Coach's Wisdom Falls on Open Ears

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The forty-something stood among a group of Generation Xers, addressing them in a quiet tone as the sun set on Memorial Stadium. He paused, and the entire group broke into laughter.

Not a nervous, when's-the-old-dude-gonna-shut-up titter. These guys were expressing genuine amusement at something a man 20 years their senior had just said.

Meet Ken Margerum. Former All-American, Cal wide receivers coach and comedian.

"Football's a people business," Margerum said. "If you can't get along with your fellow man, you shouldn't be coaching or teaching. You got to be able to have a couple laughs along the way. You've got to keep it light at certain times to break the monotony and the tension."

Margerum exudes enthusiasm like Mike Ditka without the attitude. He doesn't get in his players' faces. He talks to them. He doesn't yell. He reasons.

He doesn't coach. He teaches.

"Teaching and coaching is the same word," Margerum said. "It happens to be a sport instead of in the classroom.

"It's not the end of the world if you line up wrong the first day. As long as they improve each day and they don't keep making the same mistakes day after day, I feel like we're going forward."

Margerum is easygoing enough to earn the respect - not to mention amusement - of his youthful charges, and he's knowledgeable enough to deserve it.

"He knows more about the position than anybody I've ever met," junior college transfer Chad Heydorff said.

Margerum's tolerance will be tested this spring and next fall. If last year's performance is anything to go by, coaching the wideouts will take all the knowledge and skill he's gained in his 20 years in the sport.

Last year's receiving corps dubbed itself the "Bomb Squad," and it lived up to its name.

Cal's receivers bombed the Bears right out of a bowl berth.

They were the single greatest weakness on a feeble offense, one that managed 250.8 yards per game and 151.1 through the air. Offensive coordinator Steve Hagen's scheme called for putting as many as five receivers on the field at a time, and Cal was lucky if a fifth of them could catch a pass.

Four months after a season in which the wideouts had trouble catching anything this side of a virus, there is some mixed news.

The bad news is that the Bears are missing their top two pass-catchers from last season.

The good news is that the Bears are missing their top two pass-catchers from last season.

Wideouts Mike Ainsworth and Ronnie Davenport failed out of school last semester, and the team has a chance to start over. Cal head coach Tom Holmoe has brought in a slew of new faces to replace them - Charon Arnold and Derek Swafford join Heydorff as transfers.

And one to coach them.

"They're all having their good days, and some of them drop off and then another guy picks it up," Margerum said. "We've got an efficient, blue-collar group. We're not going to be flashy. We're going to consistent and efficient. That's all I want them to be."

Given the new crop of receivers, that's a realistic goal. There are no Peter Warricks in this group, and probably no Ainsworths. The incoming group is slightly undersized, and has to prove next fall that it can compete at the Pac-10 level.

But the receivers want to learn, and Margerum won't tolerate any resistance to his teaching. He doesn't like to get in his charges' faces, but he has other methods of motivation.

In his trademark laid-back way, he said that receivers who don't cut it will be "checking things out" by the water cooler while those who do develop contribute on the field.

But the best thing about Margerum is that he's ecstatic to be where he is.

The former Chicago Bear and All-America receiver at Stanford couldn't be happier to coach at a Pac-10 school and impart the knowledge he's gained.

"It's a privilege to be coaching at Cal and be a part of the Pac-10 Conference and being here in this beautiful setting," Margerum said as he looked across Memorial on a recent tranquil evening. "I just can't think of anything more beautiful right now."

So whatever challenges he faces next fall when the stadium is not so empty and the air not so pleasant and the onlookers not so quiet, Margerum is happy to be where he is right now.

And judging by the way they act around their forty-something coach, his receivers are too.


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