Marshall Sperbeck abruptly resigned as the head football coach at Sacramento State on Friday morning in the wake of what The Bee has learned to be an internal investigation of possible NCAA violations.
Jody Sears, who was hired this spring as the team’s new defensive coordinator, was named the Hornets’ interim coach for the 2014 season.
A Sacramento native, Sperbeck went 35-44 in seven seasons with the Hornets, a stretch that included two winning records (6-5 in 2010 and 2012), no Football Championship Subdivision playoff berths and victories at Pacific-12 Conference schools Colorado (2012) and Oregon State (2011).
Sperbeck had an emotional farewell meeting Friday morning with Hornets players after agreeing with Sac State administrators on a mutual separation deal that prohibits either party from revealing why he stepped down.
“I”m hanging in there. It’s a tough day,” Sperbeck, 53, said by phone. “I let the team know I was stepping down, that we agreed to part. The kids have always been great. It was awesome to meet with each and every one of them, and I wished them the best. They wished me the best. There were tears, and it was emotional, no doubt.”
Sperbeck paused, then added: “I feel like we’ve done a good job of making Sac State football a better situation than when we got here.”
Sac State athletic director Terry Wanless said Sperbeck “resigned for personal reasons” with two years left on his contract. Wanless wouldn’t confirm that the coach stepped down as a result of an internal investigation that started with an anonymous 10-page letter that was sent to The Bee, Sac State and the NCAA. The letter outlined in detail how Sperbeck allegedly violated NCAA rules by exceeding the phone call limit to recruits and stopping by a workout during an NCAA coaching “dead period.”
“I’m not going to speak about that right now,” Wanless said when asked to confirm the school’s internal investigation or if the NCAA also was looking into possible violations by the school’s football program. “Our focus is on helping coach Sears move forward. It’s tough no matter when you have to replace a coach, but this is a little bit more of a challenge. We feel fortunate to have Jody on staff. Jody will step in and provide great leadership and keep this team focused and moving forward.”
Wanless added regarding Sperbeck: “At some point in time, he may choose to make it known why (he resigned), but we are not going to say anything.
“It’s a tough time for us right now,” he continued. “We’re still reeling from this whole situation. I’ve enjoyed working with Marshall for seven years. We worked hand-in-hand to make this football program as good as we can, as competitive as we can. We now have expectations of competing for a conference championship. Marshall is responsible for that.”
While his teams never contended for a Big Sky Conference championship and went 2-5 against Causeway Classic rival UC Davis, Sperbeck said he was pleased with his team’s graduation rates, or Academic Performance Rate, and that he has had players of good character.
“We haven’t had anyone in the news doing anything wrong, getting in trouble. We’ve had good kids,” Sperbeck said.
As for his team’s on-field performance, Sperbeck said: “We’ve been competitive. We lost to two playoff teams last year in overtime, so we were close to making the playoffs. And there’s an opportunity for the program to grow still.”
Sperbeck said he regretted not being able to contact incoming recruits, including Bee All-Metro players Joey Banks of Franklin High School and Dre Terrell of Pleasant Grove, each of whom was stunned by the news.
“I’m really disappointed. I’m sorry to hear this,” said Banks, a linebacker-safety,
Said Terrell, a cornerback and wide receiver: “I don’t know what all this means. It seems so random. I saw Sac State work out a lot this spring. Everything seemed normal, cool, going well. It really hurts to hear that he’s resigned.”
Sperbeck said he plans to talk with the incoming freshmen.
“I’ll call all of those kids, because they deserve it,” Sperbeck said. “You sit in their living room, get to know them and their families over the months, and you build a relationship. It’s important that they know what’s going on.”
One of the closer relationships Sperbeck built was with senior-to-be DeAndre Carter, an All-Big Sky wide receiver. Carter was allowed to leave the team for a while to be with his 17-year-old brother, Kaylan Carter, who went into a coma and died last summer from complications of an enlarged heart after a weightlifting session with Enochs High School’s football team in Modesto.
“We’ve gotten close. I went through the situation with my brother, and (Sperbeck) was there for me and my family,” Carter said. “He also believed in me and gave me the opportunity to play here, so there is love and affection for coach Sperbeck. I’m sorry to see him go.”
Now it will be Sears’ turn to take the helm at Sac State. He was the head coach at Weber State the past two seasons, going 4-19. Before that, he served as the defensive coordinator at Washington State and Eastern Washington.
Sears, who said earlier this month that getting a chance to live in a warm climate was enticing, looks forward to his new challenge.
“The mission is to stay the course and grow and become even stronger and more united,” said Sears, 46. “We love coach Marshall. We have nothing but admiration and respect for him not only as a coach but as a person.”
This is Sears’ second unexpected interim coaching stint. He replaced John L. Smith at Weber State when Smith suddenly departed for Arkansas before having coached one game for Weber State, located in Ogden, Utah.
“It was a little bit shocking,” Sears said of Sperbeck stepping down. “There was a wave of emotion with me. John L. left because he took another coaching job. But with Marshall, it was different, unique. I was out of a job, and Marshall believed in me. So there are so many emotions and a little bit of a wind-got-knocked-out-of-(me)-kind of thing. But it’s not about my feelings. It’s not about me, but what’s in the best interest of the kids.”
Sears said he will remain the team’s defensive coordinator.
“My heart and soul is on the defensive side,” he said. “I love it. So I’ll have to do some delegating, but I’m going to try to keep everything as consistent and stable as possible. We’re not changing.”
But there will be plenty of changes for Sperbeck, who recently told The Bee he was excited about his team’s chances in 2014 and by the incoming freshmen, particularly the local players.
“I’ll get back out there,” Sperbeck said in a subdued tone. “I’ll give it a few weeks or a month or so and see what happens. I want to work. I want to keep coaching.”
Follow Joe Davidson on Twitter @SacBee_JoeD.