Cal Poly head coach Tim Walsh teaches a lot more than just football.
Simple connections like these are what Walsh hopes to make clear to his players as they put on their green and gold jerseys each week. In Walsh’s eyes, new life Proxy-Connection: keep-alive
ssons are taught by playing football on Saturdays.
“I am an educator,” Walsh said. “I think the biggest role we have as coaches is to help (players) learn about life and I think the game of football teaches them a lot of those things.”
The evidence is embodied in his players. Take quarterback Tony Smith for example. When he went 1 of 11 through the air against Ohio last season, some fans grumbled. The season before fans saw Jonathan Dally, maybe one of the best quarterbacks the Mustangs have had in recent years, and Smith’s performance was nothing like what he did the season before.
Then Walsh chimed in. Bad things are going to happen throughout a football game, but it’s all about how you react, how you respond, Smith recalls his coach saying.
“The adversity that a college football game brings, he did a great job of helping me through it,” Smith said. “He was always a positive guy throughout the course of a game and to face adversity you really have to have that … I think Coach Walsh is the type of coach where you can be a young man when you come into the program and he teaches you life lessons through football.”
Most of the players have seen this side of Walsh. Off the field, he has brought in tutors to help his athletes. Tutors have mandatory meetings with players, making sure they stay on track to pass classes, fullback Jake Romanelli said.
It’s a simple reminder there is life outside of football.
“It’s not just football,” Romanelli said. “(He teaches) all the life lessons.”
Walsh also tries to stay close to his players as a friend. He can talk to his players about anything. Playing time, relationships, school, you name it. The bond he forms with players is the most important part of his job, Walsh said.
“He is an honest man,” Smith said. “I am never afraid to talk to him about anything. It doesn’t have to be about football, he is just one of those guys, where if I see him in the office we won’t even talk about football … He has really been a big influence on this team and this program.”
Cornerback Asa Jackson feels the same way. The way Walsh — and the rest of his coaching staff — connects with players has created a strong bond between the two, Jackson said.
“These are coaches that I would go to battle for on any given day,” Jackson said. “They have shown that they really do care about us and they want to win just as bad as I do and just as bad as everyone else does.”
It’s a temperament that lures players to the program, such as Baylor transfer Matt Singletary. Before Singletary came to the campus, he took a tour and met Walsh and the rest of the coaching staff; within minutes, he could tell all of them were completely honest, he said.
They were coaches he wanted to play for.
“Coach Walsh is an awesome guy,” Singletary said. “Everyone just seemed really, really honest, they were like ‘Hey we are not Baylor, we don’t have this, we don’t have that, but what we do have, we take care of and respect it.’ I just thought that was really cool.”
For Walsh, this mindset he has is different from his roots. It’s nothing like how it was when he was in his player’s shoes.
“I mean in the ’70s things were a little bit different,” Walsh said. “Your coach was your coach and back then it was kind of the hierarchy deal.”
Walsh graduated from Junipero Serra High School, in San Mateo, Calif. and then moved to UC Riverside to play football. He was a backup quarterback in the mid ’70s and graduated with a degree in history. Walsh always knew he wanted to stay involved in athletics, he said, but once he noticed his football career was coming to an end, he realized there was only one way to stay in the game he loved.
“When you realize your playing days are coming to an end, you have two choices to stay in the game. My option was to coach,” Walsh said. “Coaching was my avenue to do something involved in athletics for the rest of my life.”
Walsh spent four years at Serra coaching football and baseball and nine years later he got his first collegiate head coaching job at Sonoma State. Last season, he became the 16th head coach in Cal Poly football history.
He succeeded former Cal Poly head coach Rich Ellerson, a coach who tallied a 56-34 record through seven seasons at Cal Poly. He led the Mustangs to the FCS playoffs in 2008 where they lost to Weber State, the year before Walsh took over.
“I told my wife about 17 or 18 years ago that I would never again take a head coaching position where the guy prior to me was successful – but I did it,” Walsh said. “I knew, number one, that there were going to be some extreme challenges for a lot of reasons.”
Challenges or not, to his players, he is thriving in Ellerson’s shadow quite nicely, Smith said. Cal Poly may have struggled (4-7) last season but are off to a solid (6-3) start this year. Last year was one of the worst seasons, on paper, of the decade, but all the losing and heartbreak may have taught his team the greatest lesson of them all: perseverance through thick and thin.
“He has this program in the right direction to achieve some really special things and to do some really special things around this campus,” Smith said. “He is taking the right steps. He has made us as players believe that he can do it.”