College Sports

UC Davis coach says false firing tweet was aimed at hurting recruiting

UC Davis coach Ron Gould greets his players at the sideline during a game against Cal Poly in Davis, on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. Cal Poly won 55-38.
UC Davis coach Ron Gould greets his players at the sideline during a game against Cal Poly in Davis, on Saturday, Nov. 14, 2015. Cal Poly won 55-38. AP

Ron Gould says he knows who is responsible for planting a false rumor, tweeted by Sports Illustrated but later retracted, that he had been fired as the UC Davis football coach.

“I do, but I really don’t want to get involved in that, and why all that stuff happened,” Gould said Saturday. “I think people do ugly things. This is the world that we live in. People do crazy, crazy, crazy things.”

Gould said the information didn’t come from within the UCD athletic department.

SI sportswriter Thayer Evans, quoting an unnamed source, reported Tuesday that Gould had been fired 10 days after the Aggies completed a 2-9 season. On Wednesday, SI tweeted a correction, citing reporter error.

Gould believes the rumor was planted to hurt the Aggies’ recruiting for the upcoming season. UCD hopes to bring in 12 to 15 players on scholarship. Eight high school players already have made verbal commitments, including two three-star-rated recruits being pursued by other schools.

Commitments don’t become official until the NCAA signing day in February.

“There’s no doubt it was to try to influence and change the decisions of the kids,” Gould said.

Gould, 50, is a college coaching veteran, so he has been through all the nasty recruiting wars, including as an assistant and associate coach at Cal from 1997 to 2012.

Gould first learned about the SI report while in a staff meeting.

“I had my phone on the desk, and I kept hearing these beeps,” Gould said. “Once I had a little bit of time I looked at my phone and players were asking, ‘Coach, what’s going on. Are you OK?’ I’m like, ‘What?’ Then eventually I found out this rumor was out that I had been fired.”

He immediately tweeted to his players that the post was erroneous and followed up with calls to those players UCD is recruiting.

Mike Robles, the UCD assistant athletic director, communications, also was quick to refute the post, and the school later tweeted its support of Gould, who has gone 9-25 in his three seasons as the Aggies coach.

Gould said that was the correct response, rather than the school holding a news conference.

“I didn’t want to make it bigger than what it was,” Gould said. “But I got a number of text messages from people who were irate that someone would try to do that.”

UCD verbal commits Brandon Jamison, a defensive end from Scottsdale, Ariz., and quarterback Kevin Davidson from McClymonds High School in Oakland, publicly endorsed their support of Gould after the story was posted.

The bogus story capped what had been a tumultuous two weeks for Gould, who has two years remaining on his contract.

After beating Sacramento State 35-21 in the season finale Causeway Classic on Nov. 21 to avoid the school’s first 10-loss season, he parted ways with two assistant coaches and lost one of his biggest mentors in Jim Sochor. The coaching legend, who transformed UCD from a football backwater to a national Division II powerhouse, died of cancer Nov. 24.

“He was very, very supportive,” Gould said. “He was a huge mentor for me. I felt so bad because I was planning to take the Causeway Trophy over to the house for him to see. But he passed away before I could get it done.”

Gould released linebackers-special teams coach Jeff Copp, a seven-year assistant, and second-year offensive line coach Dan Finn for what he said were philosophical differences, though he called both “very, very good coaches.”

Gould said that despite back-to-back two-win seasons in which the team was ravaged by injuries, he believes the foundation has been set for success in the future.

“As a staff, we’re taking a comprehensive approach to why we’ve had all the injuries, and how we can move forward in trying to minimize those,” Gould said. “What’s good is that we have a lot of character kids. … If you look at how they persevered and how we played down the stretch, we’re excited with what we’re building.”

Gould, who continues to battle a persistent bout of walking pneumonia, said he gets strength from his wife Teresa, UCD’s popular interim athletic director who he calls “the rock star,” and from the many players he has coached through the years who remain close.

One of them, Denver Broncos running back C.J. Anderson, who played for Gould at Cal, called him late Sunday night after he helped the Broncos beat the New England Patriots 30-24 in an overtime thriller. Anderson rushed for 113 yards and two touchdowns and later was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week.

“It’s about 11:30 when C.J. calls and he says, ‘I want to thank you for teaching me the importance of pass protecting,’ ” said Gould, who was half asleep. “Back then he was like so many other running backs who came to me who only wanted to run and catch the ball. He’s a young man I applauded for staying in the fight.

“I told him when he came to Cal, ‘You’ve got a thousand bad habits, but you’ve got to allow me to chip away at those things so you can become better as a student, a person and an athlete.’ Those are the things I talk to our players about every single day.”

Bill Paterson: 916-326-5506, @SacBee_BillP