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Garret Cochran


“Enthusiasm was at its height this morning at the Sixteenth street station where 300 students awaited the arrival of Coach Garret Cochran,” reported the Daily Cal on September 15, 1899. “‘Here’s to you, Garry Cochran’ and the college yells rang in the air and college spirit was manifested as never before.... At twelve o’clock the ‘Owl’ steamed into the depot and all pent up feeling broke loose. At the sight of Cochran all let forth a shout and rushed to grasp the hand of the idealized coach.”

The 22 year old Cochran was hired from Princeton in 1898 to be both football and baseball coach. An alumnus of the elite Lawrenceville Preparatory School, Cochran as a Princeton undergraduate had served as captain of both the baseball and football teams during his junior and senior years. At Cal, Cochran quickly reconstituted what had been a lackluster squad, shifting players around in their positions and teaching a new brand of football. One sportswriter has called it the Cochran Revolution. The revolution worked, and the Cal football team went into the Big Game undefeated. For the first time in campus history, the university was galvanized by a sporting event. Over 200 Cal men swore not to wear neckties for an entire year if Stanford won.

“Boys,” Cochran exhorted the team in the locker room before the game, “this is the opportunity of your lives. A grander opportunity to immortalize your names, stamp them indelibly upon the pages of the history of your university, has never been given to you. For eight long years have those lobster backs made you bite the dust. It is your turn now. Make them bite and bite hard.... Some of you have mothers and fathers and sisters here today. Yes, boys, some of you have sweethearts here, who are wishing and praying that you may win. Play, fellows, play for their sakes. Let your motto be, ‘Hit ‘em again, harder, harder.’”

Cal won the 1898 Big Game by a score of 22-0.

Cochran spent the summer of 1899 working in the mines in New Mexico, but when he stepped off the train in Oakland the next Fall he was greeted as a conquering hero. Cal once again looked forward to a winning football season, and a special importance was attached to the Big Game since San Francisco Mayor James D. Phelan had promised to award a football statue by Douglas Tilden to either Cal or Stanford — to whichever team had the better two-out-of-three record for 1898, 1899 and 1900. A second Big Game win would secure the statue for Berkeley.

New President Benjamin Ide Wheeler made it clear that the 1899 Big Game was more than just a football match. “We simply must win,” he told a pep rally, “It would break my heart if the college did not win the first year I was out here. We must win, if we have to roar our throats out.... It always does a man good to know that the whole gang is with him, and he can play better. I believe in a college where all go shoulder to shoulder; in fact, I may say I do not believe in any other sort of college. I want to see California win, but, even above that, I want to see her win honestly. It would grieve my heart to think that any California player was unfair or ungentlemanly in any action. I want everyone of them to be a gentleman, and by a gentleman, I mean one who bucks the line hard.”

And win they did, 30-zip. The Tilden football statue would come to Berkeley.

On December 7, 1899 the Daily Cal reported that the Big Game was not only a scoring blow-out, it was also a financial windfall, with a net profit of $16,046.80. Garret Cochran had almost single-handedly created the institution of Cal football.

In December Garret Cochran was a god. By January he was gone, with no explanation for his departure.

The Daily Cal for January 16, 1900 reported that the ASUC Athletic Commission was negotiating with Cochran’s assistant, Addison “King” Kelly, to become the new head football coach. One reason for offering the job to Kelly may have been a new rule that Stanford was promoting in the wake of their stinging double loss: football coaches must now be graduates of the college they coach. But Cal was opposing the adoption of that rule, and in all the discussion published in many columns in the Daily Cal during the 1899-1900 academic year, not once is the question of Cochran’s eligibility raised. Clearly, his departure was caused by other factors.

Cochran next appeared as the head football coach at Annapolis, where he led the Midshipmen during the first half of the 1900 season. Despite a respectable win-loss record (6-3) he was replaced mid-season by Arthur “Doc” Hillebrand. Then he simply dropped from sight.

The names of the men who played on the 1898 and 1899 Cal football team have been — as Coach Cochran promised them — inscribed in campus history. Their surnames appear carved in stone on the east side of the pediment of the Tilden statue. Beneath them is the inscription, “Garret Cochran, Coach.” Those words and a mystery are all that remain.

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Read More About It

  • Daily Californian, September 1899 — May 1900
  • Dan S. Brodie. 66 Years on the California Gridiron, 1882-1948 : the History of Football at the University of California (Oakland : Olympic Publishing Co., 1949)
  • John T. Sullivan. Cal vs. Stanford, the Big Game : a Game-by-game History of America’s Greatest Football Rivalry (West Point, NY : Leisure Press, 1983)

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