Coach Jeff Tedford was fired on Tuesday after 11 seasons at California that began with great promise and ended with a disappointing run of mediocrity.
Tedford engineered an impressive turnaround for the Golden Bears after taking over a one-win team following the 2001 season. He won a school-record 82 games, churned out numerous NFL prospects and spearheaded a facilities upgrade highlighted by a $321 million stadium renovation.
But he never was able to match early success that included a pair of 10-win seasons in his first five years and a share of the 2006 conference title.
”This was an extraordinarily difficult decision, one that required a thorough and thoughtful analysis of a complex set of factors,” athletic director Sandy Barbour said in a statement. ”Ultimately, I believed that we needed a change in direction to get our program back on the right track.”
The program bottomed out this season, losing the final five games to finish 3-9 for Tedford’s worst season at the helm. The Bears lost to rival Stanford for the third straight season and finished 2-5 in the first year back at remodeled Memorial Stadium.
The final two losses were the most lopsided of Tedford’s career, a 59-17 home loss to Oregon followed by a season-ending 62-14 loss at Oregon State.
Tedford released a statement thanking the school for the opportunity to coach there.
”All involved can feel a great sense of pride with their sacrifice, contributions and commitment that have made it possible to have the winningest tenure in Cal football history,” he said. ”We all can be very proud of helping to build a renovated Memorial Stadium that will have a positive impact on many athletes, fans and staff members for years to come. I will never forget the most gratifying part of these last 11 years, and that has been the relationships with the players I have had the special opportunity to watch grow academically, physically, socially and spiritually. To watch this process and be a part of their growth and development has been a blessing.”
Tedford is still owed $6.9 million over the final three years of his contract.
Tedford established himself at Cal as a quarterback guru, helping develop Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers into first-round picks in his first three seasons after tutoring No. 3 overall pick Joey Harrington as offensive coordinator at Oregon.
But if there was one reason for Tedford’s downfall it was his inability to find another big-time quarterback after Rodgers left following the 2004 season. The Bears ran through a group of pedestrian passers like Joe Ayoob, Nate Longshore, Kevin Riley, Brock Mansion and Zach Maynard.
The inability to pair an elite passer with the top-level talent at the skill positions proved to be Tedford’s undoing. The Bears often put together some of the best recruiting classes on the West Coast and had 40 players drafted into the NFL, including eight first-round picks, under Tedford’s leadership.
Cal had 25 players on NFL rosters at the start of this season, ninth most in the nation. That includes stars like Rodgers, DeSean Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. But those star players were unable to get the Bears back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1958 season.
The closest Cal came was in Rodgers’ final season in 2004 when the Bears had a 10-1 regular season, losing 23-17 to eventual national champion Southern California. Texas beat out Cal for a Rose Bowl spot much to the dismay of the fan base. The Bears shared the conference title with USC in 2006 but lost the head-to-head matchup and settled for the Holiday Bowl.
Cal’s fortunes turned downward that next season after a 5-0 start. With the Bears poised to move into the No. 1 spot in the polls following a loss by LSU, they blew a game late to Oregon State when Riley took a sack instead of throwing the ball away in the closing seconds with Cal in position for a game-tying field goal.
Starting with that game, Tedford had a 34-37 record over his final 5 1/2 seasons.
Tedford finishes his tenure with the most bowl wins (5), most games coached (139) and most conference victories (50) in school history and is tied with Pappy Waldorf for most Big Game wins (7) against Stanford.
”Coach Tedford deserves credit for the extraordinary effort he undertook to turn this program around and bring us to the heights of a Pac-10 co-championship in 2006,” Barbour said. ”He has served his university admirably, and I will forever be indebted for his commitment and expertise, as well as the positive impact he has made in so many young men’s lives over the years.”
The Bears even got passed by Stanford in the Pac-12 hierarchy to the dismay of the alumni, with the Cardinal in position to get that Rose Bowl bid that has eluded Cal over the years despite losing star quarterback Andrew Luck to the NFL.
Adding to negatives for Tedford was news last month that Cal graduated only 48 percent of football players who entered school between 2002 and 2005 – the lowest rate in the Pac-12. Barbour said in a letter to donors that the low graduation rate was a ”great concern.”
The one bright spot in Tedford’s final seasons came when Memorial Stadium reopened this fall following the major renovation. The modernized stadium and adjacent $150 million on-campus High Performance Center finally give Cal the facilities to compete with the rest of the conference.
While Tedford’s work rebuilding the program and fundraising for the project were integral in its success, his successor will ultimately reap the benefits.