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NCAA Mar 31, 2022

Cal men’s soccer hires Grand Canyon’s Leonard Griffin as new head coach

BERKELEYLeonard Griffin, a former California men’s soccer assistant with more than a decade of collegiate coaching experience, has been named the head coach of the Cal men’s soccer program, Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton announced Thursday.

“We are thrilled that Leonard Griffin will become the next leader of our men’s soccer program,” Knowlton said. “He has a proven record of success as a player, assistant coach, and head coach, including time on staff here in Berkeley. With his ability to relate to and develop student-athletes, I am confident that Cal soccer will be in very good hands.”

“It’s a true honor and privilege to lead the men’s soccer program at the most elite school in the country,” Griffin said. “It’s special. What can I say, but, it’s Cal. This is the chance of a lifetime to come back to a program that I’m familiar with after working there under Kevin Grimes.

“To come back to my home state in California is a lot, and there’s no better place than the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a place where my family wants to settle.

“I want to thank Director of Athletics Jim Knowlton, Assistant AD Casey Cox and the entire hiring committee for believing in me as the coach to lead the Cal men’s soccer program into the future. This is a program that has had tremendous success, and I look forward to helping it reach new heights.”

A talented recruiter and coach who has sent more than 30 student-athletes to the professional ranks, Griffin served as head coach at Grand Canyon for the 2021 season and previously was the head coach at San Francisco from 2019 through the 2021 spring season. He led Grand Canyon to a 15-4-1 overall record and to the WAC’s regular-season title with a 9-2 conference mark. The Antelopes – whose RPI was ranked as high as No. 1 last season – earned an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.

His Lopes finished the season ranked 25th in the country and had eight players earn WAC honors, including WAC Defender of the Year Esai Easley and Justin Rasmussen, an All-WAC midfielder. Easley and Rasmussen became the first Grand Canyon players chosen in the first round of the MLS SuperDraft when Sporting Kansas City selected Easley at No. 22 and the Portland Timbers picked Rasmussen at No. 27. Griffin has now coached 35 players who have gone on to play professional soccer.

“I’d like to thank GCU Vice President of Athletics Jaime Boggs and President Brian Mueller for the opportunity to take over a program that’s now in the national spotlight,” Griffin said. “Thanks to the incredible staff and players for trusting me as the leader of the program. It was a tremendous experience, and I always strive to leave a program better than I found it.”

At USF from 2019-21, Griffin led the Dons to a third-place finish in 2021 after the WCC coaches picked his team to finish last in the preseason poll. He coached the WCC Freshman of the Year and All-WCC first-team selection Nonso Adimabua, as the Dons finished with a 5-4-2 record in the truncated spring season due to the pandemic.

Griffin started his coaching career as an assistant coach with the Cal State San Bernardino’s women’s team from 2009-11, and from 2011-13, he was an assistant on the Saint Mary’s men’s staff. The Gaels won the WCC championship and reached the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament in 2011 and then placed third in the WCC in 2012. Griffin coached and developed 2012 WCC Defender of the Year Trevor Newquist.

Griffin served as an assistant coach at Cal from 2013-14. In 2013, he worked closely with a Golden Bear squad that was ranked No. 1 in the nation for six weeks, earned the No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and produced numerous future pros, including defenders Steven Birnbaum, chosen No. 2 by D.C. United in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft, and Christian Dean, who was drafted right behind Birnbaum at No. 3 by the Vancouver Whitecaps.

The UCLA alum returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach from 2014-16 and helped lead the Bruins to a 25-13-6 record during his tenure. UCLA produced the top recruiting classes in the country in 2014 and 2015. The 2014 squad finished as the national runner-up, while in 2015 nine UCLA players earned All-Pac-12 honors. Griffin coached several talented Bruins, including 2014 MAC Hermann National Player of the Year Leo Stolz and 2015 Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Jose Hernandez.

Griffin was an assistant coach and the recruiting coordinator at Portland from 2016-19. He helped the team to the 2016 WCC title, which was Portland’s first conference championship since 2002. He also coached several of the talented Pilots in 2016, including WCC Player of the Year Eddie Sanchez and WCC Freshman of the Year Benji Michel. Griffin worked to bring in a top-20 recruiting class in 2016 and top-five classes in 2017 and 2018.

Griffin, who played professionally for several years, was drafted by the Chicago Fire in the 2004 MLS SuperDraft and played for the Fire through 2006. He also played for the Los Angeles Galaxy (2009) and the USL’s Portland Timbers (2007-08) and Austin Aztex (2010).

Griffin played at UCLA from 2000-03, winning the national championship with the Bruins in 2002 and earning All-America honors in 2003.

Griffin replaces Kevin Grimes, who retired in February after leading the program for 22 seasons.

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