Fire Cal Football Coach Jeff Tedford?

So, the Football team of the California Golden Bears lost yesterday to that university of abbreviations that must include its city. What a bummer. The Bears played uninspired and without a sense of purpose. The only great play came from the special teams, especially the punter, Brian Anger. Otherwise, the play from the Bears on either side of the ball moved to a new all-time low. Shades of Tom Holmoe…

It was thought by many-including me- that the Cal Defense would keep UCLA from scoring. Of the few bright spots in team play, the Defense, which includes freshmen playing at both corners in some games, was always competitive. Not so yesterday: the QB, Kevin Prince, ran with impunity. He got around the corner of the line several times and then headed north without much pursuit. What a bummer. It’s worth adding that UCLA came into the game without 6 players who were suspended for fighting: 4 of whom were wide receivers. So, it should not have come as a surprise that UCLA would keep the ball on the ground.

As was observed by the TV commentators, the Cal Offense was simply pathetic: and that was even more of a surprise, in that the UCLA Defense is already well-known for being blown-out by several teams. There’s not a lot more that can be said.

So, the ongoing question raised by alumni like myself: How much longer will the Head Coach, Jeff Tedford, remain with the team? The lack of preparation by the team is obvious enough. Alumni are increasingly alienated by the play of the team; it’s not as though Cal suffers from a lack of athletes who also can play the game. So, what is up with the ongoing, downward spiral of Cal Football? I need to describe two other factors delaying the inevitable pink slip, and offer a plausible explanation for the excruciating slow decline of Cal Football.

First, Tedford has a contract until 2015 or something like that. That contract includes a huge buy-out clause, and goes into the millions of dollars (Welcome to the world of College Football). At a university with huge deficits and an “every-man/woman-for-themselves” approach to funding, to fire an at-will employee and have to pay them a few years of compensation to leave, no matter how much that money is, will be resisted in the strongest possible way, even though it is well-known that the Head Coach’s salary is paid for by huge gifts made by alumni.

Second, because Cal has a succession of winning seasons under Tedford, last season being the lone exception (a harbinger?), fund raising for improvements to Memorial Stadium and the construction of a new training facility for athletes- not just football- has gone really well. Winning does help raise monies. The facility is beautiful, and the report of those athletes who have got to use it so far, is that it is a wonderful facility for working out, studying, receive tutoring, and having a location that serves them as student-athletes. Furthermore, plenty of the athletes on the Football team were recruited to Cal because of the promise of the training center, tree-sitters notwithstanding. Recruiting players to Cal has become much easier because the facility is simply heads-and-shoulders above any other facility, especially in the Pac-12.

If you believe even half of what I’ve described above, and I’ll let you pick your half, the performance on the field does not aspire to either the compensation of the Head Coach or the quality of the athletes on the field. Put another way: if Cal were leaving it out on the field every Saturday, and were on the wrong-side of some calls by the referees or had some uncontrollable circumstances on how balls were fumbled, tipped, or the weather was the dominating factor throughout a game: and they still had the same record, you could make a case for a team being “snake-bit.” Cal just plays without purpose or intensity.

So, how do I attribute the decline of the Cal Football? It’s worth noting that when Tedford came in after Tom Holmoe, the Bears improved to 7-5 in 2002: first winning season in 10 years. But, to a person, there was a new sense of purpose on the team that season, and you heard athletes saying they wished they had an extra season to play for Tedford.

Then came the season that ancient Old Blues believed would allow them to meet St Peter at the pearly gates: in 2004, the Bears had a 10-1 record, and it appeared that Cal would finally return to the Rose Bowl.

It was a crushing piece of news that that glad-handing and lobbying of the Texas Head Coach, Mack Brown, was successful among the media and coaches in the nation, and resulted in UT (and Vince Young) going to the Rose Bowl. Aaron Rodgers didn’t mince words about how stupid that act was of Brown, and admitted Texas really didn’t have the personnel to play even the Bears; apparently, the Longhorns had enough to win their first Rose Bowl against Michigan.

Of course, Cal got smacked by Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl, and that was sign that Tedford did not have the persuasive ability or capacity to re-motivate a justifiably disappointed Cal Football team to get up for a lesser bowl and a lesser team. Cal got steam-rollered, by Tech, 45-31. The game was never as close as the score indicates.

Now, Cal continued to have winning seasons, but there were always losses from 2005 onward that everyone everywhere thought to themselves, “That was strange…Cal lost to (fill in the blank)?” At first, the losses were thought to be idiosyncratic. Now, there’s a pattern of unprepared players, lacking for purpose or motivation. Indeed, while no one wants to lose, none of the Cal players or the coaching staff ever gave evidence in the media that they were bothered by losses or the lack-luster performances coming with those games.

Now, Cal has had a few bright spots along the way. Tedford has a winning record in the Big Game (7-2); Cal has won several bowl games under Tedford (5-2), and there’s the upset of USC (ranked #3) in 2003 in triple-overtime. In most universities, if you’ve had a bottom-feeder for several decades and the kind of athletes that contribute toward that kind of record, you’d think a coach like Tedford fell from heaven. Why fire him?

At some point along the way, all of the big business notwithstanding, you’ve got ask yourself: are the players listening to and trusting their coach? That, at the end of the day, is the question that the Athletic Director, Sandy Barbour needs to ask and get answers from the student-athletes. Not the alumni, not the Chancellor, not the students, or other interested parties. Certainly: don’t ask the coaches. Ask the students: are you listening? Do you trust the man to prepare you to win? Athletes know this question: in their bones. When they know a coach challenges them, and invites them to step up against a better opponent, and has prepared them to win, calling them to play to win summons heart, mind, soul: and the body responds from snap to whistle.

In my judgment: the players would tell the Cal AD: No: we’re not listening. Cutting that buy-out check would be hard, but would cost more to ignore the student-athletes who come to Cal, not only for the best undergraduate degree on the planet, but also to develop a winning tradition that parallels the excellence in academics in Berkeley.

After that: the Cal AD would have to get the checkbook ready for Urban Meyer…he’s a natural for Berkeley. I’m serious.

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Cal vs. USC: No upset, this time, and, a fond recollection of better days

Tomorrow night, Cal hosts the Trojans at ATT Park; if you get ESPN, then tune in.

If you read here last week, I hypothesized guessed badly that Cal would upset the 9th-ranked Oregon Ducks. And, if you followed the first-half, you might have been tempted to say to yourself, “Wow…maybe Mike was onto something.” Then halftime finished, and so did the Bears’ opportunity for an upset.

The guys who get paid the big bucks in Vegas have USC winning by 3 points. Maybe they forgot about Georgio Tavecchio, the guy who has found his confidence again, and is kicking the ball over the state line. If USC keeps Cal from crossing the fifty, maybe they’ll win. Maybe Tedford would line Georgio from his own 45 just to see what would happen.

I have Cal by 7 in a close one.

Of course, last time I recall Cal winning big, they really took it to the Trojans, and the LA Times is hilarious.

Upset in Tonight’s Cal-Oregon Game?

I’m giving myself a brain-break from reading, and thought I’d weigh in on tonight’s Cal-Oregon game. Of course, if you get cable, swing over to ESPN, and enjoy it.

Right now, all of the pundits and Vegas have Oregon in a romp over the Bears. And, those guys and gals get paid big bucks to be right on these matters, and alumni like myself don’t really matter unless I’m among those paying the big bucks to the above…which I’m not…however, I am going to take the contrarian position on tonight’s game, and if for no other reason, you’ll either get to rub this one in my face, or you’ll say to yourself: I know at least one guy who predicted this upset.

So far, Cal is 3-1, and really, they haven’t played any team of real strength…or at least that was the thinking until Washington steam-rollered Utah last Saturday: and the Utes gave USC a game before that…well, you know how this kind of thinking goes: “so, Cal is better than everyone expects…” Maybe.

What I think we do come against here regards the preparation of Cal, the history of last year’s game in Berkeley, and what the Ducks think is coming…

This week, for the first time in a very long time: Cal practices were closed to the media and visitors. Yikes. Either there are injuries that no one wants to have disclosed, or the Bears are preparing for both sides of the ball in ways that they do not want disclosed. More on that in a moment. Normally, even with Big Game preparation, Coach Tedford has practices open the first day or two of the week. Nothing to see or hear this time around with Oregon.

In case you missed it, last year’s game with Oregon was the one game you should not have missed. Even if you don’t like football: this game was exciting. David (Cal) against Goliath (Oregon): except the Philistines ran out the clock at the end of the game to make sure shepherd boy didn’t pick up another rock: final score, Oregon wins, 15-13. Customarily, Oregon puts about 50 points on the scoreboard before the end of the first half in all of their other games. In short: Cal did two unexpected things: 1) they executed in ways that simply stymied the hurry-up, no-huddle offense of Oregon, and 2) they missed a field goal that would have put them into the lead in the 2nd half: it was a chip shot. Cal tackled, and put down the Ducks in ways that, well, you could hear the excitement in the voices of the broadcasters, as in, “Wow! We got us a game, and Cal might upset Oregon!” Which, unfortunately, did not happen. Even though they won, even if you read the interviews of Oregon coaches and players, they sound and read like they lost the game.

Which brings me to what is going on inside the heads of Oregon. One of the consistent remarks from post-game a year ago to yesterday was, “Cal executed better than we did.” Now, you can take those remarks as subtle bulletin board material to rah-rah your team, or…you can take that as: those Berkeley boys are a pain in our asses, and they won’t go away.

Seems like in the Pac-10, err, Pac-12, there is always another team- not your rival- that gives your school fits in football. Oregon State is like that for Cal; Washington State is like that for USC: and I wonder if now, Cal is like that for Oregon. And, here’s where the closed practices in Berkeley come into play.

Lots of people near and far have wondered, “Why don’t they let Zach Maynard run the ball more?” In the first four games, the guy really hasn’t: but everyone everywhere knows he has track speed and is tough as nails. No plays have been designed for him to run or for any kind of option stuff to be unveiled…so, I wonder if tonight, if from this summer until the present, Tedford has waited to unveil some new offense for Oregon, practiced it in private, and it includes Maynard running. If so, expect some Ducks to get gassed early and often. And, my best guess is that the Ducks know it is coming, and don’t have the personnel to stop Maynard.

To be sure, when you compare the maturity of the two teams that explains why the Ducks are a 24-point favorite over the Bears. But, given what I’ve suggested above, “that’s why they play the game.”