I had the chance this afternoon to speak with new Cal receivers coach Wes Chandler during a brief teleconference call involving one other reporter.
At 55, Chandler clearly has the energy and enthusiasm to dive into this job. He talks fast and exudes passion for football. He is excited about the opportunity and described himself as a teacher. He also said he embraces recruiting as an essential part of the job.
But make no mistake: Jeff Tedford hired a coach who was a big-time talent. An All-American — and an Academic All-American — at Florida, Chandler became a four-time Pro Bowl selection in the NFL.
In the strike-shortened 1982 season, he was All-Pro after a spectacular season-ending performance over four games with the “Air Coryell” San Diego Chargers: 27 receptions for 641 yards (23.7 ypc) and eight touchdowns.
And Chandler, who played the final season of his 11-year NFL career with the 49ers, is optimistic about how things will go Sunday at Candlestick Park.
Here’s the interview:
Let’s start off with this: Who wins the 49ers-Giants game?
“I think the 49ers win it. They win it 20-17. They have some momentum, they’re playing at home and it’s going to be tough (for York) to beat them after going to Green Bay and now taking a long West Coast trip. What coach (Jim) Harbaugh has brought to the 49ers is a different mentalty. A toughness, but a relaxed toughness.”
You are best known for your playing days in the NFL. Talk about how those skills and your coaching experience at various level since then translates to this opportunity?
“First of all, all great players don’t make good coaches. Because you played the game at a high level and you were successful does not necesarily mean you can be a teacher. For me, I was a student of the game. I wanted to know everything about the position, the offense, the pattern, why it was going to be successful and what my role was in that particular play.
“When I started coaching — teaching for me is a better term — you look at each player differently, individually. They learn differently, have different skill sets. You want them to come together. The communication aspect is a major part of it. I expect to be able to talk to them and have feedback. It’s different when you coach it than when you played it. When you’re on that field it’s a different animal because players move, they’re not pawns. You have to translate what’s going on on the field.”
How much do you know at this point about Cal’s All-Pac-12 wideout Keenan Allen and what are your impressions of him?
“I met him for the first time yesterday. Just looking at the size (6-foot-2) and his energy, it appeared to me that he was a guy who was there for a real purpose. Some kids are there because they have God’s gift. I think this kid wants it all. He believes in the educational system, but I’m talking football as well. (I got) a warm feeling about him. I could see we will establish a great relationship.”
You spent a long time as a pro player and coach. The college game is totally different. Talk about how will you adapt:
“First of all, when I retired, the first opportunity I had in coaching was at the high school level, at a private prep school in Daytona Beach. The following year I was the head coach and athletic director. When I got the opportunity to coach at Central Florida, it gave me enough that I could say I took a lot away from being able to reach out to these young men. They’re hungry and looking for someone who can help them become the best player they can be. Or, if not, (give) them necessary tools to be successful in life.
“You coach the game the same way. You never waver from the basic fundamentals of teaching the game. You have to have patience with these players. They have have to be academically eligible to participate. When I was athletic director not one of the sports programs was allowed to pick up a ball until they had a one-hour tutorial. Today’s athletes have to study history or they become history.
“You never want to take away their dream. They believe they can become the next Jerry Rice, the next DeSean Jackson. There’s also a price to pay and that’s the classroom. You have to have communication with these young men. Not only are you their technician, but also a friend.”
Do you have the passion and drive at this point to contribute on the recruiting side?
“The recruiting side is where I want to be. Recruiting is a team effort. It takes the entire coaching staff. I have no problem in doing that. First of all, I’m a team player. I’m used to evaluating talent. That’s all you do on (as a coach on) the pro level when the season’s over. Because I have this tremendous competitiveness about me, I want this program to be the best not only in the Pac-12 but in the entire country. It starts with the people you bring in here. They’re the very foundation.”
Talk about your work in recent years coaching elite-level high school prospects and even younger players with Football University:
“Sometimes people get caught up in the hype that this guy played pro football. But the things I’m able to teach I didn’t read about. It’s my true life experience. I do talk about not just the good things, but the things I had to learn. I wasn’t born with the greatest gifts in the world. I had to work at it. Football is just as much mental as it is physical. It goes back to becoming a student of the game.”
How do you feel about the modern tools of recruiting . . . social media, Twitter, Facebook?
“The digital age of communication with people is huge. We see it in politics and, more importantly, we see it in football. At the end of the day, it’s about being able to sit down in front of a young man and his family and talk about the game of life. Not do it on the phone, not text him `Hello.’ Let them hear that come out of your mouth instead of reading it. There’s a tremendous difference. I can respect (social media). But the people who take advantage of the key recruiting aspects, they do it in person.”