After Tosh jumped ship, Cal has failed to right it

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Tosh. Pronounced: tôsh.

Noun: a traitor, someone who prioritizes money and yachts above loyalty.

Adjective: smug, brazenly self-righteous.

Verb: To double-cross someone or something.

If you were to type “Tosh” in Urban Dictionary, you’d probably come up with something like that, an angst-filled definition written by a diehard Cal fan in the heat of the moment.

Before he stabbed Oski in the back, Tosh Lupoi was Cal’s golden boy. He played on the Bears’ defensive line from 2000-05, was a graduate assistant in 2006 and 2007 and coached the defensive from 2008 until this past January.

He was a fixture in the Cal family, the conference’s youngest full-time coach and possibly a defensive coordinator down the road. Most of all, he was a fruitful ambassador to the program, the 2010 Rivals Recruiter of the Year who helped ink top-15 freshman classes in 2010 and 2011.

The 2012 class was supposed to be even better. The 2012 class was supposed to have three five-star recruits, including No. 1 safety prospect Shaq Thompson. In fact, Lupoi was at Thompson’s home the night of Jan. 15, which is rather trivial except for the fact that the next morning Lupoi resigned from Cal to accept basically the same position at Washington. It was sleazy even under the most liberal of standards.

“You’re going into your season and you see on the ESPN ticker, ‘Tosh Lupoi leaves Cal,’” said defensive end Todd Barr. “I was sitting on my couch thinking, ‘This can’t be. We would know it.’”

Officially, Lupoi is the Huskies’ defensive run game coordinator. Reportedly, Washington is paying him three times more money than before (as much as $500,000 a year, according to the Seattle Times). Rumor has it they also gave him a yacht.

When news got out — and Thompson and other top-flight recruits decommitted from UC Berkeley — the blogosphere lit up. Tosh turned his back on Cal and betrayed Jeff Tedford, fans cried.

Tedford doesn’t see it that way. He is respectful of Lupoi but does not want Friday night’s game between Cal and Washington to be about a defensive line coach.

“He’s not gonna be wearing a helmet or pads out there,” Tedford said.

Lupoi is still beloved among players, many of whom had been recruited by him and coached under him.

“I love Tosh with all my heart,” Barr said. “I can’t hate him for it.”

The players, like Barr, understand that it was a business decision that led Lupoi to leave. But they rightfully recognize the fishiness of the circumstances surrounding his departure.

Considering Lupoi essentially stood Tedford up, maybe the head coach should take it personally. As the legend goes, they were supposed to go on a recruiting trip together to the East Coast, but Lupoi never showed up. He left Tedford a voicemail midflight.

Yet maybe Lupoi was smart to jump ship. The Cal program has been down the last few years, none worse than this 2012 campaign, which will almost certainly be bowl-less. With each loss and uninspiring performance, it is becoming more and more likely that Tedford will be fired.

After ranking first in the Pac-12 last season, Cal’s 2012 defense has seemed to miss Lupoi. The defensive line, previously the strength of the unit, has been inconsistent. With injuries to the linebacking corps and questionable coaching moves in the secondary, the slack has not been picked up.

Cal’s ship is sinking — Lupoi had a lifeboat and used it. We’ll never know if Lupoi and his recruits would have been able to steer the program back to a bowl game, but he should not be a scapegoat for this underachieving season.

Jonathan Kuperberg covers football. Contact him at [email protected]

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Thompson’s home was in Seattle.