Thirty-year-old Tosh Lupoi, born and bred a Cal Bear and arguably the top-recruiting assistant coach on the West Coast, bolted Berkeley on Monday for Washington -- a huge blow, 15 days before signing day, to 10th-year coach Jeff Tedford and a landscape-altering move in the Pac-12.
This is reality at Cal, where the athletic department operates under the weight of a budget deficit that exceeded, on average, more than $11 million from 2003 to 2010, according to a university report.
Lupoi, who recently finished his fourth year as defensive line coach under Tedford, reportedly earned $164,000 at Cal. At Washington, he received a new title: defensive run game coordinator -- and, no doubt, a big raise.
How does Cal match that? It can't.
This is the school that axed five sports two years ago and then reinstated baseball months later after fund-raising efforts produced nearly $10 million.
It's astounding to imagine that the University of California's unofficial flagship institution can't compete on an even field with its conference rivals. But it's true.
Lupoi's departure serves as the latest piece of evidence.
And if his decision wasn't about money, perhaps Lupoi saw the writing on the wall. In the fast-moving world of conference realignment, Cal football appears to be treading water, at best. After posting a 44-19 mark with four bowl wins from 2004 to 2008, the Bears are 20-18 over the past three seasons without a postseason victory.
Tedford did not comment Monday on the loss of his ace recruiter. Surely, the head coach stayed busy trying to reassure recruits at this critical hour that things remain OK at Cal.
The problem? Most of the top pledges in his eighth-ranked class of commitments, including defensive tackle Ellis McCarthy (Monrovia, Calif./Monrovia), safety Shaq Thompson (Sacramento, Calif./Grant), receiver Jordan Payton (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian), center Matthew Cochran (Atwater, Calif./Buhach) and offensive lineman Freddie Tagaloa (Richmond, Calif./Salesian), established strong relationships with Lupoi. However, after hearing the news about Lupoi,
McCarthy defected Monday for UCLA.
So many assistant coaches switch schools like shirts. But this was no ordinary assistant-coaching move.
Lupoi bled Cal blue and gold. With deep family roots in the Bay Area, he grew up in nearby Berkeley. As a young player at Cal, he cried all night in his dorm room after the Bears lost games in which he did not play.
An inspirational figure among his own family, he fought through injuries in his playing career and earned the universal respect of teammates.
He coached first-round NFL draft picks Tyson Alualu and Cameron Jordan as an assistant and lured touted signees from all corners of the country.
And now this. Lupoi did not respond to a message Monday. Others close to him stayed quiet, too. No doubt, it was a bittersweet day, one that caused Lupoi much reflection and, like it or not, offered a commentary about the future at Cal.
Two weeks ago, Zach Kline of Danville, Calif., the No. 4 quarterback in ESPNU 150 recruited to Cal by Tedford himself, talked openly after a practice for the Under Armour All-America Game about schools that try everything within the rules to lure a prospect to sign.
Unfortunately, not at Cal, Kline said with a slight frown.
It was an innocuous comment, unrelated to Lupoi, but the point applies here. Cal, with its esteemed academic reputation and colorful culture, holds itself to a high standard.
Something needs to make the school stand out to recruits.
That something was Lupoi. What is it now?
Mitch Sherman is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Mitch Sherman on Twitter: @mitchsherman