Cal hires Lopez as defensive coordinator

February 28, 2013

When Mike Conway left California University to take the head coaching position at North Park University, an NCAA Division III program in Chicago, Cal coach Mike Kellar wanted to replace him with a defensive coordinator who has a great knowledge of football and can motivate players.

Kellar also wanted someone he was familiar and comfortable with working on the job.

He believes he found that person in Mike Lopez, who was hired Thursday as Cal’s new defensive coordinator.

“We played at high schools in the same county,” said Lopez, 37. “I’ve known Mike since the 1980s. In the 1990s, I was a player (at Fairmont State) and he was a coach. And I coached with him there in 1998.”

Lopez spent 11 seasons at Fairmont State, the final six as head coach before the school released him from his contract.

“We are fortunate to get a coach with as much experience as Mike Lopez, given his time as a head coach and defensive coordinator,” Kellar said in a statement. “He is a great teacher of the game whose defense has thrived and will continue to thrive in this era of multiple offenses.”

Lopez arrived at Fairmont State in 2002 and served as defensive coordinator until 2007, when he was named head coach. Lopez guided Fairmont State to a 4-6 record last season and 7-4 the year before. The seven wins in 2011 were the most in a season in more than a decade. He had a 30-35 overall record.

“It’s a great place, and I appreciated the opportunity,” said Lopez. “I took a lot of pride with what I did there. There are just times when you need to move on and change. I look at the pieces, how they fell together. Mike Conway left, and that opened up a spot for me.”

Lopez said he will use an odd stack defensive alignment that was successful for him at Fairmont State. He believes there is more than enough talent at Cal to make it a success.

“I brought it to Fairmont State,” said Lopez. “We’ve been an odd-stack team and we will keep that.”

Jeff Casteel, a California University graduate and defensive coordinator at University of Arizona, uses the odd-stack, normally a 3-3-5 formation that is effective against the spread offense. It allows for more coverage players to defend against the pass.

“We’ve got so many good quality Pennsylvania kids in the program,” Lopez said. “It will be different for them, but they will do well in it.”

Lopez graduated from Fairmont State in 1998 and got his masters at West Virginia University in 2000.

Joe Tuscano has been with the Observer-Reporter since 1980. He has covered all sports for the newspaper, including the Steelers, Pirates, Pitt football, local college football and wrestling. He has worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Jeannette News-Dispatch and North Hills Record. He graduated from Duquesne University in 1980.

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