With fall camp fast approaching, we’re putting together breakdowns of every coach on Cal’s coaching staff. Today, we’re looking at Burl Toler III, Cal’s wide receivers coach and a coach with a long history with Cal, having played for the Bears during one of the biggest turnaround periods in program history.
Here’s a handful of things to know about Toler, as he’s moved into his third year coaching wide receivers at Cal, his fourth year as a position coach at Cal.
Previous Installments: Wilcox | Sirmon | Musgrave
A Bay Area and Cal Family
The three generations of Tolers are rooted into Bay Area sports history, starting with Burl Toler Sr. The eldest Toler was a part of the 1951 University of San Francisco football team that went 9-0 and was invited to the Orange Bowl. The team was invited on the caveat that they not bring Toler and future NFL Hall of Famer Ollie Matson, the two African-American players on the team. The rest of the team said no to that, and USF, due to a lack of funding that would’ve been helped by the bowl game, disbanded after that season. Toler Sr. would injure his leg in a postseason all-star game that ended his aspirations of professional career (though he was drafted by the Cleveland Browns). He would then start working in San Francisco, first as a toll taker on the Bay Bridge, then as a teacher and administrator at Benjamin Franklin Middle School in the city.
Toler would also become the first Black official in the NFL in 1965, wearing the number 37 that Toler Jr. would eventually don as a Cal Bear. Toler Sr would officiate in the NFL for 24 years, retiring in 1989. He also served as a commissioner of the San Francisco Police Department and on the USF Board of Trustees. The former Franklin Middle School campus, now the home of Gateway Charter School, bears the eldest Toler’s name, along with a dorm at USF.
Burl Toler Jr., much like his son, would play for the Bears,. He wore the number 37 while in Berkeley, captaIned the Bears as a senior, and earned second-team all-Pac 8 honors as a linebacker. Toler Jr. graduated in 1978 with a degree in architecture, and has since worked on projects all through the Bay Area, including the San Francisco International Airport terminal. He received the Seaborg Award in 2018, an award in the name of the former Cal chancellor and Nobel Prize winner presented to a former Bear who “represents the honored Cal principles and traditions of excellence in academics, athletics, leadership and attitude.”
Toler III’s mother Susan Tamayo-Toler, also attended Cal, along with a younger brother in Cameron (a wideout for the Bears from 2005 to 2008) and two sisters Pita and Laureina, who both ran track at Cal. Pita currently works in the Athletic Department at Cal as well.
Part of Cal’s Resurgence as a Player
Toler walked on at Cal in 2001, while being recruited by other coaches he’d coach on the safe staff with, namely Willamette’s Mark Speckman (who he’d coach with at UC Davis) and Sacramento State’s Angus McClure (who is currently on Cal’s staff). Toler would then go through the 2001 season, seeing a 1-10 year (with the final win coming in a December game against Rutgers)
This is how Toler described how he knew things were going to turn around in Berkeley, prior to the coaching change from Tom Holmoe to Jeff Tedford
“I knew the program was going to turn around as a player toward the end of that tough year where we went 1-10, that was the 2001 season. We started to lose players, when you lose, everybody gets hurt more often, those things happened, but you really see the guys that cared, the guys that wanted to be there, you could see them coming together even tighter.
At the beginning of the season, nobody hung out with each other, it was kind of like a ‘do your own thing, go to football, that’s it.’ Towards the end of the season, nobody wants to lose 10 games in a row, I wouldn’t wish losing 10 games in a row on anybody, but I’m thankful that I went through it because I was able to see things from a different perspective. The things that you go through to play college football are strenuous enough, then on top of that you throw losing 10 games in a row? It really forces you to keep everything in check, and realize that you’re playing football for yourself, and whatever you put into it you’ll get out of it. Football is a unique sport, that there has to be so many pieces to come together to make it happen, to be successful, and win. We didn’t have all those pieces together during my freshman season. We won our last game of the season, which was against Rutgers, we were supposed to play Rutgers early on, but that’s when 9/11 pushed everything back.
Going into that game, it was our last chance, we were going out to the east coast with nothing to lose and really felt the guys that were checked out and the guys that were together. Since I was a freshman, I knew I was going to use this to propel me into my next seasons to come. You could also feel on the other side, and there was a group of guys that were feeling that way, that were saying ‘alright, I’m out of here, I’m done playing.’ I felt our team coming together tight then, we beat Rutgers and when we came back, our new head coach ended up being coach Tedford, but we were putting our trust in the core group of guys who were allowed to have input, we felt that they cared about our opinion when they were picking a new head coach. That core group of guys was myself, Lorenzo Alexander, Geoff MacArthur, Chase Lyman, Terrell Williams, guys like that who were already there, we felt it was up to us to make things happen, and at the time Nnamdi Asomugha and Kyle Boller were there for one more year as well.”
Cal did put together a 7-5 season in 2002, but Toler saw his playing time increase drastically during an 8-6 2003 season. Toler caught 48 passes for 609 yards and 3 TDs, with his first career touchdown coming in the Bears’ 34-31 triple overtime upset of 3rd ranked USC. Toler would be injured for parts of the 10-2 2004 season, with his final play at Cal resulting in a touchdown reception on a pass from Marshawn Lynch, but he was a part of getting Cal up to a level where they often haven’t been.
Second Go-Around at Cal
This is Toler’s second go as a coach in Berkeley, having served on Sonny Dykes’ staff with the Bears from 2013 to 2015. At that point, Toler, fresh out of playing in the Arena League, got connected with Dykes and ended up as a quality control coach for special teams, also working with wideouts and running backs during 2014 and 2015 respectively.
Toler was then hired to coach wide receivers by Tim DeRuyter at Fresno State in 2016, coming back to Northern California to coach wideouts at UC Davis in 2017, then returning to Berkeley in 2018 as the running backs coach. With his special teams experience, Toler also works with the returners during the Bears special teams periods of practice.
Excelled as a Recruiter
Toler just landed a big pledge yesterday, pulling Jaiven Plummer back across the country from Virginia to Cal, but he’s also had success over the past two cycles as Cal’s wide receiver coach. He pulled top WR prospect J Michael Sturdivant out of Texas, over finalists of Oklahoma, LSU, and UCLA. He landed the first 2021 commit of the cycle for Cal in Mavin Anderson. He even pulled five wideouts in 2020, with Jeremiah Hunter being the highest rated of the group. The seven recruits over the last two cycles should help reform a Cal WR group that needed numbers in the wake of a couple of slim recruiting years.