Justin Wilcox stayed at Cal with hopes of making Bears a contender

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
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BERKELEY, Calif. — After five mostly mediocre seasons at California, coach Justin Wilcox could have been forgiven if he had decided to go after the head coaching job at his alma mater Oregon.

But instead of trying to escape to a school with more resources and a much better recent history, Wilcox chose to stay at Cal where he still believes he can turn the Golden Bears into a Pac-12 contender.

“The goal is to win the Pac-12 championship,” he said. “That’s been our goal. We work every day toward that. We know that’s a lofty goal. With the guys on the team, the people in our building, that’s what the goal is, where it’s been set. We have conviction that if we take care of the things we can control, we give ourselves an opportunity to attain it.”

The Bears haven’t come close since the heyday of Jeff Tedford about 15 years ago. Cal has a 26-28 record in five seasons under Wilcox, including a 15-25 mark in the conference as he has done a much better job rebuilding the defense than he has developing a top-flight offense.

Cal ranks last in the conference in scoring and sixth worst in the Power 5 at 23.2 points per game since the school replaced the offensive-minded Sonny Dykes with the defensive-oriented Wilcox in 2017.

Finding a way to fix that with mostly new personnel on offense will go a long way to determining whether Wilcox’s goal of competing for a conference title will ever become a reality.

“We are inexperienced on offense at a number of positions, but we feel the talent is probably greater than what we’ve had,” Wilcox said. “The skill positions, we feel like we’re going to have some more guys create explosive plays. We as coaches have to put them in position to do that.”

UNDER CENTER

The Bears lost almost all of their top skill position players on offense in 2022 with the biggest change coming at quarterback where Purdue transfer Jack Plummer replaces four-year starter Chase Garbers.

Plummer threw for 3,405 yards in 17 games for the Boilermakers with 26 TD passes and 10 interceptions. He started the first four games last season with seven TD passes and no interceptions before being replaced with a 3-1 record, leading to his transfer after the season.

“He’s probably a bit better than we thought,” Wilcox said. “A very heady guy. He’s played college football at a high level. He can throw the ball. Jack is a passer. It’s very natural for him to deliver it. We’re excited about where he’s going.”

CLOSE CALLS

Despite the woes on offense and local COVID restrictions that hampered the team late in the season, Cal still had a chance for a much better record in 2021. Five of the seven losses last season for the Bears came by seven points or less as Cal was in nearly every game.

KEY RETURN

Cal is excited about the return of versatile defensive lineman Brett Johnson, who missed last season after suffering a serious hip injury in a car accident. Johnson has the ability to play inside and outside on the line and should anchor the front for the Bears defense.

FAMILY TIES

The Bears defense should get a boost from a transfer who’s very familiar with the defensive staff. Linebacker Jackson Sirmon transferred from Washington to play for his father, Cal defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon. Jackson Sirmon had 91 tackles last season for the Huskies.

SCHEDULE STUFF

The Bears open the season with nonconference home games against UC Davis and UNLV. Then things get tough with a visit to No. 5 Notre Dame. Cal gets a break by playing Colorado instead of Utah from the old South Division. After back-to-back home games to end October against Washington and No. 11 Oregon, Cal plays three of its four November games against in-state rivals No. 14 USC, Stanford and UCLA.

Minnesota football players’ discrimination lawsuit dismissed

Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
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MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by nine former University of Minnesota football players who were accused of sexual assault in 2016 in a case that roiled the school’s football program.

The lawsuit against the school claimed that the players faced emotional distress and financial damage after being falsely accused of being sex offenders. The players, who were identified in the lawsuit as John Does, sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination.

A woman alleged up to a dozen football players raped her or watched and cheered at an off-campus party in 2016. None of the players were ever charged.

The university found that 10 football players committed sexual misconduct. Five of them were expelled or suspended for violating student conduct codes, and the others were cleared on appeal.

In their lawsuit, the players alleged that the woman initiated the sexual encounters with players and an underage recruit.

U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit last week, saying the former players did not prove any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported.

David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said Tuesday that they are considering an appeal but have to determine if it makes sense financially and in terms of letting the former players get on with their lives. He said it was disappointing that the outcome was determined by the judge’s version of events and not decided by a jury.

“It’s disappointing to see disputes decided in this way,” Madgett said. “That’s the way things are decided more and more these days. … It’s disappointing you don’t get your day in court.”

When the allegations became public in 2016, players threatened to boycott the team’s trip to the Holiday Bowl. But after a graphic report of the investigation was released, the players agreed to play in the game.

University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said the school appreciated the judge’s decision affirming the actions taken in the case. He said the university would continue its work focusing on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response.

Frank dismissed the lawsuit in 2019, but an appeals court reinstated part of it in 2021 and returned it to Frank.

The players, all of whom are Black, also initially claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was previously dismissed.

The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. The former players noted that they never faced criminal charges, but Frank’s ruling said that “is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs ‘were proven innocent.'”

The men also claimed that an investigator for the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action used “manipulative tactics” with them in interviews and that their accuser helped draft the report. The players also alleged that “prior failed investigations motivated” the the school to punish them.

Frank said all the claims were unsupported by the evidence and “no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex.”

Michigan State player who swung helmet gets probation

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports
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ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A Michigan State football player who swung his helmet at a Michigan player in a stadium tunnel expressed regret Tuesday and said he’s “just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue” on the field.

Khary Crump, a defensive back, was sentenced to probation. He was one of seven Michigan State players charged in a skirmish that followed a loss at Michigan Stadium on Oct. 29.

Crump was the only Spartan facing a felony, but that charge was dismissed in an agreement to plead guilty to misdemeanors. His record will be scrubbed clean if he stays out of trouble while on probation.

“Unfortunately, an exchange of words (took place), I felt attacked and unfortunately I did what I did,” Crump said of the tunnel altercation involving Michigan’s Gemon Green. “I’m not proud of that. I’m looking forward to moving forward.”

Crump was suspended by coach Mel Tucker. In addition, the Big Ten has suspended him for eight games in 2023.

“I had difficulties trying to stomach my actions … on that fateful day, but it happened. I can’t take it back,” Crump told MLive.com after the court hearing. “Honestly, I’m just looking forward to wuppin’ some maize and blue in the future — on the football field, of course.”

At least four other players charged with misdemeanors Will Likely have their cases dismissed in exchange for community service and other conditions. The cases against two others are pending.