Littlejohn Up To The Challenge

If you're a defensive backs coach, assuming a new job well into spring camp, with three long-term starters and team leaders graduating or lost for the season with injury is not exactly the way it's written up in the coaches guidebook to success. But if you're Cal Defensive Backs Coach R. Todd Littlejohn, it's just another one of life's little challenges.

After a jarring jolt of reality in Cal's blowout season-opening loss to Tennessee last season –a loss that came largely as a result of one of his freshman starters, Littlejohn responded to the challenge admirably in the 2006 season, with the Bears leading the Pac 10 with 21 interceptions. Lone returning starter Daymeion Hughes earned All-American honors at cornerback while redshirt frosh Syd'Quan Thompson took over for veteran starter Tim Mixon and recovered from the season-opening debacle with a sterling season of his own. In addition, new safety starters Thomas DeCoud and Bernard Hicks showed great potential along with Brandon Hampton.

"It's been a lot different because last season I came in during the last week of spring ball," said Littlejohn, laughing. "Talk about everything being literally on the run, from getting to know the players, knowing their strengths and weaknesses…then during the summer you're off recruiting and before you know it, you're into fall camp. And, of course, you have Tim Mixon go down and you're putting together a backfield with three inexperienced starters. But while a lot of my transition was on the run, you had a lot of coaches and players that helped make the transition really smooth.

"Now, I think having a better understanding, not only of the individuals but of the defense and the expectations, it helped the flow of things and made it a lot easier this spring. But being able to come in when I did was nice from a success standpoint. And on the flipside, the bar has been raised again. The expectation level is higher. Like I tell the db's, you've been to the Holiday Bowl two of the last three years, which is great, but it's really no longer acceptable. So it will be nice to be a part of what hopefully will be that next level of transition. So in some ways it seems like I've been here for a while."

Complicating the challenge for Littlejohn was the fact that he was taking over for player and fan-favorite J.D. Williams, who chose to move on to a similar position under Tyrone Willingham with the University of Washington.

"It's always difficult to follow someone who's had some success," said Littlejohn. "But like I tell the guys, I'm not J.D. We each have our styles and way of doing things and, while I respect J.D., he also had to transition to a new program himself. In that regard, the players just wanted to know what I was going to do to help them continue to get better. And those things just started to speak for themselves. Knowing some of J.D.'s strengths, I think we do a lot of things similarly. So I wasn't intimidated by the comparisons nor did I want to shy away from them. I want to win, too."

Always animated and amongst the most vocal coaches during most practices at Memorial, Littlejohn's style reminds some of Running Backs Coach Ron Gould, a notorious barker and encourager in his own right.

"No question," said Littlejohn, with a big laugh. "A lot of that is just probably the competitiveness in me and, I'm sure, in Coach Gould. All of us desire to be the very best coaches at our position around and there's a lot of pride in that. Our kids are a reflection of us as well. It's a reciprocal thing. Like I tell them, if they're not performing, people will look at them and say, ‘Hey, who's coaching those guys?' As older coaches always say, you're either coaching or allowing it to happen. You want to make sure that certain things –the hustling, the effort, the competitiveness are things that they can control. You don't necessarily have to have a ton of talent to do that. To pay attention to those details is part of how you become a great player. So, I'm animated and I get into it. I think the kids realize that. Some of them actually kind of tease me and say, ‘Man, you've got a lot of energy,' but I think they feed off of that, so that's a good thing. I know there are days that they don't want to be there, too, and if I don't want to be there, they'll be able to tell from my body posture and I can't let that happen."

"Any time as a coach, you're hammering on guys to do things they don't necessarily want to do. It doesn't matter whether they like you or not, but ultimately, if they know what you're saying to them is in their best interest as well as the team's, then they understand that all this coach is trying to do is make me better. Coach Littlejohn is just trying to make me better. Many times that you look back at any mentor, they're going to push you to a level that they think that you should be at. And that's not always going to be met with excitement and enthusiasm. But if you can look back and say that they made me better in these areas that I wasn't as strong in, I think as players, they kind of see and understand my objective. I told them from day one, my goal is to make them better on and off the field."

Stay tuned as the Bear Insider will bring you two additional follow-up stories from Littlejohn with his thoughts on db performance in spring camp as well as his assessment of the incoming '07 defensive back class.


©Copyright 2007, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.


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\r\n","mobileBody":"After a jarring jolt of reality in Cal's blowout season-opening loss to Tennessee last season –a loss that came largely as a result of one of his freshman starters, Littlejohn responded to the challenge admirably in the 2006 season, with the Bears leading the Pac 10 with 21 interceptions. Lone returning starter Daymeion Hughes earned All-American honors at cornerback while redshirt frosh Syd'Quan Thompson took over for veteran starter Tim Mixon and recovered from the season-opening debacle with a sterling season of his own. In addition, new safety starters Thomas DeCoud and Bernard Hicks showed great potential along with Brandon Hampton.

\"It's been a lot different because last season I came in during the last week of spring ball,\" said Littlejohn, laughing. \"Talk about everything being literally on the run, from getting to know the players, knowing their strengths and weaknesses…then during the summer you're off recruiting and before you know it, you're into fall camp. And, of course, you have Tim Mixon go down and you're putting together a backfield with three inexperienced starters. But while a lot of my transition was on the run, you had a lot of coaches and players that helped make the transition really smooth.

\"Now, I think having a better understanding, not only of the individuals but of the defense and the expectations, it helped the flow of things and made it a lot easier this spring. But being able to come in when I did was nice from a success standpoint. And on the flipside, the bar has been raised again. The expectation level is higher. Like I tell the db's, you've been to the Holiday Bowl two of the last three years, which is great, but it's really no longer acceptable. So it will be nice to be a part of what hopefully will be that next level of transition. So in some ways it seems like I've been here for a while.\"

Complicating the challenge for Littlejohn was the fact that he was taking over for player and fan-favorite J.D. Williams, who chose to move on to a similar position under Tyrone Willingham with the University of Washington.

\"It's always difficult to follow someone who's had some success,\" said Littlejohn. \"But like I tell the guys, I'm not J.D. We each have our styles and way of doing things and, while I respect J.D., he also had to transition to a new program himself. In that regard, the players just wanted to know what I was going to do to help them continue to get better. And those things just started to speak for themselves. Knowing some of J.D.'s strengths, I think we do a lot of things similarly. So I wasn't intimidated by the comparisons nor did I want to shy away from them. I want to win, too.\"

Always animated and amongst the most vocal coaches during most practices at Memorial, Littlejohn's style reminds some of Running Backs Coach Ron Gould, a notorious barker and encourager in his own right.

\"No question,\" said Littlejohn, with a big laugh. \"A lot of that is just probably the competitiveness in me and, I'm sure, in Coach Gould. All of us desire to be the very best coaches at our position around and there's a lot of pride in that. Our kids are a reflection of us as well. It's a reciprocal thing. Like I tell them, if they're not performing, people will look at them and say, ‘Hey, who's coaching those guys?' As older coaches always say, you're either coaching or allowing it to happen. You want to make sure that certain things –the hustling, the effort, the competitiveness are things that they can control. You don't necessarily have to have a ton of talent to do that. To pay attention to those details is part of how you become a great player. So, I'm animated and I get into it. I think the kids realize that. Some of them actually kind of tease me and say, ‘Man, you've got a lot of energy,' but I think they feed off of that, so that's a good thing. I know there are days that they don't want to be there, too, and if I don't want to be there, they'll be able to tell from my body posture and I can't let that happen.\"

\"Any time as a coach, you're hammering on guys to do things they don't necessarily want to do. It doesn't matter whether they like you or not, but ultimately, if they know what you're saying to them is in their best interest as well as the team's, then they understand that all this coach is trying to do is make me better. Coach Littlejohn is just trying to make me better. Many times that you look back at any mentor, they're going to push you to a level that they think that you should be at. And that's not always going to be met with excitement and enthusiasm. But if you can look back and say that they made me better in these areas that I wasn't as strong in, I think as players, they kind of see and understand my objective. I told them from day one, my goal is to make them better on and off the field.\"

Stay tuned as the Bear Insider will bring you two additional follow-up stories from Littlejohn with his thoughts on db performance in spring camp as well as his assessment of the incoming '07 defensive back class.


©Copyright 2007, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.

If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.

Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.

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