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By Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian
BY JEFF EVANS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
When Simon Tobin was hired as the Cal State Bakersfield men's soccer coach in 1987, the program had been in existence for eight seasons but had never had success.
Only one conference win and 14 victories in the pre-Tobin years illustrate the caliber of program Tobin inherited.
Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame
When: Feb. 27
Where: Marriott Hotel
Tickets: $60, available at Rabobank Arena box office
Inductees: Former CSUB soccer coach Simon Tobin, ex-NFL linebacker Joey Porter, former BHS and CSUB wrestler Jessie Reyes; 2-time Olympic medalist swimmer Larsen Jensen
By his second season, CSUB had a winning record.
In 27 seasons at CSUB, Tobin's teams won 307 games. He also sparked tremendous interest and growth in youth soccer with clinics and camps he coordinated each summer.
Tobin, 53, will be inducted into the Bob Elias Kern County Sports Hall of Fame on Feb. 27 at the Marriott Hotel on Truxtun Avenue. Tickets are $60 and available at the Rabobank Arena box office.
Tobin will be joined by former Garces High swimmer and two-time Olympic swimming medalist Larsen Jensen; former NFL linebacker standout Joey Porter who graduated from Foothill High; and former Bakersfield High and CSUB wrestler Jessie Reyes, who also was Purdue's head wrestling coach from 1992-2007.
Building a program
Tobin found himself with the challenging task of building a program nearly from scratch when he arrived at CSUB.
"That first year it was difficult to recruit because no one wanted to come to Bakersfield to play soccer," Tobin asaid.
He landed two standouts from the British Isles, forward Jeremy Gunn and midfielder Leslie O'Connor, before his second season.
"Starting in our second year, we did pretty good," Tobin said. "Leslie and Jeremy were the higher profile players, but we had five or six good players. I knew I had to get the program some legitimacy pretty quick, so I went I went for the players who I knew were good who could get us wins."
By his third season in 1989, CSUB cracked the Division II national top-20 rankings for the first time.
"After that it got a little bit easier to get the good California kids to come," he said.
During Tobin's tenure, the Roadrunners qualified for seven Division II NCAA berths, winning two West Regional titles and five conference championships. In 1997, CSUB went 20-4 and won the Division II championship.
In 2007, CSUB moved to Division I and Tobin's 2010 team ranked as high as 13th in the nation.
"I always wanted to be at the Division I level," Tobin said. "As early as '89 we played as many D-1 schools as we could."
In 2011, in only its third season as a member of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation, his squad became the first team sport in CSUB's Division I era to earn an NCAA Tournament berth.
"That was a fantastic moment," Tobin said. "An NCAA bid was one of the great achievements. That was more pleasing than winning a conference. It shows your body of work was one of best in the country."
Expanding the sport
Tobin also spearheaded the addition of women's soccer at CSUB in 1996 and was the program's first head coach. For 10 seasons, he was the head coach of both programs.
Tobin's final men's record at CSUB is 307 wins, 189 losses and 54 ties, and he coached another 82 wins for the women's program.
On Dec. 26, he resigned from CSUB after being hired as the San Jose State men's soccer coach.
Tobin's legacy in Bakersfield goes beyond his CSUB success.
Countless players he coached remained in the area and are coaching at the club and high school level. Several who began their coaching careers in Bakersfield have advanced to top-level programs elsewhere.
"I don't know of anyone who has done more for a sport than Simon Tobin," said Rudy Carvajal, CSUB's athletic director for 38 years before he retired in 2010.
"Look at the local coaches, high school and club, and the college coaches he's produced," Carvajal said. "He raised the level of soccer. When he arrived, soccer was just getting started in the high schools. Now he sends players to the MLS. ... He's one in a million in terms of quality and every aspect of his sport."
The coaching tree
Gunn is one of those coaches. After a sensational playing career at CSUB, Gunn began his coaching career as an assistant on Tobin's staff. Gunn is now the head coach for the Stanford men's team.
"Everything he's done at Cal State is truly remarkable," said Gunn, who is CSUB's all-time career record-holder with 46 goals from 1989-92.
"I owe everything in my career to Simon. He gave me the opportunity to get a college degree and experience the wonderful community of Bakersfield, and he was kind enough to give me a chance to coach with him and learn from him. Each step along the way he's given me incredible guidance and support throughout my career."
Carvajal hired Tobin, saying he first heard of Tobin from his wife and daughter who first saw Tobin coaching at the Two Rivers Soccer Camp near Lake Tahoe in the mid-1980s.
"When they came back, they raved about this particular coach," Carvajal said.
At the urging of local soccer supporter Bob Long, Tobin came to Bakersfield to begin an Olympic training program before the CSUB job became available. Tobin also coached a local boys 18-and-under team.
Tobin had never coached at the college level but got the CSUB job.
"We were really struggling at the time to get the program off the ground," Carvajal said. "I got feedback from my daughter, my wife, and those that were in the soccer community at that time. We got together and the rest is kind of history."
More than a coach
Tobin recalls having more than coaching duties when he started at CSUB.
"The first year I was here -- and Rudy would probably not admit this -- they had me doing everything," Tobin said. "I was even selling tickets to softball games. We had to bring out the PA system to all our games. But every year everything got a little better. We got more support from the administration."
Tobin's final CSUB team went 9-9-2, including 6-3-1 in its inaugural Western Athletic Conference season.
"I'd like to think Cal State's men's soccer is one of the shining lights at CSUB," Tobin said. "Men's soccer and men's baseball are the two teams at Cal State that are immediately able to compete with the best of Division I. Both can go to a top-20 Division I school and really compete and win. That's hard to do."