What’s Gone Wrong for Jeff Tedford at Cal?
By Chris Mahr
On Wednesday, Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour told the Contra Costa Times that she will meet with Jeff Tedford on Sunday, the day after the Golden Bears’ season finale at Oregon State. The purpose of the meeting: To discuss his future as the Bears football coach.
Cal is 3–8 on the season, 2–6 in Pac-12 play. A loss in Corvallis on Saturday would be the Bears’ sixth straight to end the season. It’s hardly the first season in a renovated Memorial Stadium that Barbour and the rest of the athletics administration envisioned.
Tedford’s hold on his job has been a tenuous one over the last few seasons. He’s a very mediocre 23–26 since 2009, leading many to decry the fact that, as of 2011, he is the highest paid state employee of California. Perhaps knowing that 2012 might be his last year in Berkeley, Tedford put his palatial East Bay mansion on the market in August for $5.35 million.
It’s a far cry from the early- and mid-2000s, when Tedford was still regarded as one of college football’s keenest offensive minds and Cal had aspirations of challenging USC for West Coast supremacy. How and where did things go wrong for Tedford since then?
No. 1: Lack of Consistent Defense
In only one season during Tedford’s tenure as head coach has Cal possessed a defense that can truly be called championship caliber: 2004, when the unit surrendered 16 points/game (eighth-best in the country) and the team went 10–2.
The defense has dipped below 20 points allowed/game just twice since then, in 2006 (19.3 points/game and a 10–3 record) and 2008 (19.9 points/game and a 9–4 record). You can have all the offense in the world, but if you don’t put forth a consistent effort on the other side of the ball, there’s only so far you can go. This season the Bears are 88th in scoring defense (30.5 points/game).
Part of being an effective head coach is surrounding yourself with a staff of assistants who are capable in the areas that are not your expertise. With the exception of 2004, Tedford’s defense at Cal has never caught up to his offense.
No. 2: Drop-off at QB After Aaron Rodgers
Tedford arrived in Berkeley prior to the 2002 season and immediately turned once-promising super recruit Kyle Boller into a first round NFL draft pick. Next up was Aaron Rodgers, the leader of that aforementioned 10–2 team who would become a Super Bowl and regular season NFL MVP with the Green Bay Packers.
And then ... nothing. The coach responsible for six NFL first round QBs — Trent Dilfer and David Carr at Fresno State, Akili Smith and Joey Harrington at Oregon and Boller and Rodgers at Cal — stopped producing them.
Tedford’s quarterbacks since Rodgers left school have been Joe Ayoob, Nate Longshore, Kevin Riley, Brock Mansion and Zach Maynard (among others). To expect Rodgers-esque levels of excellence from one of them would be unfair, but they haven’t even been half as good as Rodgers was.
The most “accomplished” one of the group is Ayoob. And that’s on account of the Guinness World Record for paper airplane tossing he set back in February.
Tedford’s inability to groom even one prolific quarterback after Rodgers is baffling for two reasons. One is that after helping half a dozen QBs become first round NFL draft picks, Tedford should have both 1) Been fending off recruits dying to be his next project and 2) Found at least one QB able to digest his complex playbook. Neither has happened.
What’s more, all the skill players that became stars at Cal should’ve helped at least one of those QBs put up big numbers (as well as attract QB recruits). This is a program that produced RBs Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, Jahvid Best, Shane Vereen and WRs Desean Jackson and now Keenan Allen.
Think of how much more prolific they would have been with a Rodgers-esque quarterback.
No. 3: Second-Half Tailspins
This is, by far, the biggest strike against Tedford.
From 2005–2010, his team lost every game the week after achieving its highest ranking of the season. And not only that, each of those losses sent the Bears into an end-of-season funk.
Here’s the full autopsy:
2005: No. 10 Cal (5–0) loses at No. 20 UCLA, 47–40, and loses three of its next four games. The Bears end the season out of the Top 25.
2006: No. 9 Cal (8–1) loses at unranked Arizona, 24–20, dashing their national championship hopes. A loss the following week at USC ends their Pac-10 championship hopes as well.
2007: No. 2 Cal (5–0), fresh off a big win at No. 12 Oregon the week before, loses at home to unranked Oregon State, 31–28. In position for a game-tying field goal and with no timeouts left, Kevin Riley mistakenly runs up the middle and ends the game. It marks the start of a 1–6 slide to end the season.
2008: Cal drops each of its three games the week after entering the Top 25: at Maryland in Week 3 (No. 25), at Arizona in Week 7 (No. 22) and at USC in Week 10 (No. 22)
2009: No. 6 Cal (3–0) is blown out at Oregon, 42–3, and loses at USC the next week to fall out of the Top 25. After each of the two weeks in which the Bears reenter the Top 25, they lose their subsequent game.
Tedford should be credited for leading Cal football back to respectability after the more than four decades of futility that preceded his arrival. But when Tedford meets with AD Barbour to discuss the program’s future, in all likelihood it’ll be confirmation that he won’t be a part of it.
Chris Mahr is the managing editor of Lost Lettermen. His column appears Tuesdays and Thursdays. You can follow him on Twitter at @CMahrtian.