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December 19, 2012

Cal assistants open up about Bigelow, tight ends, Kline, and recruiting



They're all holed up in an Emeryville hotel.

Tony Franklin looks like he hasn't shaved in a few days.

Pierre Ingram just got a much-needed haircut, and a rental car. He needed a break from carpooling to and from the hotel to the stadium.

"It's kind of fun," Rob Likens says. "Reminds me of being in college."

Mark Tommerdahl takes just enough time to look up from watching cut-ups of every Cal special teams play from last year… "Yeah, that's what we do."

"That's the life of a coach," Franklin says.

Most of California head coach Sonny Dykes' still-in-the-works staff has been here almost a week. And for the most part, the Bears' only four official hires to date -- Franklin (Cal's new offensive coordinator), Ingram (running backs), Tommerdahl (special teams, inside receivers), and Likens (wide receivers, assistant head coach) -- have been living out of suitcases, subsisting on game film and airplane food.

"I got here Sunday night," Likens says. "My first day in the office was Monday, went out recruiting on Monday afternoon, then Tuesday, Wednesday, me and coach went to Texas to do some recruiting, flew from Texas to LA and did some Southern California recruiting just yesterday. This is the first day I've sat down in my office."

All of them knew they would end up wherever Dykes did, but none of them were sure it would be Berkeley.

"I wanted to come here," Franklin said. "I'm glad he picked this one over all the other places."

Now that they're here, they've got a lot of questions to answer, like...

1. How does Brendan Bigelow fit into this offense?

"You turn on the Ohio State game, you turn that on, watch just those first couple plays, and as a coach, you can turn the tape off after that. The kid has it," says Ingram, who just finished watching game and practice tape for every Bigelow snap last season. "His action was limited in games as a running back. He has so much more talent that hasn't even been put on display. This'll be so much simpler for him, we're gonna be able to put him in so many more situations to succeed."

2. What about the quarterback situation? Is there a chance Cal starts a freshman -- redshirt (Zach Kline) or true (Jared Goff) -- next season?

"We started a 17-year-old kid (at quarterback) two years ago at Louisiana Tech," Franklin says. "To me, what I tell guys, you're either a football player or you're a freshman. If you want to be a football player just come and play ball, and be a man, and compete. If you want to be a freshman, be a freshman. We're not afraid to play freshman."

3. So, are tight ends going to end up just being blockers?

"The thing about our offense, we get a bad reputation that we don't play tightends," Likens says. "At Louisiana Tech, we didn't have one. We're not going to play a tight end just to say we put a tight end on the field. If they can't help us win, we won't play one."

4. Is this offense going to work in a BCS conference, and what's the learning curve like?

"Football's football, regardless of what the geography is," Franklin says. "The transitioning of kids learning how we do what we do is based on their receptiveness, how fast they want to be good. If they think they've got all the answers, the transition is going to be a little longer. The formula: we know it works, it works every time. Just have to get these kids to believe it. Hopefully they'll buy in fast."

5. And the special teams?

"I watched the film and the punter's a young guy, but he's very fundamentally sound. And then we have a first team all-league kicker. We've got a good base here," Tommerdahl says. "As for who's on the field: It's just too important a part of the game, why wouldn't you put your best players out there, especially in a league like this? I think we have to become technique freaks. I can sit up in my office and draw up every scheme imaginable, but if we're not fundamentally sound, the schemes are useless. The margin for error in this league is paper thin, so we're going to use everybody. Almost every player on our roster will be touched on special teams, the offensive linemen, defensive linemen, every coach except the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach will be involved in coaching special teams. You're going to see middle aged men running down the field."

Before that though, they have to finish up Rivals' 27th ranked recruiting class in the country.

Two of Cal's incoming assistants have extensive experience recruiting California junior colleges: Franklin and Likens.

"Everywhere I've ever coached, I was always the California junior college recruiter on staff," Likens says. "I've been coming out here for 20 years. I usually came over here to get a quarterback. That was mainly why I came, you can always, I feel, find a good JUCO quarterback in California. High school: I haven't had any experience, but I know a lot of junior college coaches who know the high school kids. I do have some ties in that respect. The kids I was recruiting at Louisiana Tech, we're probably not going to go back and pull kids from there. The guys I knew about in the Texas area that we would've wanted at Louisiana Tech, but had no shot at them? Now that we're at Cal, now we're back in the mix."

Then there's Tommerdahl, who has been recruiting the state of Texas for 15 years, and Ingram, who was primarily responsible for Southern Louisiana (see New Orleans), and parts of Texas. He's relishing the opportunity to go against other Pac-12 recruiters on a level playing field.

"Arizona State and Arizona, we beat them on No. 1 safety last year, Lloyd Grogan," he says. "Really, we just want football players, we don't need a bunch of all-american guys, we just want guys who love playing football. Five-stars and all that stuff is great, but at the end of day, give me a great football player, and I'll show you a great football team."



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