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Friday, July 14, 2006
Oakland Tribune: Coach's death hits Cal aide hard
By Dave Newhouse
BERKELEY — Coaches endure being fired because it's the bane of the business. Death normally isn't the same job hazard, but when it occurs, it adds to the vulnerability of the profession. Randy Walker, the Northwestern coach, died of a heart attack this month at 52. His loss had a profound effect on Mike Dunbar, Cal's new offensive coordinator, who served under Walker the past five years. "He was a coach's coach," Dunbar said Thursday. "I had great admiration for Randy. He was as much a friend and mentor as a boss. He was a good man who cared about people, cared about kids and families. "Even my decision to come here, he was very supportive of that. He knows I'm from the West Coast. Like he told me, 'That's too good a position for you not to take.' That's the kind of guy he was."
Dunbar flew to Evanston, Ill., for Walker's funeral. "It was a celebration of Randy's life," he said. "We laughed, and we cried, and we hugged. It made us understand the positive influence Randy had on us. I know it helped me." Pat Fitzgerald, 31, another five-year Wildcats assistant and a former standout linebacker at the school, was named the new coach. Was Dunbar, 57, ever considered a candidate? "With me being gone, the timing wasn't right," he said. "The athletic administration and president decided to stay within the family, to go with Fitz, who was being groomed for the job." Walker personally hired Dunbar, and they flowered together. Last year, the Wildcats' offense, coached by Dunbar, finished fourth nationally with 500.3 yards per game. And Walker became the school's first coach in 75 years to produce three consecutive six-win seasons.
"(Gary) Barnett led Northwestern to its first Rose Bowl in (nearly) 50 years in 1995," Dunbar said. "But Randy doesn't get enough credit for the consistency he brought to the program. The job now is to continue his legacy." Walker had heart problems in 2004, but doctors monitored his physical condition, and Walker, according to Dunbar, was watching his weight, exercising, eating properly. He left behind a wife and two children.
"It keeps things in perspective," Dunbar said. "You kinda hug your friends a little bit tighter. You hug your wife and your children one more time. Life can come to an end at any time. I'm five years older than Randy, so it gets your attention." Dunbar eats properly and exercises, even without heart issues. "It is extremely competitive," he said of coaching. "We all work hard and spend a lot of time at what we do, because we love it." Coaches live for what they do, but they expect to retire from the job, not expire while working.