Fischer: Perspective needed as Cal lets Jeff Tedford go
Jeff Tedford arrived in Berkeley as a first-time head coach at a downtrodden, mismanaged program and managed to turn it into a consistent (for the most part) winner and elevate the football team from laughing stock to national recognition. That's not easy to do at a place like Cal, where academic restrictions and lack of program history kept the team near the bottom of the standings for decades.
Athletic director Sandy Barbour made the decision to let Tedford go on Tuesday, ending a productive 11-season run. At the end of it all, as both parties surely agreed to, it was time to move on for the good of both Cal and Jeff Tedford. The Golden Bears are a much better program than when he took over but, on the way to no bowl game for the second time in three years, it was almost inevitable that there would be a coaching search going on in the East Bay this off-season.
Tedford departs as the most accomplished coach in school history. He sits atop the program's career win list, finished 82-57 overall, shared a Pac-10 title and had well over 40 players drafted during his tenure. He took the team to eight bowl games, winning five. In the 43 years between Cal's last Rose Bowl and his hiring, the program only made it to five bowl games.
It is important to keep perspective about the program after this dismissal. Yes, based on the direction of things after this 3-9 season, it was time to make the change the administration did. However, Cal fans should remember the good times in Strawberry Canyon and think about the successes more than the failures. The Tedford era was a roller coaster that started with a bang by scoring 70 points in a season-opening win, included two near trips to the Rose Bowl and a No. 2 ranking that slipped away in the final few minutes thanks to an ill-conceived scramble by Kevin Riley.
This will be one of the more attractive openings in the country - that is a result of Tedford's hard work over the past decade, even if it ended dismally. Memorial Stadium's renovation and other facilities upgrades could only have happened if Tedford had the success that he did during his tenure. On top of all of that, he was also one of the nicest, most caring coaches in the Pac-12.
Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers were both first-round draft picks, but signal-caller play after those two left campus was the beginning of the end for Tedford, who had generally been known as a quarterback guru. The Bears turned in solid seasons, but never could quite get over the hump and into position to win a championship. At some point, it became time that he wasn't the guy to get the team to the Rose Bowl and even Tedford would likely agree that, while he would have liked some more time, he probably couldn't get it done soon enough for Cal fans.
One can't help but wonder if Tedford wound up following the path of former UCLA coach and current Pac-12 Network analyst Rick Neuheisel, who redshirted blue chipper Brett Hundley but couldn't survive a season of average quarterback play. Freshman Zach Kline came from nearby Danville, Calif., as the top quarterback on the West Coast in the class of 2012 and has been widely hailed as a savior for the program. Because he has yet to take a snap, he'll instead be a nice player to build around for the new coach.
Cal can go a number of different ways with its search and will have plenty to sell to candidates. There's a lot of young talent on the roster and with the recent facilities upgrades, a number of coaches will view the job in Berkeley as taking over a sleeping giant.
A few names to watch out for: Boise State's Chris Petersen, Vanderbilt's James Franklin, San Jose State's Mike MacIntyre, Western Kentucky head coach and former Stanford assistant Willie Taggart, Louisville's Charlie Strong, Louisiana Tech coach and former Arizona OC Sonny Dykes, Utah State's Gary Anderson, former Stanford assistant Greg Roman and Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter. There also could be a number of other candidates that will get a look and could wind up with the job.
It's never easy to let a coach go. But in this case, it was time for both parties to move on. Tedford will move on to another coaching job as a mad genius known for offense. The Golden Bears will look to get back on track to compete in the tough Pac-12 North.
It's a harsh business. But for both Tedford and Cal, today should be viewed not as the end, but the beginning of a new era.