Caught amid the overhaul of Sonny Dykes’ coaching staff by incoming Cal football coach Justin Wilcox was head strength and conditioning coach Damon Harrington.
While a full cleanse of a football program’s coaches is the norm when changing leadership, some felt that Harrington’s release, reported by the San Francisco Chronicle, was overdue in light of tragic events that have plagued Cal football in the past four years.
Harrington and the rest of Cal football came under fire in 2014, when Cal defensive lineman Ted Agu — who suffered from sickle cell disease, a blood abnormality — died after a teamwide training session led by Harrington.
A lawsuit filed by Agu’s family alleged that Harrington and then-football trainer Robert Jackson were “unfit for the specific tasks to be performed during the course of their employment, namely to organize and execute a reasonably safe conditioning drill.”
The university later admitted negligence in Agu’s death and agreed to a $4.75 million settlement with his family.
Agu’s death was not Harrington’s only run-in with scrutiny while with the Bears. In 2013, events in the Cal locker room resulted in a physical confrontation between then-freshman running back Fabiano Hale and a fellow teammate.
The altercation left Hale hospitalized and concussed and led three former Cal players to speak out against Harrington, criticizing the grueling workouts he led and his alleged advocacy of violence in the locker room.
Harrington began his Cal tenure with former head coach Sonny Dykes in 2013, with both coaches transitioning to Cal from Louisiana Tech. Harrington was popular with players at Cal, leading many to take to Twitter when rumblings began of his impending release after Wilcox was hired to replace Dykes.
“Love you coach Damon!!!!!! You believed in me from the start!” tweeted sophomore wide receiver Jordan Duncan. “Never forget how you looked out for me ! Forever respect.”
Others expressed extreme discontent with the coaching change, including Cal running back Tre Watson, who tweeted, “(Harrington) not being there has me sick.”
Harrington’s contract was renewed in July despite UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ call for an investigation into Cal’s strength and conditioning program, and a report by the San Francisco Chronicle on Cal Athletics’ previous investigation — titled the “Tanji Report” — into Agu’s death and Hale’s injury.
After Cal Athletics announced Harrington’s contract renewal, campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof released a statement accrediting the renewal to the “strong backing from the leadership of Cal Athletics, as well as the unanimous support of current members of the team.”
The Tanji Report cleared Harrington and the rest of the Cal football staff of any wrongdoing after Agu’s death. The Chronicle’s June 29 report, however, alleged that the Tanji Report neither contained factual analysis of the incidents pertaining to Agu or Hale nor mentioned Harrington’s role in the incidents.
UC Berkeley will be financially responsible for the remainder of his contract through June 30 as a result of his early termination.
Chris Tril is the sports editor. Contact him at [email protected].