Ask UC Davis football players to describe head coach Bob Biggs, and they’ll say “competitive,” “experienced,” “consistent” and “creative” — all words one would expect to come trickling off the tongues of gridiron athletes.
However, in the same breath, they’ll add “calm,” “genuine,” “thoughtful” and “caring” … for the same man. These are not traditional words applied to Division I skippers.
But then again, Biggs is not a traditional coach, and UCD is not a standard D-I school.
“Davis is not the kind of school where there’s a bunch of easy classes to get by,” said Biggs, during an interview in his office in Hickey Gym. “These kids are under a lot of stress. In order to be successful in Davis, you have to make them feel you have their best interest in mind. If you don’t get it, you won’t make it.”
Biggs has “got it” for the past three decades coaching at UCD — including 10 years as head men’s tennis coach. Before that, he learned the pressure firsthand as the signal-caller for the Aggies in the early ’70s.
And after three decades of the Aggie Way, the second-winningest coach in UCD history has decided that now is the time to step aside and put his focus and energy into retirement.
“The thought that ran through my head — my goal,” mused Biggs, who’s compiled a record of 142-81-1. Continuing, Biggs said, “My goal was to make sure that when I step down everything was in place for the next coach and staff — if the staff stay on — that they’re in the position they need to be; that the transition will be smooth.”
And does he believe that is the current state of affairs at UCD?
“I do, I very much do,” he said.
‘He loves every one of his players’
Biggs, who turns 62 in February, and the Aggies have come a long way during their tenure together.
Thirty-seven years ago, he coached the freshman squad alongside fellow Aggie Mike Bellotti. Biggs then worked as an assistant coach under UCD greats Jim Sochor — the winningest coach in UCD history with a 156-41-5 mark — and Bob Foster.
“I watched how they conducted themselves as head coach,” Biggs said. “You can’t be anybody else, but there were things about both of them that I came way with unintentionally.”
He took the best of each person he worked with and made it his own. Every strategy, every idea, every step had to not only make the Aggies a better football team but also had to make each Aggie a better individual. The “student” part of student-athlete has never been lost on the longtime coach.
“He was really personable,” senior free safety Kevyn Lewis said after a recent practice when asked about his early recollections of Biggs. “He seemed genuinely interested in me as a player, as a person.
“When he says something, he means it,” Lewis added. “He’s been brutally honest sometimes; not mean, but honest.”
Senior captain Ray Wilburn added: “He loves every one of his players — you feel that. He’s always going to be that guy who gave me a chance.”
Biggs has a similar relationship with his coaching staff.
“He’s the same, but you see a different side off the field and at staff meetings,” said Kevin Daft, a former UCD quarterback and first-year assistant coach for the Aggies. “He’s genuine, and I’m honored to work with him in his last year. He’s always been a mentor to me. Even after college, he was one person I’d speak to about advice.”
Assistant head coach Mike Moroski added: “He’s consistent but different in a personal setting than when he’s coaching. As a coach, he’s competitive — really, fiercely competitive.
“In his personal life, he’s easy-going. He’s the nicest guy you’d ever want to meet,” added Moroski, who played for Biggs on the freshman squad and joined the coaching squad in 1987.
Of all the games Moroski and Biggs have shared together, the one that stands out for the current running backs coach is the 2005 game against Stanford. The Aggies were easily the underdogs, traveling to Palo Alto to face the Pac-12 Cardinal.
“(Biggs) was just really excited to play them,” said Moroski, recalling the 20-17 upset win for UCD. “I think his confidence, it spread to the whole team. … As it turned out, we won in the last minute. Yeah, it was his confidence, and not particularly anything he said.”
‘Coach, you run a classy program’
Biggs’ demeanor and success reach beyond Yolo County. After he announced his retirement, officials and head coaches on his schedule knew this was the last time they would share a field with Biggs’ Aggies.
“Like when we played San Jose State (Sept. 8), coach Mike MacIntyre said, ‘If you get bored after a year, I’ve got a spot on my staff.’ This is going to happen throughout the year,” Biggs said with a smile. “I’m genuinely taken aback by the things they say to me and the respect they seem to have for our program and for me.
“I appreciate the way people respect the way we do things at Davis,” he added. “Every game, officials come up to me, and say, ‘Coach, you run a classy program.’ ”
It only reinforces to Biggs that he is making the right decision at the right time. However, there are still six games remaining on the Aggies’ schedule, and Biggs is not about to just mail in any of those.
After decades of coaching — alongside the likes of Fred Arp, Lou Bronzan, Greg Chapla, Foster, Moroski and Sochor — Biggs knows the ins and outs of how to prepare for a season are the same. But there is still the strategy aspect that fuels his competitive nature, especially since this year is the Aggies’ first foray into the Big Sky Conference.
“I know this analogy has been used — it’s a chess game,” Biggs said. “I really watch a lot of film to get the pulse on what we’re facing and what the opposing team is doing.
“I still enjoy the analyzing that goes on in a game,” he added. “My role is more to put our coaches and players in a position for success. When it comes game time, yes, that same competitive fire is still there, and I’ve always been very attuned to our team doing the best it can.”
‘Will I miss it? Absolutely’
Doing one’s best is important to Biggs, whether it be on the field, in the classroom, on the court or on the links. He keeps a strong focus on the tasks at hand and does them well. He is not willing to let himself try something halfway, which has limited his experiences in many areas. He is looking forward to rectifying this after his final game.
“It’s interesting because once you make the decision to retire, you think, ‘What is that next step?’ ” he said. “I like that it’s a bit of an open book, and hopefully, you’re writing chapters as you go.
“The things I wish I’d been better at — speaking Spanish. I want to try to be conversational. I have a beautiful guitar my wife (Diane) and kids (Ryan and Kyle) have given me. I’ve never had the time to really learn, and I don’t do things sparingly. I stayed busy with tennis, but I look forward to becoming a decent golfer and playing guitar.”
The conversational Spanish goes along with another one of Biggs’ goals — traveling (to Spanish-speaking nations) with his wife. He also looks forward to spending time with his sons.
“People have said, ‘You’ll be out for a while and go back into coaching,’ ” Biggs said. “Will I miss it? Absolutely. There are parts I’ll miss, but I’m open to doing other things. If something is really interesting to me — and I felt I could be of value and a help — then I’m an open book.”
When asked to reflect upon his favorite moment or moments throughout the many years, Biggs pauses and shakes his head.
“I don’t remember plays so much, I remember people,” he said as he mentally flipped through his Rolodex. “I hope (when people remember me) that I’m not thought of as coach with a real creative mind, and (I) had that team where they threw the ball all over.
“I hope they say, “He ran a classy program, and his players really seemed to develop as people during in his program and came away better for it. … Integrity and humility went along with playing for him.”
Fittingly enough, those were the other words players used to describe Bob Biggs.
— Reach Kim Orendor at [email protected] or 530-747-8043. Follow her on Twitter @KOrendor