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Bold coaching choice pays off as Kapp builds football winner at Cal

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When the University of California at Berkeley decided to do something about its defeat-weary football team at the end of last season, people somehow expected that the new coach would have at least worked at his profession.

They were looking for someone who had been a winner in the Big Ten, beaten Notre Dame, or taken one of the nation's major independents to a bowl game. Experimenting with atoms in the school lab is acceptable, but for the football field you've got to have a proven formula.

Instead Dave Maggard, Cal's athletic director, bypassed the popular newspaper candidate (Jack Elway of San Jose State) and hired Golden Bear alumnus Joe Kapp, ignoring the obvious risk that maybe the onetime star quarterback couldn't coach. Since ending his pro playing career with the New England Patriots, Joe had been off dabbling in acting, construction, real estate, and movie production.

Most of the feeling that Kapp didn't have the credentials dissolved when Cal, which had gone 2-9 in 1981, won three of its first four games. The Golden Bears didn't stop there either, posting a 7-4 overall record climaxed by a wild 25-20 upset of arch rival Stanford in the season finale Saturday.

Thus Joe has already accomplished his first goal, which was to turn a losing program around. A good recruiting year should do the rest.

Looking back at his playing days at California, Kapp ran his team on the field like a Marine drill sergeant whose shoes were too tight. But the last time the Golden Bears made the Rose Bowl, against Iowa in 1959, it was Joe who got them there.

At that time Kapp was the Phyllis Diller of college quarterbacks. His passes had all the style of a shopworn housedress; the hang time of a manhole cover; and the trajectory of a Wall Street broker's stock charts.

Joe, however, was a born leader who kept a constant verbal fire under the emotions of his teammates. He wouldn't let anyone feel sorry for himself, even on those days when Cal wasn't winning, which wasn't often. If a personality problem developed between players, he solved it himself.

National Football League teams were so impressed with Kapp that they took 279 players ahead of him in the 1959 draft. They were looking for quarterbacks with rifle arms, not rubber hoses, so Joe ignored a modest offer from the Washington Redskins and took his act to the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.

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