"Races are not won on race day."
— Jim Lemmon
The University of California and its rowing program were both founded in 1868, and crew thereby became the first sportat Cal. The Cal men's crew began its dominance of national and international rowing in earnest in 1924 with the hiring of Carrol ("Ky") Ebright as head coach. Over Ebright's leadership of 36 years, Cal crew became synonymous with Olympic gold medals and national collegiate championships.

Over the years, Cal has won gold medals representing the United States three times in the Olympic Games, more than any college or university in the world. The year 1928 proved to be a landmark year in Cal crew history as the team compiled arguably the greatest season in the history of collegiate rowing. The crew was undefeated domestically, went on to become the American entry in the 1928 Olympics, and brought home gold from Amsterdam.

The Cal varsity eight repeated its Olympic conquest four years later with a close victory over Italy in the 1932 Olympics at Long Beach, CA, as it too was unbeaten all year. Sixteen years later Cal brought home a third gold medal, this time from the 1948 Olympics at Henley-on-Thames, England.

Ebright's crews also won a total of six Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) championships. In fact, some argue that Ebright's 1939 IRA champion might have been the fastest of all of Cal's fine crews: it had little trouble with its collegiate competitors, defeating Washington by 12 lengths before going on to set the still-standing four-mile course record at the IRA.

Jim Lemmon moved up from frosh coach taking over the reins from Ebright in 1960 and in his seven years as head coach strung together an impressive streak, winning three IRA championships and two Pacific Coast championships. Lemmon's 1964 crew also earned bragging rights as one of California's finest, going through the regular season and the IRA without a loss.

Cal won its next IRA title in 1976, during Steve Gladstone's first turn at the helm from 1973-80. Cal also won the 1979 Pacific Coast championship, as the Bears dominated West Coast rowing and earned a spot in the semifinals of the Grand Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta in England. Cal's current frosh coach, Craig Amerkhanian, was a stalwart in that crew.

Mike Livingston became head coach in 1981 and directed the Bears for three years. His 1982 crew was outstanding. It defeated every top crew in the country in scoring victories in the San Diego Crew Classic and Pacific Coast Championships while earning Cal a berth in the semifinals of the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley.

In 1984, Tim Hodges, Cal's stroke in 1974 and '75, stepped up from freshman coach to lead the varsity. He guided the Bears to dual race victories over Washington in his final three seasons, 1985-87. Hodges' 1986 crew was one of the country's best, as it defeated eventual national champion Wisconsin en route to the Bears victory in the inaugural Redwood Shores Classic and then easily won the Pacific Coast championship. In 1988, Bruce Beall in his first year with the reins guided California to its fourth consecutive dual race victory over Washington.

Mark Zembsch, a 1982 graduate of Cal, took his turn at the helm of program in 1992 after two years of coaching Cal freshmen squads. The Bears showed improvement, winning the '92 traditional cup race over Washington in both the varsity and junior varsity events. In 1995, after three years of rebuilding, the Bears had their best season in nine years, ending in a sixth-place finish at the national championships.

Steve Gladstone returned for a second stint coaching the Bears in 1997 after many successful seasons at Brown. Charged with returning Cal men's crew to the upper echelon of collegiate rowing, Gladstone wasted no time. The varsity earned an IRA bronze in '97 and '98 and then won four straight IRA gold finishes in 1999 through 2002, including undefeated seasons in '99 and 2000.

Since 2009 Mike Teti has served as Head Coach for the Bears. After coaching the US National Team for twelve years, highlighted by an Olympic gold medal, he has continued to coach winning crews at Cal capturing four PAC-12 titles, four IRA gold medals, and two wins at Henley Royal Regatta in the Ladies' Plate and Visitors' Challenge Cup. Coach Teti enters his eighth season with the Bears following an undefeated 2015 regular season.