New faces put a whole new spin on Chico State basketball
A room offers insight on its inhabitant, so it’s no surprise that the Chico State women’s basketball office has an airy feeling this fall. There’s space between the desks. There’s no partitioning. The circular orange- and black-striped rug, which in its heyday looked like a basketball, is no longer a focal point of décor (and may well be in a dumpster by now, if someone has taken the time to toss it). About the only sign of the past two years is the Wall of Survivors above the head coach’s desk.
The photos of players who stuck it out during the Molly Goodenbour era provide a fitting reminder of what the program has gone through. The NCAA Final Four trophy—just as prominent an eye-catcher—is from 2005-06, just before her time. The Wildcats set a school record with 28 wins last season and are 52-11 since that storied trip to the national semifinals, but there’s no companion plaque. Victories fade; mementos endure.
Still, that’s just a subtlety. Obvious to even the most casual observer is the breathing room all around. Fresh air flows through the office, and it’s courtesy of someone who isn’t on the survivor wall, yet should be.
Goodenbour was a late hire two seasons ago, coming to Chico State over the summer after Lynne Roberts left to coach Division I basketball at University of the Pacific, so it’s fitting how she departed the same way. UC Irvine lost its women’s coach in July, and just about a month later, the D-I school lured away Goodenbour (and, it turns out, the simpatico senior who’d have been her graduate assistant coach, Audi Spencer).
So, with just about three weeks till the start of the school year, Chico State found itself with a coaching staff of one: assistant coach Brian Fogel.
Fogel, 43, joined the staff last year after 20-plus years in men’s college basketball—player, assistant coach, head coach. He’d seem a no-brainer as a Wildcats head coach, except for the fact that Athletic Director Anita Barker passed on him a few months earlier when he sought to replace longtime men’s coach Puck Smith. The guy who beat him out was one of his former assistants, Greg Clink, who stayed at UC Davis after Fogel left. Plus, on an even more personal level, Fogel had been commuting to Chico while his wife and daughters stayed home in Dixon.
They’re still there, and he’s still here. Barker asked him to step in as interim coach, and he accepted.
That puts Fogel where he thought he’d be, with one major difference (two, counting his players’ gender). He’s a head coach again, but instead of rebuilding a program years removed from the NCAA Tournament, he’s got a squad ranked in the top 20 and a great shot at the postseason—who knows, maybe even another trophy.
“You know, everything works out for a reason,” Fogel said, leaning back in his chair.
“I feel very fortunate we were able to convince Brian to stay around,” Barker said. “He definitely brings the experience of a head coach, he’s a quality man, and it makes our transition a lot easier. We made out well.”
Fogel feels likewise, particularly with former graduate assistant Holly Carpenter agreeing to take his job. For a month, he had the office to himself, which isn’t such a good thing this time of year.
When Goodenbour took over the program, she did just that—remade it in her image, with her staff, giving players no grace period and no quarter. That prompted some high-profile departures. The difference this time around shouldn’t be so dramatic.
Forwards Renee Goldoff and Cory Edwards give the Wildcats two athletic seniors up front, and Fogel plans to play to their strengths while pushing the tempo with a cadre of ball-pressure point guards.
“We have a lot of familiar faces,” Fogel said, “and things are going to stay relatively the same. Hopefully we’ll have some of the same success that teams of the past have had.
“Nothing in life is ever ideal. But for me to already have been here a year and have relationships with the kids—they have an understanding of who I am and what I’m all about, and I know what they can do—it’s a great opportunity to get back in and be a head coach, and I look forward to the challenge that lies ahead.”
Clink, too, is happy to be in Chico. In fact, he’s eyed the office two doors down from Fogel’s practically ever since he’d visited Smith there.
See, Clink is a former Wildcat. He transferred from Gavilan Community College in 1991 and played on Chico State’s back-to-back conference championship teams (1992-93 and 1993-94).
He stayed on as a graduate assistant, then went to UC Davis as an assistant under Bob Williams. Clink spent two seasons as Gavilan’s head coach, followed Williams to UC Santa Barbara, and came back to Davis in 2000—all the while keeping his eye on Chico, hoping to succeed his mentor when Smith eventually retired.
“To me, he’s a legend in Chico and someone that I have a tremendous amount of respect for,” Clink said of Smith. “Coming into the coaching profession, he’s someone I looked to when it comes to carrying yourself with honor and integrity, doing things the right way.
“I’m still very close with him—I played golf with him two days ago [right before the start of the fall semester]. I feel lucky not only to have this job but to live close to him; now to be able to see him on a regular basis is special to me.”
Smith stepped down March 1, after the final game of his 21st season at Chico State. He went out a winner—75-66 over Cal State Dominguez Hills—though the Wildcats went just 7-20, leaving him with a sub-.500 record (287-292) with the program.
Barker announced the hiring of Clink, 37, on April 22. To say he hit the ground running would be an understatement: May 7, a week before he’d even hired an assistant coach, he locked up his first recruit, Rancho Cordova High star Ethan Stone.
He and his assistant, Gus Argenal (older brother of senior guard Justin Argenal), drew former all-conference forward Andy Bocian back to the team and signed 11 other players, including Division I transfers York Sims (Central Arkansas) and Junior Russell (Cal State Fullerton) on Aug. 25.
“His energy and excitement and enthusiasm for the job is just contagious,” said Barker, feeling great about the coach she selected from 85 applicants. “It’s a great transition to a new era.”
What will that new era be like? Hard to tell for either team, but particularly Clink’s considering all the new faces who’ll make their Chico State debuts in a Nov. 1 exhibition at the University of San Francisco. (The home opener is Nov. 28; the women start with an exhibition Nov. 1 at Stanford and open the season Nov. 20 at Acker Gym.)
“I definitely think this is a sophisticated basketball town—people understand the game,” Barker said, “and as a result people understand that we have to turn around this program. I do think it is always an expectation of everyone in our [athletic department] that we want to compete in the top half of the conference. I also think you don’t make that judgment [of a team’s prospects] in November or December.”
Or, maybe, even in the first year or two—particularly when a coach cites improving academic performance as his first priority, the way Clink has.
“There’s definitely an expectation to win here, but that’s no different from the expectation I have for myself,” he said. “I would never put myself in a position where I didn’t think I could be successful. I think it’s safe to say I have higher expectations for this program than anyone else, and the pressures that come with that, a lot of those are pressures I put on myself.
“The program has come a long way from a nonscholarship conference to where we are now. We’re not where some of the other programs in our conference are in terms of scholarships, but we’re making strides, and I think there definitely are things in place at the university and in the community that we’re definitely headed in the right direction.”
Ditto for Fogel, who’s not comfortable enough with his “interim coach” situation to move his family but shares Clink’s appreciation of the opportunity he’s been afforded.
“My No. 1 priority is being a good father and husband; I have a daughter in high school and a daughter in fifth grade, and my wife is a school teacher,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll be a permanent thing [as head coach] and we’ll all be together. But when you get into coaching, you never know where you’re going to end up.”