How Braun Rates in Cal History
I’ve been watching Cal basketball since the end of the Pete Newell era. This is how I’d evaluate the coaches since Newell:
--Rene Herrerias. A serious disappointment.
Herrerias had been a star guard (today, he’d be called a point guard, but there was no such designation then) for Newell at USF, when the Dons won the NIT title, at a time when that tournament was more highly regarded than the NCAA tournament. He was often called a “coach on the floor” because of the way he ran the game. After graduation, he became a successful high school coach in San Francisco before joining Newell as an assistant at Cal.
Newell had to leave coaching after the 1959-60 season because it was ruining his health. He was so nervous he was a chain smoker – he chewed a towel during the games, when he couldn’t smoke – and he couldn’t eat on game days. Without coaching, he’s still going strong, 46 years later.
Though Cal alumni were saddened to see Newell leave, Herrerias was regarded as the logical successor, a coach who could continue the system. But Herrerias was never able to motivate his players as Newell had, or as Rene had in high school. The pressure of following Newell may have been a factor, too. Herrerias coached Cal for eight years, two longer than Newell’s run, but finished at only 92-100. His conference record was much worse: 40-67.
--Jim Padgett. A great recruiter whose idea of coaching was basically to throw out the ball to the players.
Padgett brought in some outstanding players, such as Jackie Ridgle, Ansley Truitt, Bob Presley and Phil Chenier, all of whom later played pro ball, though Chenier was the only one who became a star. Hopes were high with those players but the results were only marginally better than with Herrerias, who never had that kind of talent. In his four seasons, Padgett’s teams were just below .500 overall, 52-53, 23-33 overall. Padgett was a very likeable man, which is why he was a good recruiter, but his coaching deficencies became obvious over time.
--Dick Edwards. A Herrerias-like disappointment because he seemed to be a good choice but never worked out.
At UOP, Edwards had been a successful coach. To this day, I don’t know what happened to him at Cal. Perhaps it was the difficulty of stepping up to a higher level of play. He definitely was challenged in recruiting. He was less successful than either Herrerias or Padgett, with an overall record of 73-85 and a conference mark of 30-54. Even worse, his teams were dreadfully dull, drawing comparisons with watching paint dry.
--Dick Kuchen, who continued the downward spiral of Cal hoops.
This was a period when Notre Dame assistant coaches were a hot item. Kuchen went to Cal, Dick DiBiaso went to Stanford. Both were personable men. Neither was a very good coach. Kuchen lasted seven years but finished with an overall records of 80-112 and a conference mark of 37-89. His winning percentages of .417 overall and .294 in conference play are the worst in Cal history, not just since Newell’s time but since the very beginning. (Technically, Todd Bozeman’s record is worse, but only because games won by Cal were forfeited because ineligible players had been in the games.)
LOU CAMPANELLI finally reversed the slide when he was named coach in 1985.
Campanelli was definitely old school. He demanded tough defense from his teams, though his offensive schemes were limited. He was tough on his players, screaming at them in the locker room when they didn’t play as they should.
His hard-driving style brought success to the Bears, starting with his first two seasons, when Cal won 19 and 20 games. His overall record of 123-108, winning percentage of .532, was easily the best since Newell. His conference record was only 64-71, but a 4-14 mark in his last full season contributed to that. But what really endured Campanelli to Cal fans was one game, the Jan. 26, 1986 game at Berkeley in which the Bears beat UCLA, 75-67, their first win over the Bruins since Herrerias’s first year.
Campanelli’s tenure ended badly. A players revolt, apparently led by Jason Kidd and encouraged by assistant Bozeman, led to Campanelli’s firing by the inept Bob Bockrath, who virtually torpedoed the entire Cal athletic program in his, mercifully, short span as athletic director. Bozeman was elevated to head coach.
Bozeman was never much of a coach but he was a great recruiter, bringing in Kidd and Lamond Murray, among others. Unfortunately, we would learn later why he was such a great recruiter.
It was an exciting period in Cal basketball. I had been following Kidd since he was a junior in high school in Alameda, having been tipped to him by Sam Spear. He remains the most exciting Cal player I’ve ever seen, capable of making plays that had Newell comparing him to Magic Johnson.
Soon, it would all come crashing down. The NCAA suspended Cal because Bozeman had reportedly paid recruits. Kidd and the class room were never close friends, and Jason stopped even pretending after the fall semester of his sophomore year; knowing he would be turning pro, he never attended a class in the spring semester.
AFTER BOZEMAN was fired, Braun was hired, and there has never been a hint of scandal in his program. He doesn’t cut corners in recruiting and his players graduate.
Overall, he’s been a success, with an overall winning percentage of .607 and a conference mark of .549. His team is in the NCAA tournament for the fifth time, and it’s made two NIT appearances, winning the tournament in 1999.
I have my problems with Braun’s coaching style which I have presented at length earlier and see no point in repeating here, but we have to be realistic. Braun’s strong points far outweigh his weak ones, for the athletic and academic administration at Cal. Though there are Cal alums who would like to see him fired, he won’t be and he shouldn’t be.
Are there better coaches out there? Yes. Would they come to Cal? Questionable. If you look back at the desert which Cal basketball has mostly been in the post-Newell era, you can see that Berkeley hasn’t exactly been a basketball Mecca, for either players or coaches.
So, maybe we should just accept what we have. It could be worse, and God knows it has been.
LETTERS: I’ve updated this section this morning. I wasn’t able to get to it yesterday because I had so many personal things going on. Now that I’m my own boss, my life sometimes interferes with my work. It used to be the other way around!
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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