Dickey: Cal football in need of vocal leaders to step up 

WANTED: Vocal leaders. Contact Cal football coach Jeff Tedford.

Each spring, after the conclusion of spring drills, Tedford interviews all of his players individually, for 15 minutes.

“I feel like a doctor,” he said when we met in his office. “Next!”

Lately, Tedford has noticed an interesting phenomenon: Few players want to be vocal leaders. “They’ll say, ‘I lead by example,’” Tedford noted.

Why?

“I think it’s the video games,” he said. “Think about it. When we were growing up, we had to organize our own games. Somebody had to step up and be the organizer. That’s how you get leaders.

“Now, they just sit down and play video games. Nobody has to organize anything.”

I suggested another explanation: Players know that, with the constant television replays, not just in games but on sports news, every mistake they make will be magnified. Cal quarterback Kevin Riley commented at a media lunch last year that he’ll never be allowed to forget his mistake at the end of his first collegiate start because the play is a staple on sports TV. Riley was joking about it, but a player who was more sensitive to criticism wouldn’t think it is funny.

When Tedford talks to the players, many nonfootball issues are discussed, most prominently, how the player is advancing academically.

“The years 17 to 23 are a period of tremendous change,” he noted. “I thought about that the other day when [defensive back] Chris Conte was in here. This will be his fourth year because he didn’t redshirt as a freshman and he’s not at all the same person he was three years ago.”

Tedford enjoys this, which is why I’ve always thought he would stay in college coaching — hopefully, at Cal — and not jump to the pros.

An NFL head coach is a CEO. The coordinators and position coaches do most of the strategic planning and coaching. The head coach sets the tone for the team, and the good ones motivate their players.

Tedford, though, is much more of a hands-on coach. During practices, he often talks individually to players. After practice, he typically talks to a handful of players before coming over to talk to the media on the sideline.

When he talks to players, whether it’s in these spring conversations or during the year, motivation and leadership are constant subjects.

“It’s interesting what they have to say,” he noted. “One player told me he didn’t want to be a vocal leader because he didn’t want to be a hypocrite. He said, ‘When I tell them to run to the ball and then I don’t do it one time, I’d feel like a hypocrite.’ I told him that should be motivation for him to hustle every time.”

Some self-examination goes into this, too. Tedford told his players he didn’t do a good enough job of motivating them in the season-ending game last year against Washington.

“Several of them said, ‘No, we should have done a better job of motivating ourselves,’” he said.

Ultimately, the games are won and lost on the field, but these spring talks may lay the foundation for success this fall.

Good luck at stopping the video games, though.

Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. E-mail him at glenndickey@hotmail.com.

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Glenn Dickey

Glenn Dickey

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