Thompson Tackles New Challenge

In the first of a two-part interview, the Bear Insider spoke with new Cal linebackers coach Kenwick Thompson about his path to Cal and his relationship with his new staff.

With the retirement of veteran linebackers coach Bob Foster last month, the Bears opted to get younger, bringing in a youthful but very experienced Kenwick Thompson from nearby San Jose State to fill Foster's shoes.

In Thompson, the Bears tabbed a coach with experience on both sides of the ball as well as in administration and recruiting –a key element to any staff.

After a productive career at Searey, Arkansas' Harding University, where Thompson was twice named all-league as well has league Defensive MVP while setting a still-standing school record for career sacks with 30, Thompson continued in his career in football.

Thompson's final season with Harding was the start of a wide-ranging trail in Thompson's career path, including a stint overseas in one of the least-likely football venues one could imagine: Italy.

"I went to Europe and lived in Florence, Italy after I finished playing my senior year," said Thompson. "I was really interested in studying abroad and I had an opportunity to do that. At the same time, one of the teams in Europe asked me to try out and play with them. So I did that and they liked what they saw so they asked me to play on the team.

"It was a league where only a certain percentage of the team could be American. The rest were Italians. That made it very interesting. You talk about communication –you had to make sure you had that together. So when guys give me the excuse that they don't understand –I tell them I've been places where you literally don't understand, so figure it out," Thompson said, laughing.

Thompson was also able to take advantage of the opportunity to study abroad and took full advantage of the experience.

"As part of my contract, my university program had a program overseas that my football scholarship didn't cover," noted Thompson. "So part of my contract was that they covered my schooling and I had a chance to study international business and art and literature. I loved it. The experience far outweighed the football.

"After coaching youth over there and going 10-1, I was offered to come back but I thought it was time to come back and get my degree, so I had to let it go. I really enjoyed it, though. The experience was outstanding."

After returning from Italy, Thompson came back to Harding as a graduate assistant and finished his degree. After spending a year in the private sector in business, Thompson returned to coaching, joining the staff at Texas Southern from 1994-2000, starting as a running backs coach the first year before moving to defensive line coach, then finishing the last 5 seasons as Assistant Head Coach as well as Defensive Coordinator.

Thompson then moved on to California, joining the San Jose State staff as linebackers coach before moving on to serve as recruiting coordinator, defensive line coach and strength and conditioning coach for the Spartans.

As it turned out, an earlier Bear connection was partially responsible for bringing Thompson out West, closer to his current destination.

"I've known Coach Delgado for 10+ years and I got a chance to meet the rest of the defensive staff through him," noted Thompson. "He played and coached at San Jose State and is an alumnus there.

"When I was coaching back in Texas, at Texas Southern, that's when Ken and I first met and before I made the move out to California, I talked to him and got information on the Bay Area and our relationship has continued to grow."

Thompson had great success in San Jose, helping coach a defense that finished 3rd in the WAC in total defense as well as points allowed. SJS also earned its first bowl victory in 17 years, defeating the University of New Mexico in the New Mexico Bowl.

All the while, Thompson was admiring from not so afar the successful program that Cal Head Coach Jeff Tedford was building in Berkeley.

"Because of the location of Cal relative to San Jose State, I've come up here several times and spent time with the Cal staff," said Thompson. "So that's where the relationship started –with the defensive staff.

"Last summer, I came up to Berkeley to help work one of the camps at Cal and had a chance to meet the entire staff there," continued Thompson. "So over the years, I've had an opportunity to pretty much meet everyone on the staff and establish a good relationship with them. It's been a great transition for me. They're a great group of coaches and a great group of people.

"One of the reasons that Cal was attractive to me besides Coach Tedford is the work ethic that the coaching staff has and the care that they take for players on and off the field. That was really important to me as well as the physical nature that Cal plays with. That's really evident how they go about their business –on and off the field.

"Looking at the program from afar, you notice that and you naturally want to be a part of that. Being a part of a program like Cal's was always very attractive to me. And the quality of the education at Cal will always be an incredibly valuable recruiting tool. Just the value of a Cal degree –that exceeds everything."

With the wide-ranging experience that he's gained in his 15 years of coaching, it would appear that the young and charismatic Thompson could make a successful coach down the line.

"That's the goal one day," said Thompson, "but you really need to prepare yourself and do the best job that you can in the job you're in now and that will always prepare you for what's in store later.

"Being in a 1AA school, you kind of have to be a jack-of-all-trades and that in itself prepares you to be able to handle different situations and different responsibilities. I was really fortunate to be able to get that kind of experience at a young age."

At this stage of his career, Thompson is extremely happy in his new role and looks forward to helping mold some of the new talent he helped bring in during his first month on the job as well as working with the talented returning Bear linebackers.

Stay tuned for the second installment later this week, where Thompson talks recruiting and breaks down the talented 2007 linebacker recruiting class along with some of the returning Bear linebacker talent.

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