Kenwick Thompson Brings Coaching Experience and Art to the Golden Bear Linebackers
March 22, 2007
BERKELEY - After spending nearly six years at San Jose State, Kenwick Thompson ventured a little further up north to take over as linebackers coach with the California Golden Bears in January. Thompson coached the defensive tackles at San Jose State in 2006 and helped the Spartans advance to the New Mexico Bowl, where they defeated host New Mexico. It was the program's first bowl victory since 1990. SJSU ranked third in the WAC in both scoring defense and overall defense.
Thompson is currently in the middle of his first spring football drills at Cal, and while he has embraced being the new face on the staff, it did not stop him from fitting in quickly. 'I felt like we hit the ground running because of the kind of guys who are here,' said Thompson. 'They (the players) made it an easy transition and their attitudes are outstanding. That was half the battle right there. With the coaches, I knew several of them before I came here, so that made it easy. I've been blessed with how it's been going so far.'
Thompson's journey in the coaching ranks began in the early 1990's when he started out as an assistant coach in the Italian-American Football Association. Soon after his brief tenure in the league, Thompson eventually landed a stint as a defensive coach at Texas Southern from 1994-2000, before his post with San Jose State. And for Thompson, being a coach at the collegiate level has been a fulfilling experience. 'I wouldn't want to be doing anything else,' explained Thompson. 'It's been very rewarding and I'm glad that this is my profession. I got into this for the simple reason that my coaches played an extremely important role in giving me the opportunity to advance in my life, and so I wanted to have the opportunity to do the same thing (for these players today). I grew up admiring my coaches and they were like fathers to me.'
Thompson began to cultivate relationships in California via recruiting while at Texas Southern. And because of that recruiting base he developed and the other coaches he befriended in the Los Angeles area, Thompson was hired on at San Jose State, where he sharpened his skills as a coach. 'It was a very valuable experience,' noted Thompson. '(It was about) building a program and being around outstanding people like (head) coach (Dick) Tomey. Coach Tomey is a very instrumental person as far as an influence on my career. He is an outstanding person and motivator.'
When the opportunity presented itself to join the football staff at Cal, Thompson knew that it would be the right fit. 'I've know coach (Ken) Delgado the longest,' explained Thompson. 'I've know him since 1995. And through our relationship, I got to know the other coaches on the staff. I've always admired Cal and the job they did. It's been a good journey. I knew the Bay Area, and that has also made the transition easy.'
Already Thomson has seen a difference in his first couple of months with the Golden Bears. 'The resources are different (at Cal),' said Thompson. 'The amount of support on and off the field is something that is different.'
One of the strengths Thompson has as a coach was the fact that he himself was a defensive player at Harding College. Thompson was a two-time all-conference selection and earned conference Defensive Player of the Year honors in 1990. His 30 career quarterback sacks are still a record at the school.
Thompson has certainly seen change in the type of athlete at the linebacker position, but he believes the core fundamentals of being an athlete still remain the same. 'I hate to admit this, but the athletes now are a lot better than we were,' said Thompson. 'But as far as what it takes to play this game, the mental aspects of the game, the discipline of the game, those things are always the same. So having played the game, those are some of the things you draw on. There comes a point where you (the player) have to show discipline or persistence or character to fight through some things. It's no different today then it was back to when I was played. So you draw off of that quite a bit, as well as having coached other guys through those types of situations. Experience is valuable, whether it's playing or just having gone through a similar situation.'
This season Thompson plans to keep the Cal linebacker corps competing at the highest level on the field. Cal returns 11 linebackers, including experienced veterans like Anthony Felder, Zack Follett, Justin Moye, Greg Van Hoesen and Worrell Williams. As far as scheme wise, Thompson does not plan to change much. 'My focus is trying to improve every player to make them the best he can possibly be as far as his potential and ability is concerned - maximize that potential and get the most out of him,' said Thompson. 'Technique wise, we want to be efficient as well. In the spring time that's what we really try to focus on - getting the little things corrected or getting better at the little things. For the linebacker position, it's the eyes, the feet, the stance, the pad level, and execution. We are really detailed about the actual mechanics of playing the position.'
For those who have been in the bleachers during a spring drill, it is a guarantee that Thompson's voice will be heard during his linebacker tutorials. But what many may not know is his appreciation for art off the field. While playing and going to school in Italy, Thompson grew fond of some of the world's greatest masterpieces in some of the world's greatest museums. 'I was an art history minor,' said Thompson. 'That meant I went to museums and critiqued art. Throughout Western Europe, I went to every major museum - the Louvre, the Duomo in Florence (Italy), the Sistine Chapel. Art and history is something that I've always liked. That's something someone wouldn't think when they first met me, someone who has an opinion on Michelangelo or Picasso. I do like being involved in that.'