The Way Forward for UC Davis Football
The sport of football has a rich tradition at the University of California, Davis. Aggie Football has been a part of our university since 1915, and has played a significant role in shaping the history of our athletics program and broader university identity. The football program’s streak of winning twenty consecutive Far West and Northern California Athletic Conference football championships in Division II remains a NCAA record for consecutive conference titles. The “Aggie Pride” identity that is still a central part of university culture was born during this era of unprecedented football success.
It is the strong desire of the UC Davis community to again compete at an elite level in football. We intend to perennially contend for Big Sky championships and earn berths in the FCS playoffs, with the ultimate goal of winning the FCS National Championship. Importantly, we will achieve this level of success while embodying the UC Davis Athletics core values of comprehensive scholar-athleticism, togetherness, and moral uprightness. We will win with players and coaches who are smart, tough, and love the game of football, and we will demonstrate that an academically superb public university can field an elite football team at the DI FCS level.
As we build our program for the future, there are two fundamental, non-negotiable prerequisites that must be achieved in order for us to reach and sustain the level of excellence that we seek.
- We must recruit a head coach that is an excellent fit for the tremendous opportunity of leading a new era of football at UC Davis.
- We must continue expanding donor support for our football program so we have the resources needed to create structural advantages over our competition.
This note discusses each of these important areas in detail. It is written in the spirit of being transparent and inclusive with our community, and to make clear to everyone how we are planning for the bright future of UC Davis football. We want all who are passionate about UC Davis football to be informed, engaged, and supportive, and we hope this note is a demonstration of our desire to connect in an inclusive way.
We will recruit a head coach who is a great fit for the exciting opportunity of leading a new era of football at UC Davis. A national search for our next head coach is underway, and I will be working closely with a consultative committee of individuals who have extensive experience at UC Davis and expertise at the highest levels of football. All supporters of UC Davis football are welcome to provide input about the desired characteristics of our next head coach by completing the form at this link.
Ours is an attractive head coaching job given our commitment to making improvements in football and we expect to attract strong candidates. There is a new energy in our athletics program, the community is eager to be supportive, and a tremendous opportunity exists to mold a program that has a storied history and extraordinary potential. In addition, UC Davis was recently ranked by the Wall Street Journal as the 6th best public university in the United States, and our student-athletes are intelligent, coachable, and stimulating to work with.
Given the academic quality of our university and the relative intellect of our student-athletes, coaching at UC Davis requires a number of specific strengths. The desirable qualities that we are seeking, ranging from baseline characteristics to more advanced traits, are outlined below. The delineation of these characteristics is intended to provide transparent insights to our supporters about how we are thinking about the path forward. This note is not intended to be any sort of commentary about previous coaching staffs and should not be interpreted as such.
Upstanding character. A baseline expectation of our head coach is that he acts with integrity and in alignment with our organizational values of comprehensive scholar-athleticism, togetherness, and moral uprightness. Our head coaches in recent history are individuals of superb character and we expect this will continue. There is absolutely no opportunity for someone who is not committed to doing right by our student-athletes, following the spirit and letter of NCAA rules, and modeling a robust strength of character for our student-athletes to follow. Additionally, the coach must demonstrate a progressive sensitivity to matters of diversity.
Expertise on how to recruit highly accomplished student-athletes. We have successfully recruited athletes of higher quality in the past few years. We need to continue doing this. We must have a coaching staff who understands how to effectively recruit student-athletes from a variety of different backgrounds — ranging from socioeconomically advantaged student-athletes to those from challenging home environments. This means the coaching staff must understand how to most effectively communicate about the value proposition of UC Davis to each kind of prospect and their families.
Head coach or extensive coordinator experience. In most competitive arenas, previous performance is the best indicator of future performance. It is important that our head coach has sufficient “executive” experience overseeing the football organization, including expertise at mentoring position coaches. The ideal candidate will have a track record of successful experience in head coaching or, at a minimum, as a coordinator. It can be argued that winning experience as a head coach or coordinator is more important than the particular level of football where the success occurred, within reason, so long as the executive skills required are comparable (e.g., management of coaches, management of recruiting, management of a culture, management of a player development pipeline). Exceptions should only be made if it’s clear that a candidate is particularly promising and exceptionally intelligent, which would make him uncommonly adaptable to the challenges of leading the entire football organization.
Strong intellect and communication skills. The head football coach at UC Davis must be able to lead effectively in an environment comprised of players who are intelligent. The coach must understand how to lead in a manner that gains credibility with smart players and leverages their intellect to establish a tactical advantage. Especially given the tendency of today’s young people to ask “why”, our leader must be able to conceptualize sound methods and communicate about them cogently. An authoritarian approach is less likely to succeed in the modern era at UC Davis, and, in fact, has never been a part of the fabric of UC Davis Football.
Expertise with program-building. Our football program is in a time of change, and we will benefit from an inspirational leader who is able to catalyze improvement and growth. This is somewhat of a different leadership skill set than coaching to preserve success and stability. Candidates who transitioned into jobs as the result of internal promotion during successful periods — and thus were responsible for continuity rather than change — must be vetted for their ability to engineer cultural turnarounds.
Understanding of how to win at UC Davis. We want a leader who possesses a highly developed understanding of what it will take to win at UC Davis. For example, the leader must have an expert conceptual point of view on the following:
- What is the relationship between our academic standards, the type of players that we recruit, and our desired style of play?
- What are the cultural characteristics of a consistently winning team at UC Davis? To what degree do the players own and drive the culture? How is this culture developed?
- How is a winning program at UC Davis similar to or different from how other winning programs at the FCS level are built?
Track record of building “winning habits”. If we are going to win consistently at UC Davis, we must establish a very highly developed “winning muscle”. In other words, when games are close, pressure situations will force the other team into mistakes but we will execute without self-infliction. We will never “beat ourselves”. We’ll stay clear of penalties or mistakes that are due to a lack of discipline or disorganization. The ideal coach will have a plan and track record of developing “winning habits”.
Coaching for self-sufficiency rather than dependence. At our best, it’s probable that our team culture will be highly disciplined and structured by the coaching staff, but driven and owned primarily by uncommonly mature players who are uncommonly good leaders. If this culture is to emerge, it must be recruited for and developed by our coaching staff. The head coach must thus be keenly skilled at establishing a culture of discipline while also enabling self-reliance among the players.
Embracing the importance of academics and student-athlete outcomes. While theoretically narrowing the recruiting pool to a degree, our admissions standard also acts as a filter that increases the number of high character players in our program. The head football coach should embrace our admissions requirements, viewing them as an asset that is indicative of the quality of our institution. Similarly, the coach must understand the importance of creating an environment for academic success. Recent coaches have done this very well, and we expect it will continue. Lastly, the coach must be committed to having the players focus on their non-football postgraduate opportunities. Enhancing these aspects of the student-athlete experience does not preclude a high-intensity focus on winning football games. Rather, the strong postgraduate outcomes (e.g., job and graduate school opportunities) of our football players is a differentiator for UC Davis that will help us attract the best possible student-athletes.
Affinity for UC Davis. It is important that our coaching staff has a strong affinity for UC Davis and what it represents. It is not necessary for the head coach to have direct ties to our institution, but a direct tie certainly increases the probability that the individual is passionate about the tradition of UC Davis Football and understands the special responsibility of being the steward of football in our community.
In addition to hiring a great coach, we must continue expanding donor support for our football program in order to build structural competitive advantages. Without exception, all consistently successful football teams are privy to some sort of competitive advantage created by their program’s infrastructure — such as a systematically advantageous recruiting pool, superior facilities, the academic reputation of the university, or an extensive winning tradition. No football program achieves consistent success absent a degree of structural competitive advantage.
Aggie teams benefitted substantially from structural advantages relative to other schools in our conference while posting a 100–3 conference record during our historical streak of conference championships. For example, we had an extensive junior varsity program that created a player development system that no other schools in our league could match. We recruited more aggressively than our DII competition, and our academic reputation provided a clear advantage in attracting talent (especially during the time period when UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside were closing down their football programs). The culture, competitive spirit, and coaching tactics of our teams were also major drivers of success, but it’s important for us to acknowledge that these intangibles were built upon a foundation of concrete structural advantages that allowed us to field more talented teams than the competition.
To win consistently again, we will develop a modern set of structural advantages that will provide us with a competitive advantage in Division I FCS. The academic reputation of our university is a strong starting point, but we will complement it with enhancements in other programmatic areas such as facilities (especially in strength and conditioning) and student-athlete academic and career development support (we seek to be a national leader in producing superior postgraduate outcomes for our players, which will become a substantial recruiting asset). An elaborate discussion of our detailed plans is outside the scope of this note, but the main takeaway should be that further programmatic enhancements are a priority and funding them will require continued increases in donor support.
Our staff is working hard to continue educating our community about the level of donor contributions that occur at competitor institutions. For example, in recent years schools like Montana ($7 million), South Dakota State ($12.5 million), Cal Poly ($10 million), and North Dakota State ($10 million) received transformational gifts to athletics. And, while we’re making progress and grateful to everyone who has consistently supported UC Davis Athletics, many FCS schools have outperformed UC Davis in donor participation at more conventional levels of giving as well. Our staff is working very hard to stimulate the additional donor participation needed to help us reach our competitive goals, and we hope that all members of the UC Davis football family will be increasingly supportive as we strive for excellence in a new era for Aggie Football.
The football program at UC Davis is historically significant and of paramount importance to our athletics department. It is a top priority of UC Davis Athletics for our football team to win at an elite level again. Recruiting a coach of optimal fit and continuing to increase donor participation are two critical steps that must be taken on our journey to football excellence. We hope that everyone who cares about Aggie Football will be supportive as we move forward. Go Ags!