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Sac State, UC Davis football coaches dig deep to inspire 2-8 teams

UC Davis head coach Ron Gould runs onto the field with his team before the start of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Honolulu.
UC Davis head coach Ron Gould runs onto the field with his team before the start of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015, in Honolulu. AP

As far as motivational speakers go, it’s tough to top a football coach, no matter their records and no matter the pressures to improve them.

Take, for example, the two head coaches from UC Davis and Sacramento State, which play Saturday in the 63rd Causeway Classic at Aggie Stadium. Ron Gould of UC Davis quoted Martin Luther King Jr., and Jody Sears of Sac State read from the pages of Winston Churchill, among others, to rally their followers who broke bread together earlier this week.

The banquet room at the Doubletree Hilton fell silent Thursday as the coaches dug deep into their hearts as they spoke. It was easy to feel their passion for the game, and their love for it and the young men who play it for them. They extolled the virtue of sacrifice, the dedication of the true student-athlete in the classroom and on the field. They evoked a sense of history. They hailed the courage of the warrior, the intellectual curiosity of the student in shoulder pads. They spoke of loyalty, humility, the competitive spirit.

They had you ready to run through a wall for the pride of the Aggies, the sting of the Hornets – and they each had records of 2-8.

It’s supposed to rain for the 1 p.m. game at UC Davis, but neither precipitation nor lousy records could douse the sense of purpose Sears and Gould bring to the rivalry. It is, of course, the only way to approach their jobs, to make sure their teams play through the final whistle of the final snap of the season, no matter how badly the win-loss column says their worlds are spinning. The time of reflection will come soon enough for both coaches – figure about 4 o’clock Saturday afternoon, when their bosses will begin the cold and hard analysis of their football programs.

“Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the staircase,” is the quote Gould pulled from Dr. King’s playbook.

At UC Davis, Aggie fans have to be wondering where their staircase is leading after six consecutive losing seasons, three of them under Gould.

Athletic director Kevin Blue has sworn off commenting on the Aggies’ program until after the season, even as speculation swirls that Gould might be interested in hooking up with his old boss, Jeff Tedford, who recently accepted the Fresno State head coaching job. When Gould coached the running backs under Tedford at Cal, he helped produce players who went onto good-to-great pro careers such as Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Anderson, Shane Vereen, Justin Forsett and J.J. Arrington.

Looking five years into the future, Blue wants to see the program build toward being “consistently in the playoffs and have the opportunity to compete for an FCS championship.” He thinks his school has the resources to match anybody’s in the Big Sky Conference, and that it can win big without compromising the academic side. UC Davis supporters have long seen their football program as being something of an Ivy League of the West. There’s been some discussion, even, about the Aggies playing an Ivy League school in the future. Playing an Ivy, it would seem, would act as a recruiting tool in the competition for the academically oriented students who are also athletes that UC Davis covets.

“We’re talking to a number of programs,” Blue said, about future intersectionals with prestigious schools from the other coast. “Right now, it’s just getting the dates to align and some of these other things.”

Football-wise, Sac State has been a little better off than UC Davis in recent years, finishing with three winning records since 2010. At Thursday’s banquet, Sears leaned on Churchill for inspiration.

“To each there comes in their lifetime a special moment when they are figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered the chance to do a very special thing, unique to them and fitted to their talents,” the Sac State coach read. “What a tragedy if that moment finds them unprepared or unqualified for that which could have been their finest hour.”

We’ll know Saturday whether the prime minister’s words stir the souls of the Hornets, and we’ll find out after the game where Sears stands in the estimation of his boss, Sac State athletic director Bill Macriss.

After the luncheon, Macriss made it sound like Sears need not worry. The AD noted that nearly every successful football coach at Sac State in the past 50 years had plenty of time to get things sorted out. Sears is finishing the third season of his four-year contract. Back-to-back records of 2-9 won’t get anybody into any Hall of Fame, but Macriss has apparently seen enough from Sears that he’d like to see the coach develop a young team that has more freshman and sophomore players than it does juniors and seniors.

“Coach Sears this year, I’m sure, like so many of our supporters and fans, hasn’t been excited about the outcome, record-wise,” Macriss said. “But the team, if you come to the games, is never giving up. We’re playing our best football at the end of the year. The students are still engaged and focused and playing their hearts out for each other and the coaches. I think in football, more than any other sport, you’ve got to be patient and let the program grow from the ground up.”

Now the season comes down to one game for each school. If their records don’t inspire you, there’s always the words and wills of their coaches.

Andy Furillo: 916-321-1141, @andyfurillo

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