Two weeks into spring football and the hangover following the loss of popular defensive line coach Tosh Lupoi seems to be over.
There are no hard feelings among Cal’s D-linemen, and they are embracing new position coach Todd Howard.
“It’s definitely not fair, especially when you’ve got a coach like Lupoi, who is so young and close to our age and able to connect to our generation,” redshirt sophomore defensive end Gabe King said after practice Tuesday. “It’s hard to move to a guy that’s a lot older. At first we had to warm up a little bit because we were bitter. We lost Coach and no one knew we were going to lose him.
“But the adjustment wasn’t too hard. We’re warming up really well. Coach Howard understands that it took time. He just keeps coming full force with embracing us as his players. That’s all that really matters.”
Howard, with more than 20 years of experience coaching in the NFL and at the college level, replaced Lupoi, the recruiting dynamo who left for a bigger contract at Washington.
Howard is 46. Lupoi is 30, talks the language and recruited most of Cal’s current defensive linemen.
Junior Deandre Coleman, projected as a started defensive end, paused for a moment when asked he if was angry when Lupoi left.
“I was a little bit, but there wasn’t much I could do about it,” he said. “He recruited me. That’s my coach, but he’s like a friend, too. It is kind of tough seeing him go, but it’s a job.”
Coleman, a Seattle native, said Howard and Lupoi are totally different in every way. But he’s been won over by the new man.
“He’s good. I like him,” Coleman said. “He brings NFL experience and a lot of college experience. He knows the game. He knows what he’s talking about.
“He’s a funny guy. He’s got a lot of stories. He’s wise.”
Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Todd Barr said Howard tried recruiting him to UCLA. “I really liked UCLA because of coach Howard but I wanted to get away from home,” Barr said. “It’s an easy transition because I already know him.
“He’s funny. He has a lot of knowledge. Has great stories. He’s a great person to be around,” he continued. “They both have energy. I know he may be a little older, but he still flies around. So it’s cool.”
King echoed remarks by Coleman and Barr, saying that Howard’s storytelling ability is an effective teaching tool.
“He’s definitely more of a father figure than Tosh. He brings a lot of wisdom to the table because of his age,” the 6-foot-5, 293-pounder from Burlington, N.C., said. “He’s very good at telling stories and vividly connecting it to football. It’s really amazing. For me, it’s almost like a remembering mechanism. He’s really good at that.”
Howard’s resume, including three seasons as a starting linebacker at Texas A&M and two years playing in the NFL, has practical benefits.
“He brings a rather advanced technique with hand-to-hand combat,” King said. “A bunch of little disengaging techniques.”
King’s favorite is called The Forklift, and involves grabbing the offensive lineman’s wrists and shooting them upward to disengage.
“Every O-lineman . . . their role is to grab and hold,” King said. “The Forklift is very effective. You’ve just got to master it, you’ve got to be able to wrap your brain around it at full speed.”
Coach Jeff Tedford said Coleman and sophomore Mustafa Jalil are penciled in as starters at the ends, replacing departed seniors Trevor Guyton and Ernest Owusu.
Coleman feels good about the state of the defense. “I think we’ll be great,” he said. “Better than last year.”
Added King, “I’m very confident in our guys.”