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Don't look back in anger

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FEBRUARY 01, 2012

I bet you’re upset. Your blood is coursing bluer and golder than ever before, your righteous fury making Menelaus’ rage seem but a polite objection.

Well, stop. This recruiting freefall was the reality check: Cal has never been, and will likely never become, an elite football program.

Elite programs don’t see their signing class drop from No. 10 to No. “Who Cares?” in a span of two weeks. They also don’t base their entire recruiting strategy around one man, even if that one man seemed like the consummate Cal lifer. Remember that aphorism about the eggs? The Bears’ basket just broke, and Washington was there to catch a shiny golden orb.

On Jan. 16, Cal defensive line coach and super-recruiter Tosh Lupoi bolted north to Washington for a waterfall of cash and a rumored boat. Two weeks away from National Signing Day, the dominoes teetered.

Twitter, today’s best source for breaking news, blew up.

Five-star defensive end Aziz Shittu, then considering Cal: “WOWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!!!!!! The Game Just Changed”

Five-star defensive back Shaq Thompson, then committed to Cal: “I have A lot of thinking to do”

Four-star receiver Jordan Payton, originally committed to USC before flipping to Cal: “So i guess there tellin me i have to make grown man decisions now. So here come my GMD’s. #itstime”

Five-star defensive end Ellis McCarthy, verbally a Bear, committed to UCLA later that night. The next day, Cal wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau joined Lupoi in Seattle, becoming the Huskies’ new offensive coordinator. Thompson eventually followed, while Shittu opted for Stanford. Payton committed to Washington, then became a Bruin at the last minute. Arik Armstead, another potential Bear, headed to Eugene.

Directing your anger at 17- and 18-year-olds for basing their choice on an assistant coach is silly. Seventeen- and 18-year-olds have made and will make far stupider decisions. (Oregon’s rise was fueled in part by wacky uniforms — uniforms!) That the teenagers attached themselves more to the 30-year-old Lupoi rather than, say, head coach Jeff Tedford, says something about this program’s stature. Did big-time recruits back off Texas when defensive coordinator Will Muschamp went to Florida?

Face it: Top-shelf football talent doesn’t flock to a place like Berkeley.

Cal got star receiver DeSean Jackson in 2005 because he felt USC had taken him for granted. It lucked into star receiver Keenan Allen — originally committed to Alabama — in 2009 because he wanted to play with his brother, Zach Maynard, who transferred from Buffalo.

Shiny new facilities won’t cloak football’s place on the campus totem pole. Tedford may be the state’s highest-paid employee, but the lifetime of free parking is reserved for Nobel laureates. There’s a reason this place is more widely known as UC Berkeley.

Once in a while, someone like Aaron Rodgers will grace Cal with his presence, leading it to victories over actual juggernauts like USC. But that success is beautiful and fleeting like Halley’s Comet; when you chance upon a sighting, just thank Pappy’s ghost and soak the moment in.

You didn’t pick Cal for its football team. You came here because your parents wanted you to, because you didn’t get into the Ivies or because you fell in love with the Bay. And now, you have the nonpareil privilege of living in Berkeley, where you can hike to Tilden Park, hit up the Berkeley Rep and eat at Chez Panisse in the same day. If you’re lucky, you can even see the Golden Gate from your bedroom window.

Still mad? Walk 15 minutes from campus and you can find half a dozen yoga studios. Namaste.

Contact Jack Wang at 


FEBRUARY 03, 2012