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November 20, 2012
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COMMENTARY: Falling By the Numbers
CORVALLIS, Ore. -- Jeff Tedford doesn't need a statue.
Every day he drove up to that parking lot above Maxwell Family Field, he pulled into the driveway of his very own monu-mansion: a $321-million stadium and a $150-million-plus center for student-athlete high performance.
Cal had not had a winning season since 1993 when Tedford arrived, winning only 29 games from then until he took the reins in 2002.
Since Tedford became head coach, he's won 82 games. He's won the conference's coach of the year award twice. He's won a co-conference title. He's produced NFL talent after NFL talent after NFL talent. He ended a seven-game losing streak to Stanford and started a five-game run of his own. He went to seven straight bowl games -- eight total -- with five wins. He won 10 games twice, when the program had only won 10 games four times in its entire history before he came along.
But Jeff Tedford does not need a statue. He needs to put down the clipboard. He needs to rest.
When he came in, he promised conference titles. He promised that the Bears would be relevant in the national discussion -- that they would compete for BCS bowl games. They have not. That time of relevance has come and gone, and while it's left its mark on Berkeley in the form of sparkling new facilities, those are but shadows and echoes of what once was, and what should have been. While Tedford has won 82 games, his winning percentage (.594) is less than the three men behind him on pure wins alone: Andy Smith (.799), James Schaeffer (.794) and Pappy Waldorf (.670).
While today, Jeff Tedford begins to clean out his office at the Simpson Center that he helped build with his early success, his job was done a long time ago. He has, in fact, become a victim of his own early success.
After heaving his headset to the turf following a rookie play by rookie quarterback Kevin Riley on Oct. 13, 2007, when the Bears were just moments from being the top team in the land, thanks to a bevy of other upsets, Tedford vowed to be more in-control on the sidelines, to be more of a CEO. What he became was even more conservative, even more guarded, even more insular.
Jeff Tedford doesn't need a statue. He needs a margarita and a long vacation.
Before that night, Tedford was 48-20 as Cal's head coach, with a 27-14 record against the Pac-10. Since that night -- including that gut-wrenching loss -- Tedford is 33-37 overall, and 21-30 against conference opponents.
Before that night, Cal had lost just six games by 14 points or more. Since then? 17 losses by 14 points or more. Tedford has gone 2-4 against the Cardinal. He has gone to four bowl games, and lost twice, having not won a bowl game since the 2008 Emerald Bowl in San Francisco.
A former Cal quarterback said that every week during the 2008 quarterback controversy, backup signal-callers Ryan Wertenberger, Brock Mansion and Beau Sweeney had to leave the quarterback meeting room so Tedford, Kevin Riley and Nate Longshore could debate who would start that week.
During the 2007 collapse, multiple players have said that Tedford acquiesced to many requests of star wide receiver DeSean Jackson, down to changing the flavor of Gatorade after practice. Those same players have said that the team knew how bad Longshore's ankle injury truly was, just by seeing him limp around the locker room. Tedford, on the other hand, left it up to Longshore as to whether he would play or sit. After Longshore came back in a 30-21 loss to UCLA in which he threw three interceptions -- including one returned for a touchdown -- Riley did not see the field once until the second quarter of the Armed Forces Bowl.
This is a man that has let his caring for his players -- who has let the desire to please his charges, and to do what he thinks is best for them -- get in the way of doing what needs to be done, of adjusting and changing and adapting. By his own admission, he has trusted players too much, particularly when it came to finishing their degrees -- with a vast majority of players who count against the graduation success rate still having two or fewer online classes to take after promising Tedford years ago that they would get them taken care of.
On the flipside, Tedford's offense -- once predicated on the run, which opened up the pass and in turn the play-action out of power formations and a pro set -- is now a mishmash of styles and schemes, incorporating zone read, zone blocking, read option, pistol, shotgun, the spread and the pro set.
Current Oregon head coach Chip Kelly has said that a team can win with any offense -- as long as it knows its own identity.
In recent years, Tedford has struggled with defining what his offensive identity is -- choosing to call it merely "balanced" and "multiple." That's not an identity. That's a pair of adjectives. Just look at the quarterbacks on the roster: Two pro-style (Zach Kline and Allan Bridgford), two dual-threats (Kyle Boehm and Austin Hinder) and one scrambler (Zach Maynard). This isn't an offense with an identity. Over the past five years, it's an offense with an identity crisis.
In December of 2010, the father of a recruit -- who had coached several other Cal recruits in the past -- took Tedford aside during his son's official visit, and said, "get the stick out of your ass, Jeff. You're a good coach. Go back to doing what you know how to do: coach the quarterbacks, run the offense."
The fact of the matter is, Tedford never stopped running the offense, no matter who was labeled the offensive coordinator. It's almost been as if he's just stapled the playbooks of former offensive coordinators into the back of his own. Even tailbacks have said that their playbooks are several inches thick. Tedford himself has said that his playbook consists of over 150 plays.
From 2002 through 2005, George Cortez served as the offensive coordinator under Tedford, before leaving to re-join the ranks of Canadian Football League coaches as an offensive coordinator. He didn't become a head coach until 2012, with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Mike Dunbar lasted just one season before taking over the offensive coordinator job at Minnesota. Dunbar is now the offensive coordinator under Dave Doeren.
Jim Michalczik was the coordinator for the first of two times in 2007, with Tedford still calling the plays. Frank Cignetti, Jr., lasted just one year before leaving to become the OC at Pittsburgh and then Rutgers. He is now the quarterbacks coach for the St. Louis Rams.
Andy Ludwig -- unlike any of his predecessors -- allegedly had full control over the offense, including game planning and play calling. Tedford had seemingly fully retreated from the offense, but that was in fact not the case. Upon his departure after the 2010 season for the greener pastures of San Diego State, Ludwig said, "I'm excited to get back to running my system."
Last year, the offensive plays were called from the booth by wide receivers coach and passing game coordinator Eric Kiesau, but were deliberated upon by Kiesau, Tedford, Michalczik and running backs coach/run game coordinator/associate head coach Ron Gould.
None of the offensive coordinators who have departed have gone on to take higher-profile jobs, and have in fact, in many cases, gone backwards to get out of Berkeley, ostensibly because of Tedford's obsessiveness and perfectionism. That's not to say that those attributes are not desirable in a football junkie -- it's what makes many coaches tick -- but there's a limit. There's a point at which "grinding" becomes self-injurious, a point at which you begin to work harder instead of working smarter.
The problem is that Tedford only knows one way of working. He only knows grinding. He only knows the accelerator, not the clutch. He hasn't changed gears. He hasn't shifted his perspective. He just tries to work harder and harder. There's a problem with that strategy: There are only so many hours in the day, and only so hard one can work. While the rest of the conference is flush with new Pac-12 television money, and spending it on new, young, dynamic coaches, Tedford remains as the lone holdover from an era where the conference was plagued by Bob Toledo, a cratering Rick Neuheisel, John Mackovic and Buddy Teevens. Then there came Keith Gilbertson and Tyrone Willingham and Karl Dorrell, a declining Bill Doba and Paul Wulff. Now, Tedford faces a conference stocked with coaching talent in Rich Rodriguez, Chip Kelly, the aggressive Steve Sarkisian, the charismatic Jim Mora, Jr., Todd Graham and Mike Leach. He's no longer the new coach heroically overcoming old, crumbling facilities. He's an old coach with brand-new facilities and a boat-load of innate recruiting advantages, but a recruiting class just outside the top 50 and a team that finished 3-9, out of bowl contention for the second time in three years.
Jeff Tedford doesn't need a statue. If he'd ridden off into the sunset after the 2008 season -- if he hadn't signed that extension -- he'd be remembered alongside Pappy Waldorf and Andy Smith, rather than simply having more wins than them by virtue of being in Berkeley longer. Instead of leaving the hero, he's stayed long enough to become the villain, and Jeff Tedford needs that about as much as he needs a statue.
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