ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Less than six weeks ago, Todd Bozeman was an obscure assistant coach at the University of California. At 29, he figured that he still had a couple of years and a couple of moves left before he would wind up with a head coaching job.
Controversy put Bozeman in the uncomfortable spotlight of having to follow his former boss, Lou Campanelli, who was fired Feb. 8 as the Bears coach amid charges of verbally abusing his players. Success has put Bozeman -- and Cal -- into the NCAA tournament.
On the eve of his team's opening-round game against Louisiana State (22-10) at the Rosemont Horizon, Bozeman yesterday was hired by Cal's athletic director, Bob Bockrath, as head coach. Bozeman becomes the youngest Division I head coach in the country.
"When I first got the job [as interim coach], I looked at it as an opportunity to get something I didn't have before -- head coaching experience," said Bozeman, who agreed to a three-year deal. "I'm very excited to get this opportunity, to be able to stay with the kids."
"We are thrilled to make Todd our head coach," said Bockrath, who made the move after Cal (19-8) won nine of its last 10 games, including an upset of Arizona, to finish second in the Pac-10 for the first time since 1960. "The job he has done in helping our team turn around in the last month has been nothing short of remarkable."
It has been an almost meteoric rise for Bozeman, who grew up in Forestville, Md., and played at the University of Rhode Island. After a knee injury suffered during his sophomore year in college short-circuited a promising career, Bozeman began to think about coaching.
Bozeman started his coaching career as a part-time assistant at Potomac High School in Prince George's County. From there, Bozeman was hired at George Mason, but left shortly thereafter to become an assistant under Perry Clark at Tulane. He helped recruit the team that is currently in the NCAA tournament itself and left for Cal in 1991.
"Everything that has happened to me is because I was in the right place at the right time," Bozeman said recently. "I set a goal to be a [Division I] head coach by the time I was 30. I'm a few months ahead of schedule."
But obviously it was more than good timing that has allowed Bozeman to find success so quickly. With a cool sideline demeanor that is in stark contrast to Campanelli's fiery, combative behavior, Bozeman has guided this young Cal team with a firm, but flexible, hand.
The night Cal upset Arizona earlier this month, sophomore forward and leading scorer Lamond Murray said, "We came into the game with a different attitude. He is just telling us positive things and being there for us."
The news of Bozeman's promotion was welcomed by the Cal players, who were instrumental in Campanelli's midseason departure after eight years in Berkeley. The Bears, who started the season 5-0 and were ranked as high as No. 19, were 10-7 and on a three-game losing streak when Campanelli was fired.
"I think the biggest thing Coach Bozeman has given us is confidence," said highly touted freshman point guard Jason Kidd.
Said Steve Johnson, a redshirt freshman reserve center from Towson, "He's really relaxed, really cool on the sidelines. He has a lot of confidence in himself and that kind of rubs off on us."
While the news of Campanelli's firing was big news during the season, and brought a flood of support for the exiled coach from the National Association of Basketball Coaches, yesterday's announcement of Bozeman's hiring brought a different kind of support for Cal's new head coach.
"I'm extremely happy they picked Todd Bozeman for the Cal coaching position," said Southern Cal coach George Raveling, a former NABC president. "He has proven his worth under the most severe conditions and his selection is just reward."