t the end of the 59-7 Bears win, Cal head coach Jeff Tedford jogs out to the middle of the field. His movement is filled with a slight swagger, his legs carried by the type of self-assurance that only comes after one’s team has truly routed their opponent. He shakes the hand of the opposing team’s head coach, an unassuming brown-haired man with a red visor on. The camera cuts away from them and to the players, who are performing the requisite post-game ritual of hugs and back pats.
Back then, few in the crowd would have been able to guess that that losing team’s coach, the man in the red visor, would have a major role in the future of Cal football eight years down the line.
And even now, if a Cal football fan watched that video, they might not be able to ascertain who that man was, although some could conceivably make some good conjectures.
If your guess was Beau Baldwin, either because you’ve seen that very video or because you have an encyclopedic knowledge of Cal football history (or, maybe, if you’re just lucky), then you were right. And while there’s no prize for you, you can have a story. One about the trajectory, aided by a specific philosophy and demeanor, that has gotten Baldwin to where he is today.
on’t let the visor fool you. While Baldwin may look like your typical collegiate football coach, his past is more unique than most. Born in the seaside idyll of Santa Barbara, California, Baldwin eventually made his way up north to Washington for high school and college — Central Washington University, or CWU — to play quarterback.
After his career as the quarterback at CWU ended in 1993 (with the all-time highest completion record to show for it), he moved to Sweden, where he played for a season in a semi-professional league. While in Sweden, he honed his player-coach skills, having to fill the role of both offensive coordinator and quarterback simultaneously.
But his romp around Europe only lasted a year, as is the case with most college students. He returned to Washington, where he vacillated between coaching positions at CWU and at Eastern Washington. By the time he made his debut appearance against the Bears under Tedford, he had a decade and a half of coaching experience under his belt — not too bad for 37 years old.
That loss turned out to be a turning point for the Eagles, who went on to win three games in a row, ending 8-4 that season. That, however, was in the early years of Baldwin’s head coaching tenure at Eastern Washington, forming the base of an ascent that was steady and dramatic.
During his time at the helm of the Eagles, Baldwin’s record was more than impressive — from the years 2008 to 2016, he led the team to four conference titles and one FCS national championship.
“Back in 2009 we played Cal, and they got after us,” Baldwin says. “We were a good Eastern team, but not to the level we were in those last few years. And Cal was really good that year — I think at one point they were in the top five in the country, so they got us pretty good. I experienced the visitor locker room, and walking down those steps, but it’s different now.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise, then, that after all that success and time at Eastern Washington, Baldwin would eventually get an offer too good to turn down.
hat time came in January 2017. After being hired as Cal’s new head coach in January, Justin Wilcox immediately began the search for his supporting cast. And so started Baldwin’s journey to the Bay.
“He got in contact with me all within the same time frame that he was being hired here,” Baldwin says. “It was mid-January when it first happened, and it all happened really fast, within a week span.”
Although the two men had never met before, their respective professional records spoke for themselves. The more research that Baldwin did, the more his excitement grew about the prospect of coaching at Cal.
“I knew the history of Cal in terms of football and I knew the history of Cal academically, and I knew, recruiting down here, things about the Bay Area,” Baldwin says. “But I didn’t know to the level of being the No. 1 public institution in the country. That I kind of found out within the same week after I started doing the research.”
So, just two days after Cal Athletics announced that it would be bringing on Wilcox as the new head coach, Wilcox himself announced that Baldwin would join his ranks as the offensive coordinator burdened with the heavy task of revamping the Bears’ offense.
Despite the fact that he hadn’t stepped into Cal’s Memorial Stadium since 2009, Baldwin almost immediately felt at home when he returned earlier this year. While he himself attributes this to the welcoming nature of his fellow coaches and players, along with his affinity for the Bay Area, it can also be credited Baldwin’s individual nature, although he would never admit it.
Upon one’s first interaction with him, it’s apparent. And while the word might not come to mind right away, it eventually does — Baldwin is the textbook definition of gregarious.
“Beau is a very relatable guy,” says Nicholas Edwards, a former Baldwin player and now Cal’s wide receivers coach. “As a coworker, player, doesn’t matter, he has this type of vibe about him that he connects with everyone, he makes you feel wanted, he makes you feel involved.”
It’s this open rapport and willingness to not only teach, but also learn from every situation that has led to Baldwin’s success as a coach. He has an approach to the game that emphasizes working with the tools that are in front of him in order to come up with the best possible outcome. It almost reminds one of a kid placed in front of a Lego set — coming up with the best combination of blocks to build a sturdy and successful structure.
“Sometimes if you try to do the same exact thing every year it might not fit the personnel that you have,” Baldwin says. “So I tried to get a feel for who we have and I’ve been continually trying to figure out where to put our personnel so that they have the best chance at success, so that’s what we’ve been doing on offense — we’re very moldable and we’ve been working on that.”
His humble demeanor isn’t one that you would expect from a man who has so much professional experience. It’s clear that he has a huge role to play in the positive attitudes that all of his players seem to consistently exude.
The personal relationships that he is able to cultivate seem to be particularly indicative of this talent — and one of the most important ones he has established is that with his starting quarterback, Ross Bowers.
“Coach Baldwin has a connection with people right away, and as soon as Ross saw the type of guy that Beau was, he latched on really quickly,” Edwards says. “Coach Baldwin recruited (Bowers) when he was at Eastern, and so they already had a connection. Once Ross got to see who Beau was day to day, though, he immediately latched on.”
It’s clear that Bowers and Baldwin have something more than just alliteration going for them; they have an open and candid rapport that has allowed them to build an offense that, so far, has shown that it can get things done.
“Yes, I’m his coach, but at the same time, we are able to talk about things,” Baldwin says. “What are certain concepts that you like, what are certain concepts you don’t, what are things going on in the game that you hear, and you get confident.”
And that desire to understand and be understood comes, in part, from Baldwin’s own experience playing quarterback for much of his younger days. Having experienced the trials and tribulations of playing the position allows Baldwin to step back and better understand what could be going through Bowers’ head and, in turn, improve the Bears’ overall offense.
“I’m going to continue to believe in what he sees on the field, and sometimes guys who haven’t played the quarterback position sometimes don’t understand what a quarterback is having to go through or see,” Baldwin says. “So it’s fun to be able to talk with him, and I truly get it when he’s going through certain things or when he misses on certain things that the average fan might go ‘How the heck did he not see that,’ and I go, ‘Well, that’s not as easy as you think.’ ”
The relationship that Baldwin has with Bowers might be special, but it’s clear that the entire Cal football culture has changed in a similar way. It’s become more inclusive, more tight-knit — and Baldwin is undoubtedly one of the reasons for that.
“No matter what schemes we run on offense or system we run on offense or defense, you can put fancy names on those, you can put a zillion plays up, but at the end of the day giving yourself the best chance for success and to truly be a consistent program, it requires a great culture,” Baldwin says.
The openness that he has with his fellow coaches and players, the respect that he gives and receives, has helped him to shape an offense that is based off of mutual respect.
“The staff that we are working with, the staff that we are around, the people outside the football program — the people in the Berkeley community and the Bay Area are great,” Baldwin says. “And even closer-knit (are) the people that I see on a daily basis, the student athletes and coaches that I work with — I couldn’t ask for anything more in terms of the type of character that is in this building.”
on’t mistake his ease for meaning that Baldwin can’t be hard-nosed. In fact, he has quite a game-time mode. He might appear cool and collected off the field, but there’s no doubt that he himself has a place that he goes — a place that allows him to drown it all out.
“As a play-caller, he studies the game like no other,” Edwards says. “I remember a fake field goal that he called, he’d been studying that one. He said, with so much conviction, ‘We are going to score’ on a fake field goal. And the way that he looked, it didn’t look like Beau Baldwin, it looked like he was in his game-day calling mode — he just looks different on game day.”
If you watch that game back in 2009, you’ll probably recognize that game-day look, a look of intense concentration, as if nothing else in the world exists in that very moment. Maybe it’s the reason you recognized him — because that look still comes over his face when he coaches now.
And chances are, when he jogged out to the middle of the field after Cal’s most recent home win against Ole Miss, you knew exactly who he was.
Sophie Goethals is the assistant sports editor. Contact her at [email protected]