Tim Plough is a man who wears his emotion on his sleeve, even when in a suit and tie in the biggest moment of his coaching life.
That came Monday morning. Plough has come full circle, returning to UC Davis, where he was introduced as the Aggies head football coach some 20 years after he first arrived from San Diego to play quarterback for the storied program.
UCD is where Plough earned a degree in history, where he got his coaching start and where he had two stints with the program as a highly regarded offensive mind. He was 25 years old when he was handed the play-calling duties with the Aggies, and he later served as the program’s offensive coordinator. Plough had one-year assistant coaching stops at Boise State and this season at Cal. Now, he’s back where it all began.
Plough said his dream was to lead the Aggies someday. He first met with the team Friday after accepting the job. He replaces another Aggies alum in Dan Hawkins, who led six winning seasons in his seven-year stint. Hawkins stepped down with several years left on his contract to spend more time with family and to pursue other interests, though he will remain with the the athletic program at least until June to help with the transition.
UCD athletics director Rocko DeLuca introduced Plough to a full room at the Edwards Family Athletics Center, saying: “It’s an exciting day for our football program and for the Plough family. This is a program-defining day.”
Plough approached the podium, all smiles and emotions.
“No chance I can get through this without crying,” Plough said. “My buddies are in waders in the back. It’s a great day to be an Aggie.”
Plough then took a moment to collect himself. He teared up to the point that the words would not come out. It was a reminder that in a tough-guy sport heavy on blocking and tackling, it is OK to cry. No one has ever doubted how much Plough cares for his school and his craft.
“It’s a great feeling to be home,” Plough continued. “Davis is home for my family and me. I say we because this decision is about my family. My wife (Christine) is a former Aggie, and she was a helluva intramural football player, too.”
Plough is known for his creative offensive mind, for stretching and buckling defenses with an offense he calls “Shredville,” and for his humor.
A four-year letter winner at UC Davis, through the 2007 season, the 38-year-old Plough said an Aggies career highlight came in 2005. That’s when UC Davis stunned Stanford with a late touchdown drive, a milestone moment for a program that has produced 21 playoff teams, 30 conference championships and once reeled off 37 consecutive winning seasons. Plough was a reserve quarterback who celebrated that win then and now.
“Christine went to watch the Steve Miller Band instead of the game,” Plough said, igniting laughter.
Those in attendance included Aggie boosters, alums, faculty and staffers and former UCD coaches and players. Christine and their three sons, Jackson, Camden and Bodie, were also in attendance.
Plough is the fourth former UCD player to become the program’s head coach, following Bob Foster (1989-92), Bob Biggs (1993-2012) and Hawkins (2017-2023). Each won conference championships and spoke regularly about “Aggie Pride.” They all attended Monday’s event.
Plough thanked each of them and other former Aggies coaches such as Mike Moroski, Fred Arp and Lou Bronzan. He expressed deep appreciation for Jim Sochor, who coached the Aggies from 1970-88 and landed in the college Hall of Fame for his impact on the sport. Sochor met weekly with Plough for Monday morning coffee sessions, right up until his death in 2015. The initial invitation from Sochor came when Plough first got into coaching with the Aggies.
“In 2008, I got a random text from Jim Sochor, and he speaks in code, and he asked: ‘Young man, have you found joy?’ If joy is what you seek, meet me for coffee,’” Plough said. “We talked about life and we talked about joy. The main word was joy. A week before we lost him, I got a note from Sochor in the mail about this day happening. It feels great to keep that promise today.”
Plough ever since his Sochor chats has talked often about finding joy in every day. In games, that means pushing a defense to the brink. Plough said the Aggies will throw the ball and run it, and they will do so with tempo. He will have the Big Sky Conference’s Offensive Player of the Year to work with in Lan Larison, the leading rusher in the conference in 2023.
“Tempo is a weapon,” Plough said. “It’s fundamental like blocking and tackling. We want to create high tempo and drag (defenders) into deep water and see if they can swim. We want to make defenses feel like they’re getting choked out with all the formations and the attack-minded philosophy.”
Plough’s immediate tasks are to jump on recruiting with signing days for high school seniors starting later this month and in February. He will also navigate the new waters of NIL — Name, Image and Likeness — and the transfer portal. Those are game-changers in college football. Plough said the Aggies may lose some to the transfer portal, the nature of the business, but UCD can also gain some players through the portal.
“We want to create an environment here where it’s hard to leave Davis,” Plough said.
Plough ribbed ex-teammates who attended the event to reach into their wallets and to donate — and to spread the word. Donations are vital in this sport. It’s a big reason why the Aggies have such nice facilities.
“The team that won the Big Sky this year (Montana) has 500 donors,” Plough said. “We have 75. Let’s compete. Let’s get our numbers up there.”
The new coach added: “We’re going to find joy every day. My No. 1 goal is that our players receive their degree. The next goal is to beat that team down south (Cal Poly) and to kick the crap out of the team across the Causeway (Sacramento State), to win this conference and to try to win a national championship. It’s OK to talk about it. If I didn’t think it was possible, I wouldn’t be here.”
To add to the joy theme: Sacramento State’s coach, Andy Thompson, is Plough’s best friend in the business.