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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Jeff Tedford Is Gone and an Era Is Over

Posted By on Tue, Nov 20, 2012 at 2:15 PM

click to enlarge Jeff Tedford, seen here in 2009 announcing an extension today cut short - STEVE MCCONNELL
  • Steve McConnell
  • Jeff Tedford, seen here in 2009 announcing an extension today cut short

When Jason Kidd was drafted out of U.C. Berkeley by the Dallas Mavericks, he demonstrated the value of a Cal education in promising to "turn this team around 360 degrees."

Amazingly, he went on to do just that. Kidd transformed a wretched squad into a contender before leading it back into the realms of wretchedness. Berkeley mathematicians were vindicated, though they were less sanguine about the situation in Dallas.

Today the university jettisoned longtime football coach Jeff Tedford. And the good people of Dallas can laugh now, all these years later, because this time it was Berkeley that was turned around 360 degrees.



It's very difficult to overstate the vile quality of football produced by Cal teams in the seasons immediately preceding Tedford's hiring. Yet, in his very first year, he led primarily the same squad that had gone 1-10 the season before (and those games weren't close) to a 7-5 mark. Shirts reading "Tedford is God" began popping up. Back before everyone had a bobblehead doll, Tedford had a bobblehead doll. He brought in a skinny, unheralded junior college quarterback named Aaron Rodgers. And things went well.

Hunter S. Thompson's passage about the high-water mark of the 1960s is overused, but in the case of the Tedford-era Bears, it is sadly appropriate. That sea change came on Oct. 13, 2007.

Had Cal won a home contest against Oregon State, the Bears would have been the No. 1 team in the nation. Freshman backup quarterback Kevin Riley drove his squad deep into Oregon State territory in the game's waning moments, with Cal still down a field goal after a furious comeback. A dozen seconds remained on the clock and and Cal held no timeouts, meaning there were only two options: A. Throw for the end zone, or B. Throw the ball away and kick the field goal. Sadly, Riley chose Option C: Run like a lunatic over the middle, get crunched, and allow the waning seconds to slip away. Tedford, uncharacteristically, erupted on the sidelines. He was unused to such failure. But he would come to be.

The Bears would never again come close to sniffing the No. 1 ranking. That season, Tedford would horribly mismanage his quarterbacking situation, rushing injured quarterback Nate Longshore back into action. Longshore moved around the field like Kirk Gibson in '88, played terribly, and the fans turned their venom on him. Enter Riley, whose game against OSU would serve as an apt metaphor for his entire career. Tedford, who had established a reputation as a molder of pro quarterbacks, would never again attract or craft even a decent signal-caller at Cal.

Earlier this year, Tedford put his Danville estate on the market for $5.35 million -- which, in retrospect, was certainly an omen of an abysmal season to come. In the years since Oct. 13, 2007, you didn't see so many articles of clothing around campus likening the football coach to a deity. The Bears were caught and passed by not one but many Pac-12 programs. The years of success that enabled the university to make a massive and controversial investment in improving its athletic facilities will be enjoyed by Tedford's successors. Fittingly, the coach's last game came against Oregon State. But it wasn't a three-point loss with the nation's top ranking on the line, but a 62-14 humiliation, with a home-grown quarterback slinging touchdown after touchdown for the Beavers.

The university's complaint that Tedford's teams were performing as badly in the classroom as on the playing field is the final kick in the stomach for Bears fans. This is failure squared -- substandard students were brought into the school who also couldn't play ball.

"Tedford is God" in a world where gods are mortal. Dynasties rise and fall. Teams make their 360-degree turnarounds. You will, invariably, wake up one day, peer into the mirror, and realize you no longer resemble your student ID. And, like Tedford may be doing at this moment, you may utter The Talking Heads' overarching query: Well, how did I get here


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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Bio:
Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

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