Gold: Stanford misses its shot, loses its Mad Dog to its hated rival, Cal
I’m all for standing pat. For buying into the process. For giving a head coach as long a leash as possible.
But not when the Mad Dog is available. Then it’s time for a new leash.
Cal struck a blow in the battle to bring back basketball in the Bay, turning to a former Stanford star to right a ship that has gone drastically off course, hiring former Utah Valley head coach and 2023 WAC coach of the year Mark Madsen to replace the jettisoned Mark Fox.
Madsen, a 9-year NBA veteran who averaged 2.2 points in his career with the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves, previously served 1 season as an assistant at his alma mater in 2012-13, then served as an assistant coach with the Lakers from from 2013-19 before taking over at Utah Valley, which he guided from 11-19 in 2019-20 to 28-9 and a berth in the NIT semifinals this season.
Here’s the scary thing: That would be the best postseason tournament run for Stanford since Johnny Dawkins led the Cardinal to the NIT championship in 2015, its 2nd NIT title in 4 years.
After Stanford fell to 15-15 the following year, the school fired Dawkins and replaced him with Jerod Haase, whose only postseason appearance was an NIT bid in 2017-18, his 2nd year. This year, his 5th, the Cardinal went just 14-19 after finishing 14-13 in 2021-22.
And yet Stanford decided to stick with Haase.
Even with the Mad Dog ready to bite.
Once upon a time, Madsen was an absolute beast in the then-Pac-10.
He thrived under Stanford-turned-Cal coach Mike Montgomery, finishing his career ranked in the school’s career top 10 in field goal percentage, blocks and rebounds.
More important, he won.
Madsen helped lead the Cardinal to 4 straight NCAA Tournament appearances, including a berth in the 1998 Final Four, alongside Stanford greats like the Collins twins, Jason and Jarron, and Casey Jacobsen. Madsen played second-fiddle to no one though, earning 2 All-American nods after blossoming into one of the Pac-12’s best rebounders and a regular double-double threat.
“Mark Madsen is one of the best human beings I’ve ever met,” Jason Collins said in a Cal release announcing the hire. “I was lucky to be teammates with him in college where he consistently demonstrated leadership, hustle and true friendship each and every day. His drive and positive energy inspired all of us to improve and work harder to achieve our goals. I’m so proud to see the coach he has become and how his players can look to him as an excellent role model for future success in all parts of their lives.”
As a player, Madsen was known for his grit and his determination and limited athleticism that nonetheless earned him the status of a fan favorite.
In the NBA, despite limited production, he lasted nearly a decade and earned his respect of teammates including Shaquille O’Neal, who once said Madsen used to “beat him up” in practice.
A connection to the past.
NBA bona fides.
More recent success than the Cardinal have had in years.
And Stanford decided to stick with Jerod Haase.
To say Madsen is ready to rejoin the Pac-12 is an understatement.
While the Cardinal have been mediocre and Cal collapsed into the biggest dumpster fire in the Pac-12, Utah Valley was thriving under Madsen. The Wolverines beat Oregon, Colorado and Washington in the past 2 years, in addition to a pair of victories over in-state rival BYU, including a win over the 12th-ranked Cougars in 2021-22.
That would’ve been incredible success for a Cal team that plummeted in 2022-23.
Forget not turning the corner under Fox. The Bears barely left the driveway.
After winning 14 games in Fox’s first year, the Bears fell to 9 wins a year later. They showed marginal improvement in 2021-22, going 12-20, but they battled injuries this year and fell to 3-29 and 2-18 in Pac-12 play, one of the worst records in all of college hoops, much less the Power 5.
With an athletic department hamstrung by budgetary concerns, Cal athletic director Jim Knowlton still pulled off a big hire in Madsen.
“I could not be more excited to welcome Mark, his wife Hannah, and their children to the Cal Family,” Knowlton said. “We conducted an exhaustive search, and one name kept rising to the top – and that’s Mark Madsen. Mark is a person of high character, high energy, high intensity, and he’s done it the right way. He’s intense. He’s passionate. He loves his student-athletes, and he loves competing. We want an ambassador for this program who is going to make us proud and develop our young men – both on and off the court. I am absolutely thrilled that Mark will lead our program into the future.”
Madsen, to be sure, sounds ecstatic to be joining what was once his hated rival.
“I am extremely grateful to Chancellor (Carol) Christ and Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton for their belief in me, and for the tremendous opportunity to lead Cal’s men’s basketball team back to its winning tradition,” Madsen said. “Having grown up in the area, I have always admired Cal as an institution and as an athletic program, with so many of my teachers, coaches and friends impressive Cal graduates. We will win with young men who have elite academic and athletic talent and who will represent Cal with pride. Hannah and I and our children are excited to return to the Bay Area and join the Cal community and I cannot wait to get started.”
Meanwhile, across the bay, Stanford will remain mired in mediocrity, afraid to let go of Haase, afraid to bring back the Mad Dog.