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Leonard Griffin is the new Cal Men's Soccer head coach
The UCLA alum was a Cal assistant back in 2013-14 when the Bears were ranked No.1 in the country
While there are some long-term questions surrounding Cal Men’s Soccer, mainly where will the team train and compete if/when the University takes away Edwards Stadium from the Athletics Department per the agreement to assume the Memorial Stadium debt, a new Leonard Griffin era of Cal Men’s Soccer has begun!
Leonard Griffin, a former California men's soccer assistant with more than a decade of collegiate coaching experience, has been named the head coach of the Cal men's soccer program, Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton announced Thursday.
"We are thrilled that Leonard Griffin will become the next leader of our men's soccer program," Knowlton said. "He has a proven record of success as a player, assistant coach, and head coach, including time on staff here in Berkeley. With his ability to relate to and develop student-athletes, I am confident that Cal soccer will be in very good hands."
"It's a true honor and privilege to lead the men's soccer program at the most elite school in the country," Griffin said. "It's special. What can I say, but, it's Cal. This is the chance of a lifetime to come back to a program that I'm familiar with after working there under Kevin Grimes.
"To come back to my home state in California is a lot, and there's no better place than the San Francisco Bay Area. It's a place where my family wants to settle.
"I want to thank Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton, Assistant AD Casey Cox and the entire hiring committee for believing in me as the coach to lead the Cal men's soccer program into the future. This is a program that has had tremendous success, and I look forward to helping it reach new heights."
Griffin, a UCLA alum (‘03) who helped the Bruins win the 2002 NCAA title before playing professionally all over the US until 2010, is most recently the head coach over at Grand Canyon where he just started in 2021. He has also been the head coach at the University of San Francisco from 2019 to 2021.
He was an assistant coach under Kevin Grimes at Cal from 2013-14, coinciding with the years when Cal held the No.1 ranking in the country and produced two MLS Superdraft top pick in No.1 Steve Birnbaum and No.3 Christian Dean.
The choice of a former Cal assistant coach during a particularly successful stretch in Cal history who has also been a head coach at another west coast school appears to be a common one for Cal in non-revenue sports when they do not go with an alum (Meagan Owusu for Beach Volleyball and Chelsea Spencer for Softball). This hire feels very similar to that of Sam Crosson (former Cal assistant when the Bears made the NCAA Championships who also had success as a head coach at Cal Poly) for Volleyball or that of Mike Neu (former Cal pitching coach who became a head coach at Pacific) for Baseball. Crosson and Griffin are Jim Knowlton’s decisions. Mike Neu was hired by former Cal AD Mike Williams. Clearly familiarity with “how Cal works” is a big part of landing a Cal head coaching job.
A talented recruiter and coach who has sent more than 30 student-athletes to the professional ranks, Griffin served as head coach at Grand Canyon for the 2021 season and previously was the head coach at San Francisco from 2019 through the 2021 spring season. He led Grand Canyon to a 15-4-1 overall record and to the WAC's regular-season title with a 9-2 conference mark. The Antelopes – whose RPI was ranked as high as No. 1 last season – earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.
His Lopes finished the season ranked 25th in the country and had eight players earn WAC honors, including WAC Defender of the Year Esai Easley and Justin Rasmussen, an All-WAC midfielder. Easley and Rasmussen became the first Grand Canyon players chosen in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft when Sporting Kansas City selected Easley at No. 22 and the Portland Timbers picked Rasmussen at No. 27. Griffin has now coached 35 players who have gone on to play professional soccer.
Griffin is the latest new Cal head coach after another UCLA alum Kris Kwinta was named the Men’s Tennis head coach. Cal Athletics still has a vacancy for a new Diving coach.
Griffin will replace Kevin Grimes who announced his retirement earlier this year. Under Grimes, Cal’s success had been rather cyclical with Grimes doing a great job developing talent but it often took 1-2 years of rebuild before the team returns to the postseason. Nonetheless, what is undeniable is the number of Cal Bears who have gone on to play pro soccer either in the MLS or USL under the tutelage of Kevin Grimes.
Cal is coming off two tough seasons where Pac-12 rivals Washington and Oregon State are all top-10 caliber. In 2021, Cal finished 3-9-3 with a 1-6-1 record in conference play. Coincidentally (or not), the Bears have also not won a postseason match since 2014, when Griffin was last in Berkeley.
Given what Leonard Griffin was able to accomplish in just one year at Grand Canyon, granted that they are a for-profit school with a D1 athletics program, Cal could be adding a number of transfers and have a very different look by this fall. Golden Bears will have also graduated about half of their starting XI from last semester.
Welcome back to Berkeley, Coach Griffin!