by Carolyn Jones

Cal's New Football Coach Exudes Enthusiasm and Commitment--Go Bears!

Imagine a future in which Cal football is so big, so charged with spirit, that every game has the fanfare and suspense of the Big Game, and fans fight bitterly over season tickets. If you believe Cal's new head football coach, that scenario is not completely far-fetched. In fact, it might be a good idea to reserve your tickets now.

"My ambition here is to make Saturday afternoons in Berkeley a hot ticket, something people cancel their plans for and bring all their friends and neighbors to," said Steve Mariucci, a former Green Bay Packers coach who took over the reins at Cal in January.

"In Green Bay, you read stories about these divorce feuds over who gets the Packer tickets. They want those tickets! I want to see that kind of excitement in Berkeley."

Mariucci, 40, comes to Cal after four years with the Packers, where he coached quarterback Brett Favre, most valuable player in the National Football League last season. The Packers advanced as far as their conference championship game, where they were eliminated by the Dallas Cowboys.

Cal fans will remember Mariucci from his five years as a Bears' offensive assistant, 1987-91, an era memorable for its wild "fumblerooskis," flea-flickers, and two glorious bowl victories-- including a 37-13 pulverizing of the Clemson Tigers in the 1992 Citrus Bowl.

A native of Iron Mountain in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Mariucci was a star quarterback himself until he switched to coaching. As a sophomore all-American at Northern Michigan University, he led his team to a Division II national championship in 1975. In 1976, he was eighth in the vote for the Heisman Trophy, awarded to the nation's best player.

By the time he graduated in 1978, Mariucci had been chosen all-America and the team's most valuable player for three consecutive seasons. He also set 14 school passing records and was elected to the Northern Michigan Athletic Hall of Fame.

Following graduation, Mariucci signed with the Canadian Football League, but decided to pursue coaching instead. Before coming to Cal the first time, he served stints at his alma mater, Cal State Fullerton, Louisville, the US Football League's Orlando Renegades, the Los Angeles Rams, and University of Southern California.

A lifelong Packers fan, Mariucci was close to nirvana as a Green Bay coach. But he didn't think twice about returning to Berkeley when the opportunity arose.

"When you're the coach of a university, you wear that school's name right across your forehead," he said. "It's your job to sell that school and represent that school as best you can.

"Cal is a university I'm proud to wear across my forehead. There's a special pride I get when I say I'm from Cal. The school represents a lot of things to different people, but it always stands for class, tradition, academic excellence. I wouldn't associate myself with any other school."

So what changes can Cal fans look forward to this fall?

"If you were a really-into-it fan, you'll notice some different schemes," he said tactfully.

"Really-into-it" fans (which would be every Cal fan, by definition) can expect to see a variation of the much bally-hooed, pass-heavy "West Coast offense" this fall.

"I've happened to be an offensive coach all my life," said Mariucci. "But as much as I love the West Coast offense, and the sophistication and finesse it lends to the game, I also like a more physical approach. Our goal is to make life very difficult for the other team's quarterback."

Although the style is intricate and new to most of the players, Mariucci is confident it will work. "These are Berkeley kids. They'll get it."

Carolyn Jones, '92, is a staff writer for the Hayward Daily Review. She was editor of the Daily Californian and assistant editor of California Monthly. Photos by Ben Ailes.

Copyright 1996, Regents of the University of California, All rights reserved.
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