So football at Cal State Long Beach has been saved.
Following the euphoria earlier this week when it was announced that $300,000 had been raised for the struggling program, the football staff now has the opportunity to concentrate on other off-season concerns.
But boosters and university officials have to wonder how the football program will be affected in the long term by the turmoil of the the past month and a half.
In late November, university President Stephen Horn said the community had to come up with the money--in cash--or the school's Division IA program would be eliminated.
Horn originally set a Jan. 1 deadline, then backed off and said he would wait until last Monday. He also said he would accept $250,000 in cash and the final $50,000 in pledges.
Called Legal Blackmail
Some boosters called the challenge legal blackmail. But they got busy and came up with more than Horn or Athletic Director John Kasser or 49er Foundation President Sam Breuklander had hoped for: $253,000 in cash and another $62,000 in pledges.
"I'm delighted with the leadership and support in the community," Horn said Monday. "The crisis is past."
Well, maybe. The turmoil has taken a toll on the football program. The school's young and innovative head coach has left. Five assistant coaching jobs remain to be filled and there is the prospect of having to raise even more funds in the next three years.
Horn issued his ultimatum quietly at first, at an invitation-only forum of about three dozen people on the evening of Nov. 25. It came just before the season's final game, with the University of the Pacific--a game Horn did not attend. Discussion of the ultimatum spread through the press box and rumors circulated among the 4,500 hometown spectators.
In explaining his challenge later, Horn said bluntly: "Very frankly, this is a community that can support a good, solid Division IA athletic program."
Rocked by the announcement, Coach Mike Sheppard said Horn had "devastated" the program and questioned his timing.
A month later, Sheppard quit to become the head coach at the University of New Mexico. On Christmas Eve, the day after Sheppard quit, Kasser appointed running-back Coach Larry Reisbig to lead the 49ers. Kasser then went home, leaving Sports Information Director Shayne Schroeder to make the announcement. Kasser said he wondered at the time if a Santa would really bring him that $300,000.
Sheppard's departure leaves the 49er football coaching staff greatly depleted. He is taking four coaches, including a graduate assistant, to New Mexico. With Reisbig's former post vacant, that leaves five coaching positions to fill. Reisbig, who wants to conduct interviews as soon as he can, has yet to fill any of them.
The university, fighting its own budget deficit, has a hiring freeze in place. But John Beljan, university vice president for academic affairs, said this week that Reisbig should be able to fill those posts because 49er coaches are also required to teach. Teaching posts are exempt from the hiring freeze.
Until Monday, Reisbig and what's left of the 49er staff worked under the assumption that the school would raise enough money to keep a program and thus retain their jobs. He had already missed about half of the high prime school recruiting season and missed out completely on the fall community college players signing date.
Besides, what do you tell a player you are recruiting about the status of your football program? No wonder his appointment was likened to being made captain of the Titanic.
"It was an emotional roller coaster," Reisbig said. But he added later: "When I took this job I never had a doubt" that the program would be saved.
When he received the fund-raising check, Horn said he was looking forward to "years and years of a successful and sound football program."
To do that will take more money, and a lot of it. As part of future fund-raising efforts, Kasser said, supporters have agreed to a three-year trial with goals of $500,000 a year.
Foundation President Breuklander said it can be done, adding that if attendance increases that will create more fans who could become future donors.
Kasser agreed: "Attendance is the key. If we get better attendance, people will give more."
But no one is certain how to increase attendance, which averaged just above 4,000 a game in 1986.
An on-campus stadium would help because it could entice more prestigious teams to play in Long Beach, which would generate larger crowds. But with the budget constraints, no money is available.
The 49ers now play at Veterans Stadium at Long Beach City College. The university does not get first choice for home games there. The stadium was built in the late 1940s and has one side of seats for 12,000 spectators.
Local Support Questioned