Cal football: Snyder reflections

Deputy sports editor Mike Lefkow covered Cal’s football team in 1987, the first year of the Bruce Snyder era. Lefkow shares his thoughts here in the wake of Snyder’s passing on Monday:

Deputy sports editor Mike Lefkow here, with a few thoughts about former Cal football coach Bruce Snyder, whom I covered as the beat writer in his first season in 1987: 

You could sense right away Snyder would turn around the program. He might not have bled blue and gold — he went to Oregon — but you had the feeling he would please those who did. By the time of Snyder’s tumultuous departure following the 1991 season, Cal was ranked No. 8 in the country and resembled the teams Jeff Tedford has now. Fast. Aggressive. Tough. Swagger.
What Snyder accomplished in five short years in Berkeley should rank him among the greatest coaches ever at Cal. He took the Bears to their first New Year’s Day bowl in 32 years. Cal’s 37-13 Citrus Bowl win over Clemson on that day — Jan. 1, 1992 — was its first on New Year’s Day in 54 years.
In 1990, it was Snyder’s Bears who ended an 18-game losing streak against UCLA, which may have been just as satisfying for Cal fans. OK, the Bears were 1-17 against the Bruins in that stretch from 1972-89, but the one was a forfeit in 1977 when the Bruins used an ineligible player. On the field, Cal lost that game 21-19. Remarkably, that was one of only four times Cal lost to UCLA by less than 14 points during that stretch.
Tuesday at lunch, my boss and I were discussing coaches or managers we had learned from while we had been on a beat. I brought up a conversation with Snyder, when he made it a point to tell me how important it was to define your “home-run hitters” and make sure you keep the ball in their hands. Perhaps not very profound. Perhaps pretty obvious. But you know how certain points stand out years after they have been made? It was how emphatically he said it.   
I could go on longer about Snyder. He was a good coach and I genuinely liked the guy. When he left Cal, I always thought the school deserved the 10 years of darkness it had in football until Tedford arrived. Perhaps Snyder could have handled his departure better, but let’s not misplace the blame. Or one man’s opinion that Cal would have been to a Rose Bowl by now. 

Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.

  • milo

    Nice read. Snyder really did a great job. Even in defeat, like the big UW game at Memorial, you sensed Cal had a chance and could win.

    Bob Bockrath screwed up big time on Snyder. Snyder would have brought Cal further but that’s history. Good to know Sandy Barbour is AD now.

    RIP Bruce Snyder. You made a bunch of Cal fans very happy.

  • wehofx

    Couldn’t agree more about Coach Snyder taking us to a Rose Bowl. If only.

    At the time I thought Bockrath should be ****. I googled the loser and he’s at some jc in zona. Milo, agreed, SB is doing an excellent job.

    Back to Coach Snyder. Thanks for all the great times at Memorial, Coach.

  • JB

    As a young alumni I had the pleasure of shaking Bruce Snyder’s hand outside the Cal locker room after the win over UCLA in 1990. He was hugging all kinds of people and I was nobody. But when I stuck my hand forward he stared me in the eye,kept up that huge smile on his face, and pumped my hand so hard I thought it would fall off. Then he thanked me for my congratulations. I felt like his best friend. Bruce knew how much that game meant to the alumni.
    Thanks, Bruce, for the memory. RIP.