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Win Over USC Would Cap Kapp's Career : Despite Being Fired by Cal, Coach Remains Upbeat and Outspoken

November 12, 1986|MAL FLORENCE | Times Staff Writer

It was a restricted interview, to say the least.

Joe Kapp, California's lame-duck coach, spoke to Los Angeles reporters Tuesday through a speaker phone at USC's Heritage Hall.

The ground rules were that Kapp would not answer any questions concerning his firing, effective at the end of the season.

That has been his stance since California Athletic Director Dave Maggard announced after Cal's 27-9 loss to Oregon Nov. 1 that Kapp would not be retained as coach next season, even though he has two years remaining on his contract.

Kapp was in a jovial mood, though, while talking with reporters. Perhaps he's relieved now that the other shoe has fallen. There had been speculation for some time that Kapp, winding up a 1-8 season, would be fired.

Kapp, whose Bears will play USC Saturday at the Coliseum, volunteered that his team is exceptionally young, that star linebacker Hardy Nickerson plays with a "smile on his face," that halfback Marc Hicks is suffering from some sort of a sophomore jinx, that his quarterback, Troy Taylor, makes the usual freshman mistakes, but has a great future.

He didn't use his favorite cliche, though: "The bear will never die." The bear is already terminal.

But he provoked some laughter when Gary Jones of the Daily News identified himself while on the verge of asking a question.

"Hello, Gary. Is that that communist paper?" Kapp joked, deliberately confusing the Daily News with the Daily Worker.

Jones persevered and asked Kapp if Cal's 14-6 upset win over USC last year would be used as a motivational tool for Saturday's game.

"This year is the one that counts," Kapp said. "Last year's game is ancient history. It's a course they teach on both campuses . . . there's enough incentive to play the game this year. We'll play in L.A. before all those wonderful fans, and we have an (David) Ortega on our team, and Pepper Matanga is coaching for us. I expect there will be 10,000 to 15,000 Mexicans in the end zone rooting for us."

Kapp could have added that he's of Mexican-German heritage, a macho man whose pride must be hurt now, though he's doing his best to conceal it.

There was time for only one other question, and Kapp was asked about his future plans.

"My future is to try to go to Los Angeles and win a football game and have some fun doing it," he said. "After that, I don't know. Adios."

So the great experiment has failed. Kapp had no previous coaching experience, even as an assistant, when he became Cal's coach in 1982.

Maggard was warned by those in the coaching fraternity that he was taking a big risk in hiring Kapp. But it was believed that Kapp's enthusiasm, fire and leadership would compensate for any coaching deficiencies.

After all, he was an Old Blue, the quarterback who led Cal to its last Rose Bowl appearance in 1959. He was also celebrated as a former Minnesota Viking quarterback, who played in the Super Bowl, after a productive career in the Canadian Football League.

Kapp confounded his critics by being named Pac-10 coach of the year in his first season at Cal as his team had a 7-4 record.

But it has been downhill for the Bears ever since, an overall record of 19-33-1. His present team has lost seven straight games, the most recent a 49-0 rout Saturday by Arizona State, which clinched the Rose Bowl bid by beating up on the Bears.

So Cal is just playing out the season. But USC, 6-2 overall and 4-2 in the Pac-10, still has a lofty goal, a possible bowl bid, maybe even one on New Year's Day.

All of that is contingent, however, on how USC fares in its last three games against Cal, UCLA and Notre Dame.

"If we continue to win, our choices will be good," Coach Ted Tollner said.

There are five Pac-10 teams in the bowl picture, other than Arizona State, which already is assured of playing in the Rose Bowl. They are USC, UCLA at 6-3, and Washington, Stanford and Arizona, all at 7-2.

Bowl bids will officially be tendered Saturday, Nov. 22. That's the date of the USC-UCLA game, but the Trojans would still have the Notre Dame game remaining Nov. 29.

If USC beats Cal and UCLA for an 8-2 record, would a major bowl bid for the Trojans be based on the contingency that they also beat the Irish?

USC Athletic Director Mike McGee doesn't think so, saying that the Trojans would get a firm bid regardless of the outcome of their season-ending game with Notre Dame.

It's obvious that the Pac-10 teams with better records will have an opportunity to play in more prestigious bowl games. It will start to shake down this weekend.

It's believed, however, that USC will not accept an invitation to play in the Aloha Bowl at Honolulu as it did last year against Alabama. The Trojans barely covered expenses for that game.

Trojan Notes USC had a bye last weekend. Coach Ted Tollner said it couldn't have come at a better time considering that he had so many injured players. He said his team is in reasonably good shape now, with the exception of tailback Steve Webster, who still is bothered by an ankle injury. Tailback Aaron Emanuel didn't practice last week. He has a sprained big toe and was also suffering from the flu. But Tollner anticipates that Emanuel will be available for Cal. Even so, Ryan Knight, the only injury-free tailback, will start against the Bears. Wide receiver Lonnie White still is being prepared as an emergency tailback.

Tollner said that losing to Cal last year is not the main motivation for preparing his team for Saturday's game. "It's only a secondary motivation," he said. "The team knows that if it keeps on winning, something good will happen." . . . Kickoff for Saturday's game has been changed from 4 p.m. to 4:15. The game will be televised by WTBS, a cable channel.

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