest.

That’s a lot for eight minutes. But with Eric Kiesau, eight is enough.

Eric Kiesau started in what he calls “the coat and tie route.” After graduating from Portland State in 1996 with a degree in business administration, the former college quarterback worked five years in corporate America — for a company actually called Corporate America in Portland and then Eclipse Specialties in Hollywood — after marrying his wife, Wendy, and having his first child, Tayler.

But Kiesau was a football lifer. He waterboyed for his older brother’s teams, he played through Pop Warner and high school and would eventually cap off his playing career as the starting quarterback for the Division I-AA Vikings in 1995.

The coat and tie felt heavier than the old pads. More and more pages on the legal pad had Xs, Os and offensive formations. Like many that leave the game for an extended period, Kiesau failed to shake the crack of the helmets, the medley of whistles and the post-touchdown chest bumps.

“Something was missing,” Kiesau says.

Kiesau could remain in a stable career devoid of passion about eight miles from his hometown of Glendale, Calif., or drop it all to return to the life of hitch routes, fly sweeps and skinny posts.

It was time to stand up to his emotions or fall down to the allure of a steady corporate salary.

It’s because Eric Kiesau is a loyal guy. Loyal to the only game he really knows, loyal to his colleagues, players and family. And loyalty isn’t always rewarded in the corporate world. Kiesau made the switch, and he’s unsure that he could have without his wife.

“When you become a football coach, you know what the hours are like, what the travel is like and the commitment away from your family,” Kiesau says. “You need to make sure you have an unbelievable spouse. My wife and two kids are everything to me. When you are away so much you need to rely on someone. She’s the rock.”

With his decision made, it was time Kiesau bore the brunt of an aspiring college football coach. That meant stops at Oregon, Utah State, Cal, Colorado and then in 2011, back to Berkeley. Not exactly stable, but suddenly it didn’t feel like work any longer.

And after five years in an unstable losing program under Dan Hawkins at Colorado, Kiesau returned to the team where he won the most and felt the best camaraderie.

“Coming back sometimes you don’t appreciate how good you have it until you leave,” Kiesau says. “Sometimes you remember that you were around some pretty good coaches, some pretty smart coaches and good men. When (Tedford) talked about the possibility of coming back it was a no-brainer.”

At 38, Kiesau’s track record with receivers is subtly remarkable. At Utah State, he helped mold walk-on Kevin Curtis into an All-American and third round NFL draft pick. In his first stint at Cal, he coached another All-American in Geoff McArthur and draft pick in Chase Lyman.

At Colorado, he turned another walk-on, Scotty McKnight, into the school’s all-time leading receiver.

“I try to be that stable person for them,” Kiesau says. “I coach them hard as football players, I make sure they go to class and then make sure they are making the right decisions. I educate them as much as I on the decisions they make and how it affects them as a person.”

Now in round two at Cal, Kiesau has aided the development of two blossoming professional prospects, Keenan Allen and Marvin Jones. Allen is currently leading the nation in yards per game and is third in total receiving yards. Jones has had at least five catches in every game and has had two games with over 100 receiving yards.

“He just knows how to coach,” Jones says. “He doesn’t just tell us a route. He tells us different combinations and why the quarterback reads this way. We can think like a QB out there when we see a coverage role. Overall, it’s just fun.”

Maybe it’s his knowledge, maybe it’s his measured but authoritative demeanor. But whatever Eric Kiesau does with his receivers, he makes them hungrier for success.

“We know he puts in a lot of hours, and his personality off the field is the same,” Jones says. “I know it’s taken him a long way in having that personality. That is who coach Kiesau is. That is a guy that you want to work for.”

The horn blows again and Tedford walks away from the reporters and the players gradually scuttle to go lift weights. It’s time for the coaches go to the film room for afternoon meetings. Kiesau must join.

The eight minutes are up. Sometimes, eight is enough.