Holmoe Has One Lifeline Left

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Sick of a team searching for answers, Cal fans are searching for someone to blame.

And in the frustration following the Bears' sixth straight Big Game loss, a game defeat, a game Cal handed over like it has so many others this season, blame isn't hard to assign.

But do the Bears really want to get rid of Tom Holmoe?

Numbers don't lie, and they don't tell a very favorable story for the head coach. He won five games in 1998, four last year and three in Cal's latest run at mediocrity. He has never won a Big Game. Holmoe has never even won in the month of November.

Saturday's game was a microcosm of Cal's season. The Bears outclassed Stanford in just about every category. Cal's defense was better, its offense was better, its players were more talented, and they played just badly enough to lose. The Bears committed four false start penalties on offense, had two punts blocked and turned the ball over five times. It's a wonder the game even went into overtime.

In the final game of the season, mistakes like those are inexcusable, but they're not the biggest problem. Holmoe still hasn't answered the question that has haunted him since he arrived:

Can he teach his team to win?

As sickening as Cal's miscues were on Saturday, they are becoming an anomaly rather than a fact of life under Holmoe.

The Bears have played with much more discipline over the second half of the season. They have committed fewer penalties, fewer turnovers, and with the exception of the punt-blocking unit, they have been solid on special teams.

Moreover, Cal has come a long way from where it was on offense last season and earlier this year. He had a tough outing on Saturday, but Kyle Boller is developing and most other schools would take him over their own quarterback in a heartbeat. The offensive line played well through a host of injuries, and Joe Igber showed how special he can be in the second half against Stanford.

It's easy to forget all that in a bout of Big-Game myopia, but the bigger picture doesn't necessarily favor Holmoe. His teams have been right there, but can he get them over the hump?

Stanford is the third game that Cal has thrown away this season. Washington State and Washington did not beat the Bears - the Bears beat themselves. And even when Cal lost to the better team, as they undoubtedly did against Oregon and Oregon State, the Bears were in it until the end.

Some of it is youth, but a lot of it is coaching. So what to do with Holmoe, who was so upset after the game that he declined to comment on his future at Cal?

Bears fans would do best to listen to their own advice, the mantra that has kept them from either losing their minds or their allegiance to Cal football:

Just wait till next year.

Or they could try listening to his players.

"Next year will be the year for the Bears," senior defensive end Andre Carter said. "I know that's hard to say after a 3-8 season, but I'm confident that the players and the coaches will get the wins."

"This offense has laid a great foundation," senior center Reed Diehl said. "They have just got to learn how to close games. I truly believe that closing games is learned (in the offseason)."

Both Carter and Diehl ended their Cal careers on Saturday, and neither stands to gain anything from touting Cal's upside. After losing their fourth and final Big Game, you might expect harsh words from them, but frustration was conspicuously absent.

Carter, a lock to go in the top-10 of the NFL Draft next April, could have played anywhere coming out of high school. After four seasons of losing at Cal, he said he'd make the same decision.

The players obviously feel the program is headed in the right direction, and Holmoe deserves another year to prove them right - or wrong. He'll have his entire offense minus Diehl back, most of his defense, and the talented core of his team will all be juniors. There will be no room for excuses, and Holmoe will have to produce.

To a degree, the question of firing Holmoe is academic, since Athletic Director John Kasser is the coach's staunchest defender. Given Cal's budgetary restraints, Kasser would have to settle for an unproven commodity to replace Holmoe. That puts Cal in a double-bind -if he's successful, the new coach would likely bolt for greener financial pastures; and if not, Cal would be back where it started.

If Holmoe leaves before next season, it will be because he wants to, and that is quite unlikely. So Cal fans had better do what they're good at -wait till next year.

But as far as Holmoe goes, the waiting ends then.

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