Jeff Tedford enters the 2012 season as the winningest football coach in Cal history. So why does it seem like his team might be playing for his job?
Cal football will experience a watershed moment when it moves into the new Memorial Stadium later this month. For years the Bears fought to attract top recruits with facilities that preceded the invention of the modern football helmet, but with a top-notch training center and renovations to one of the most scenic stadiums in the country, Cal now has the carrots to jump ahead in Pac-12 Conference arms race. The athletic department should be wary of fumbling this opportunity by putting a mediocre product on the field.
Since reaching No. 2 in national polls in October 2007, Tedford’s Bears have compiled a 31-28 record and last season’s 7-6 campaign, capped off by five turnovers in the Holiday Bowl, did nothing to mollify pessimists.
But isn’t Tedford a victim of his own success? It’s easy to forget that when he was hired in December 2001, he took over a program that had just posted a 1-10 record and had only four winning seasons in a 20-year span. His team received national attention right away, beating eventual national co-champion USC in triple overtime in 2003 and notching Cal’s second 10-win season since the Truman administration in 2004.
Tedford is the only modern Bears coach with more than two postseason wins and he set a school record with seven straight bowl appearances (2002-2009) by luring blue-chip recruits, such as DeSean Jackson, Jahvid Best and Keenan Allen, to a town known for its hostility toward football.
The former CFL signal-caller arrived on campus with a reputation for being a “quarterback guru” after he molded Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Akili Smith into top NFL draft picks as an offensive coach at Fresno State and Oregon. He lived up to the billing immediately by resurrecting Kyle Boller’s college career and then plucking Aaron Rogers out of Butte College, which is why Cal’s recent string of mediocrity is so frustrating: the troubles start under center.
Since 2007, Cal starting quarterbacks have thrown an average of 19 touchdowns and 11 interceptions per season, a stark contrast to the consistency Rogers displayed in 2003 (19 TDs, five INTs) and 2004 (24 TDs, eight INTs).
Once again, Cal looks like it could go either way this season and, ironically, Tedford’s job could hinge on the development of his quarterback, Zach Maynard. Last season, Maynard showed signs of promise, using his feet to connect with Allen for big gains down field; but every explosive play seemed to be offset by a costly mistake.
With holes to fill on the offensive line and a receiving corps with one reception beyond Allen, Maynard won’t have the luxury of learning on the job this year and if Cal hovers around .500 again, Tedford could get the pink slip. With the new facilities, the school has never had a better opportunity to attract a high-profile coach.
But if the switch flips for Maynard this year, the offensive could be explosive with Allen, running back Isi Sofele and tight end Richard Rodgers on board, too. Nine wins aren’t out of the question and if that happens, it would be hard to argue that Tedford hasn’t earned the opportunity to stick around for at least one more season.
Paul Gackle is a freelance writer and regular contributor to The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org followed on Twitter @PGackle.