Sacramento State and UC Davis have struggled this season entering the 63rd Causeway Classic on Saturday at Aggie Stadium.
But despite lousy records, UC Davis coach Ron Gould and Sac State coach Jody Sears think their respective programs are about to turn the corner, and both coaches hope to at least complete their contracts that run through next season.
The Aggies are 2-8 overall and 1-6 in the Big Sky Conference after finishing 2-9 in 2014 and 2015. The Hornets are 2-8 overall and 2-5 after going 2-9 last season.
Gould is completing his fourth season and Sears his third. Both are well-liked and run academically successful programs. Both also enjoyed their best seasons in their first year.
In 2013, Gould directed UC Davis to a 5-7 overall record and 5-3 Big Sky mark, using many players recruited by previous coach Bob Biggs. Sears, hired as interim coach in 2014, guided the Hornets to a 7-5 overall record and 4-4 Big Sky mark mainly with players recruited by previous coach Marshall Sperbeck, who stepped down because of NCAA violations that resulted in penalties against the school.
While alumni and fans have heavily criticized Sears and Gould on social media through much of their tenures, both have remained resolute even as the losses piled up.
“All I can do is focus on the work that I do, and the way that I build these players,” said Sears, who made $183,000 in 2015, according to the most recent figures in The Sacramento Bee’s state worker database. “We’re hired to instill character and principles in young men so that when they leave here they can be a positive asset in the community. I can’t worry about any decisions regarding my contract. But at the end of the day, I’d like to be here for the next 20 years.”
Sears inherited a senior-dominated team his first season, but he has depended heavily on underclassmen the past two years. This year’s roster includes only two senior starters and four seniors who see considerable playing time. Sac State starts 14 underclassmen, including four freshmen.
The Hornets’ offense, which ranks last in the Big Sky in scoring at 23.7 points per game, has scored 89 points in the past two games, a 59-47 loss to No. 23 Cal Poly and a 42-35 win over Portland State, both at Hornet Stadium.
Sac State athletic director Bill Macriss said the school’s protocol is to evaluate a coach at the end of the season.
“We go through a bit of a process,” Macriss said. “So it will be no different for Jody Sears than it is for any other coach at the end of the season.”
Gould thought the Aggies would turn the corner this year after bringing in what he described as strong recruiting classes in 2015 and ’16.
But injuries have taken a toll for the third consecutive year. Four players have started at center, and there has been heavy turnover at linebacker and wide receiver.
“We’ve got to remedy the injury bug because depth is an issue,” said Gould, who made $240,000 in 2015, according to The Bee’s database. “But we’re bringing in quality kids, so we believe we’re close to getting over the hump. The foundation is built, but sometimes it’s tough because everything is predicated off wins and losses. But undoubtedly, whether I’m here or somebody else is here next year, this team is really, really going to be successful.”
Gould coached for 16 seasons at Cal and was an assistant head coach to Jeff Tedford, who was hired as Fresno State’s coach last week. Gould said he would prefer to remain the Aggies’ coach.
“I haven’t talked to him,” Gould said of Tedford. “We’ve exchanged text messages, and I said congratulations, but that’s about it. My focus and my energy is on what we need to do to win the Causeway and then try to prepare for next season. That’s where all my focus is, and that’s where it will be until I hear otherwise.”
Gould’s fate is in the hands of new UCD athletic director Kevin Blue, who has told the coach he is assessing “the totality of the program.” Blue told The Bee in a text the evaluation will continue “through its conclusion on Saturday.”
“Our team banquet is Sunday, where we honor our seniors and their contributions to UC Davis,” Blue wrote. “I will not have public comment about our football program until after this weekend.”