Cal officially announces the hiring of new offensive coordinator Jake Spavital

After weeks of speculation, California officially announced the hiring of former Texas A&M offensive coordinator Jake Spavital as successor to Tony Franklin in Berkeley.

BERKELEY -- Following his ouster from Texas A&M on Jan. 3, Jake Spavital, the 30-year old offensive coordinator will take up that same position for California, succeeding Tony Franklin, who resigned on Jan. 22 to take the same post at Middle Tennessee State, in order to be closer to his family. The Bears officially announced Spavital's hiring on Thursday. He will also coach quarterbacks.

"Tony has been a guy that I followed through the years, spoke at clinics. A lot of his concepts are similar to what we do," Spavital said. "That's one of the things I felt was intriguing about this place, because all of the concepts are similar to what I've done in the past."

Sources have said that the Franklin move was at least somewhat expected inside Strawberry Canyon, and that Cal head coach Sonny Dykes had been interested in Spavital ever since he and the Aggies parted ways, and Dykes confirmed that.

"Tony and I had kind of been having some discussions, on and off, for a year, about the possibility of this happening, and when I heard about it a year ago, and this year, Jake's name was a name that certainly popped in my head in the beginning," Dykes said. "We've never worked together, but we've worked with so many people, the two of us have, through the years, people that I know well and respect, so when it happened, I mean, literally, I called Jake 15 minutes later, after Tony and I talked. I talked to him, talked to some other people, as well, and it's a big hire for us, and our program. I did a lot of homework, as I Normally do, and everything checked out in the way I hoped it would and thought it would. It's actually much better than I had anticipated."

Spavital said that red zone efficiency and the run game would be his key focus. He also plans to continue the kick-slide set of the offensive line, as opposed to Franklin's vertical pass set. As for the under-center portion of the offense that was rarely seen with Franklin and Jared Goff? Spavital said that Cal's quarterbacks will be under center more.

"It's basically been off of the quarterback," he said. "When I was at West Virginia, I put Geno Smith under center a lot of times. It really goes down to the comfort of the quarterback. It's essential to have plays under center where you do things with the quarterback."

Spavital is scheduled to be in attendance at Thursday's Cal-Oregon basketball game at Haas Pavilion.

Immediately following Spavital's departure from College Station, former five-star quarterback Kyle Allen announced his decision to transfer on Jan. 5. That announcement followed a Dec. 17 announcement by another former five-star quarterback, Kyler Murray, that he would transfer out of Texas A&M. He landed at Oklahoma. Spavital was instrumental in recruiting both Allen and Murray to the Aggies, along with wide receiver Christian Kirk out of Scottsdale (Ariz.) Saguaro.

"The recruiting element was something we were really excited about," Dykes said. "From talking to everybody, Jake's got a zest for recruiting, and that's what makes somebody a good recruiter: They enjoy doing it. For us to get to where we want to go, we've got to continue to recruit better. We have every year, but that trend has to stay in that direction. He'll be able to do that, identify with kids."

A source told BearTerritory that Spavital was very coveted by NFL executives following his departure from Texas A&M, but Dykes was in hot pursuit.

"I looked at it as a way where, I wanted a challenge as a person," Spavital said of his forray into the NFL interview process. "I either wanted to call it, or I wanted to go in and learn something different than I'd ever learned before, so the NFL was intriguing to me. Once you go through the whole process of interviewing with NFL teams, you realize how hard it is actually to get into that league. It's such a small fraternity of people. I just wanted to challenge myself as a person, as a coach, to see if I could learn a different way of doing things. That was pretty much my thought process, at that point, and timing is everything, coach Dykes called, and I'm fortunate enough to be here right now."

Spavial had been with the Aggies since 2013, when he was named co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, after the former holder of that position, Kliff Kingsbury, left to become the head coach at Texas Tech. Spavital started out as the co-offensive coordinator, splitting duties with Clarence McKinney, before taking over as the full-time offensive coordinator for the 2014 season.

Spavital checks off two of the three big boxes Dykes named when speaking with the San Francisco Chronicle -- offensive coordinator/play-calling experience, and coming from the Air Raid/spread coaching tree. 

“We wanted to hire someone that has worked with the best coaches in the country, tutored the top quarterbacks and recruited the elite players, and Jake fit the bill perfectly,” Dykes said. “He also has a tremendous amount of knowledge of our offensive system, and we anticipate that he will take the basic concepts of what we’ve been doing for the past two decades and use his knowledge to incorporate new ideas that will make it even better.”

Following his career at Missouri State as a quarterback and punter, Spavital joined the Tulsa staff as an offensive quality control coach under Gus Malzahn, who ran a spread with a dual-threat quarterback in Cam Newton en route to a national title at Auburn in 2013.

In 2009, Spavital got fully-engrossed in the spread coaching under Kevin Sumlin and Air Raid disciple Dana Holgorsen, and when Holgorsen left to become the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State in 2010, he took Spavital with him as a graduate assistant. Holgorson coached with Dykes at Texas Tech from 2000 to 2006, as the two coached receivers (Holgorsen inside, and Dykes outside) and shared offensive coordinator duties.

Spavital helped coach quarterback Brandon Weeden in Holgorsen's offense, and the Cowboys went 11-2 that season, with Weeden ranking third in the nation in yards per game and total yards, as well as sixth in the country in touchdowns.

Spavital followed Holgorsen again to West Virginia for the 2011 and 2012 seasons, coaching future first-round quarterback Geno Smith. Under Spavital's tutelage, Smith was named first-team All-Big East, and the Orange Bowl MVP. Smith set school records for completions (38), attempts (65) and passing yards (463) in the fourth game of the 2011 season against No. 2 LSU. He continued on to set single-season school records for pass completions (291), passing attempts (448) and passing yards (3,741) against Pitt on Nov. 25, and in the Mountaineers Orange Bowl win against Clemson, he tied three individual bowl records with six touchdown passes, seven overall touchdowns and most points scored (42).His 401 passing yards broke the bowl record previously held by Tom Brady.

"It's all based off of the same principles [as Franklin's offense], but based off of the experience that I've had over the past eight years, you're always going to find added wrinkles that work for different types of defenses," Spavital said. "We all have to get down, get to work, get on the same page and see where it goes from there. You're not going to see too many crazy things, but if we all agree on it, we'll attack and go forward."

During his time in College Station, Spavital coached Heisman Trophy-winner and future first-round NFL Draft pick Johnny Manziel, who earned first-team All-SEC honors, named the SEC Male Athlete of the Year, and the Chick-fil-A Bowl offensive MVP, coming in fifth place in the Heisman Trophy voting, completing 300 of 429 passing attempts for 4,114 yards, 37 touchdowns and 13 interceptions, with 759 rushing yards and nine touchdowns on 144 carries -- numbers better than 2012, when he took home the coveted Heisman. His QB rating also was markedly better than his Heisman season, going from 155.3 to 172.9.

In his first season as the OC, Spavital's quarterbacks tallied a 69.3% completion percentage, 4,593 passing yards, wth 40 touchdowns to 13 picks.

The next season, the Aggies went 8-5, with quarterbacks completing 64.6% of their passes for 3,971 yards, 39 passing TDs and 15 picks. A&M averaged 305.5 yards per game through the air, and 149.9 yards per game on the ground. Texas A&M split quarterbacking duties between Kenny Hill, who transferred to TCU for 2015, and Allen, a top-five quarterback in the 2013 class.

Following a tumultuous 2015 season in which Murray and Allen split time, neither completing over 60% of their passes, and posting a combined TD-to-INT ratio of 22 to 14, both Allen and Murray decided to transfer in the span of two weeks. Sumlin, according to reports, was the main culprit, with trust issues percolating between both quarterbacks and the coaching staff. Spavital was speculated to have served as a sacrificial offering in the wake of the down season, and the transfers of Hill and Murray.

As for the run game, the Aggies averaged 185 rushing yards per game in 2013 (5.17 ypc). In 2014, without Manziel, that dipped to 150 yards per game, and 4.63 yards per carry.

Things looked back up in 2015, when Texas A&M averaged 169 yards per game on the ground, but at a 4.35 yards per carry clip.

For reference, Cal's offense over the past three years has averaged 122.17 yards per game on the ground in 2013 (3.5 ypc), 149.17 ypg in 2014 (4.1 ypc) and 152.85 ypg (4.5 ypc) last season.

Spavital made $483,500 in base salary in 2015, and Franklin earned $507,000 this past season. With Dykes's new extension ensuring an extra $500,000 for assistant pay, Spavital is expected to see a raise in pay, and it's been reported that his deal is for two years, but terms have yet to be disclosed.

Spavital is the son of Steve Spavital, a longtime high school coach, who had a 39-12 record at Broken Arrow (Okla.) in four seasons as head coach, and led the Tigers to the Class 6A state championship game in 2011. He was an assistant at Broken Arrow from 2007-09, and head coach from 2010-13. Steve Spavital has officially retired from coaching.

"My dad told me to get into another profession," Spavital laughed.

Steve and Jake are not the only Spavitals to have made their bones in the coaching ranks. Jake's grandfather, Jim Spavital, played in the All-America Football Conference, NFL and CFL, and then worked as a coach. Zac Spavital -- Jake's brother -- currently coaches linebackers at Texas Tech, where Dykes coached from 2000-2006.

"I called about 10 guys that I know and respect, and asked, 'If you could hire anybody, who'd you hire?' It was Jake," Dykes said. "Dana wasn't the only one. Kevin was great. I talked to Kevin Sumlin about it, and he gave him a big endorsement. Everything, administrators, you know how it is, in this day and age, better know everything you can find out. The good thing is, we've been in the same circles. I'm a little out of touch, old and boring, but we knew a lot of the same people."

With an expected increase in pay comes yet another quarterback connundrum for Spavital, who will oversee the competition to replace expected first-round NFL Draft pick Jared Goff.

"Two years ago, at A&M, we had an open quarterback competition with Kenny Hill and Kyle Allen, and it's something that you give every kid an opportunity to go and compete, and at the end of the day, it's a group decision on who we think is going to be the best guy that's going to put us in position to win," Spavital said. "They're all going to have their opportunity to show what they're capable of doing." There are four main contenders for the starting gig, including 2015 backup Chase Forrest, who completed 10 of 18 passes with one interception, for a total of 162 yards and one touchdown in three games.

Also in the running is quarterback-turned-safety-turned-quarterback Luke Rubenzer. The junior-to-be was Cal's primary backup in 2014, rushing 52 times for 207 yards and three touchdowns, and completing 12 of 21 passes for 166 yards and three interceptions with two touchdowns. As a safety last season, Rubenzer tallied 43 tackles and two interceptions.

"He was a winner," said Spavital, who saw Rubenzer while recruiting Kirk. "He had a great senior year, and he always had a chip on his shoulder. He was low in the rankings, ended up making the Elite 11, and competing. I'm very curious to see where he's at now."

Also in the mix is freshman Ross Bowers, who came in last spring, and after some early hiccups proved to have a strong and accurate arm in practice. As a senior at Bothell (Wash.), he led his team to a Washington state title, as well as a 14-1 record. Bowers has completed 228-of-335 passes (68.1%) for 3,505 yards with 37 touchdowns and six interceptions to earn first-team All-KingCo honors.

Two incoming freshmen will be contending, as well, including 6-foot-1, 240-pound run-and-gun quarterback Victor Viramontes, who will enroll in the fall, and early-enrollee Max Gilliam, who will be a dark horse contender when spring football starts in mid-March. As a junior at Thousand Oaks (Calif.), he threw for 2,920 yards and 29 touchdowns, rushing for 625 yards and 12 touchdowns. As a senior, Gilliam threw for 3,413 yards on 217-of-294 passing, with 40 touchdowns to just five interceptions for a QB rating of 144.5. He also rushed for 666 yards on 146 carries, with two 100+ yard games and 10 touchdowns on the ground.

Spavital will be the one calling plays this fall, and he will do it from the field.

"I like to look the quarterback in the eye, and get a sense of where he's at during the game," Spavital said. "Not just the quarterback, but everybody. I started doing that because when I worked for Dana Holgerson, he was a guy that was on the field, and he could get a feel, and gauge where a quarterback's at, especially if you've got a kid who's about to go into his first start in a big atmosphere, you've got to understand where that kid is, and how you need to call the game and try to get him calmed down a little bit."

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