After 2007, Cal fans began to implore Jeff Tedford to cut back. Stay away from the offense. Stay away from that gigantic playcard. Focus on the team, focus on the big picture, and not just the quarterback and stop wearing himself down checking out the Xs and Os. It seemed Tedford was willing to do just that for the past three seasons, working with Frank Cignetti on gameplans but letting Cignetti do the playcalling, then almost totally stepping away to let Andy Ludwig run his own ship while he focused on the program and recruiting as a whole.
With Ludwig now out and with Jim Michalczik waiting in the wings for an official announcement, it looks like we're ready for a radical shift back to the old philosophy. It seems Tedford is returning to a variant of that 2002-2005 & 2007 philosophy, where he will again focus on the offense and the quarterbacks (the two thorns that have kept our team from being major competitors the last few seasons). With Eric Kiesau installed as the passing game coordinator and Michalczik probably focusing on the run aspects or resuming direct playcalling duties, Tedford seems to be emulating a strategy that worked superbly for his team's archrival.
Under the Stanford Cardinal model under Jim Harbaugh, the now 49er head coach called some plays and was heavily involved in gameplanning, but left most of the playcalling to then offensive coordinator David Shaw, and organized the run game with run game coordinator/offensive assistant Greg Roman. This type of offense by committee could work superbly, backfire horribly, or do something in between. No one really knows.
So why the change? Why would Tedford go back in this direction?
It's what he does best. We can talk all we want about how Tedford needs to lead with fire and with passion, how he needs to be more aggressive, how he needs to always go for it. We don't know how well those things affect games, and we probably will never be able to capably measure those things.
What we do know is the man is an offensive mastermind. He built Fresno State into one of the best offenses in the country. He powered Oregon to their finest period in the Mike Bellotti era, progressively winning eight, nine, ten, eleven games in four straight seasons. With the rapport of George Cortez, Tedford built Cal from an offensive doormat to a powerhouse for the middle of the decade that attracted premier talent, coming the closest to toppling USC in its heyday from the top of the Pac-10.
And the man developed quarterbacks. Trent Dilfer, Billy Volek, Akili Smith, Joey Harrington, David Carr, Kyle Boller, Aaron Rodgers, pre-injury Nate Longshore--all of these guys performed superbly on the collegiate level. Other than the hiccups with Joe Ayoob and the injured Longshore, Tedford's resume is filled with success stories, all the more prominent now that his greatest success story is competing in football's biggest game a week and a half from now.
I always felt it was a mistake to completely divorce himself from the thing he was best at; it just didn't seem to leave Tedford with much to do on gameday. Just think in the back of your mind about all the curious decisions we've seen on the sidelines the past few seasons. I'm not going to debate whether they were right or wrong, but did we EVER have this many debates when Tedford was heavily involved in running the offense? The man we used to revere often reminded me more of Abe Simpson than the Tedford-bot we'd all grown to appreciate.
It seems like it's time for him to reengage in the game before it completely passes him by.
Quarterback development. This is pretty much the no-brainer. Cal quarterback play has been a tough watch the past few years. It took Kevin Riley three years to finally become a solid QB under Ludwig's tutelage when Tedford took a step back--regardless of what people say, he won a lot of games and became better over time. All this despite being saddled with some horrible offensive lines that eventually ended his Cal career.
When he went down though, Ludwig's deficiencies were laid bare with Mansion's brief stint at the starting position. Sheer incompetence on every level. (You know that helpless feeling Chicago Bears fans felt when Todd Collins did nothing for two drives, only to feel sheer bafflement that Caleb Hanie went in a few drives later? For Cal fans, watching Brock Mansion and realizing that Beau Sweeney was an even WORSE version of Brock was tough to swallow).
Needless to say, Tedford needs to be more hands-on, and it appears as if he will be. Given the wide open situation at quarterback this fall, how he works and helps build with Allan Bridgford, Zach Maynard, and Austin Hinder will go a long way to telling us if he can still develop quarterbacks, or if the magic has truly left him.
Tedford Juniors making their mark. I'm going to go out on a limb on this one. It has to really really bug Tedford that all the coaches that got the best of Tedford this year and last year are offensive-minded coaches, many of whom are heavily involved in gameplanning. (You know, the exact thing that unknowledgable Cal fans got so worked up over in 2007 and wanted Tedford to move aside for someone else to handle). It has to really irk Tedford that Lane Kiffin, Steve Sarkisian, Chip Kelly and Jim Harbaugh all managed to beat him at his own game, and decisively so for that matter.
I don't believe Tedford is an arrogant man, but he is definitely a proud one, and I bet he was sick inside to watch his prized offenses fall deeply short of expectations, particularly during those final four lifeless games with Brock Mansion. You could tell how stung he was after the season ended. In the back of his mind, he probably believes he can beat those guys if he gets the keys to the Batmobile again.
The defense is its own independent arm. In my estimation, people were way too harsh on Bob Gregory during his tenure as Cal defensive coordinator. However, the only main quibble I always had was how the defense seemed to be designed to get the ball back to the offense rather than to make plays on their own. Tedford tended to be hands-off with Gregory so he could focus on his side of the field.
With Clancy Pendergast, that philosophy seems to have shifted. Cal's defense showed that it had the capability to step up and win games on its own, much like the USC teams in the post-Leinart/Bush/White era. Against Oregon and Washington, the defense made huge plays that nearly turned the tide of the game; unfortunately the offense was so inept that they had trouble taking advantage of what should've been game-changing turnovers.
Thanks to the defense finally starting to look self-sufficient thanks to Tosh Lupoi and Kenwick Thompson's recruiting prowess, Tedford can finally free himself to try and do what he does best--kick ass with his offense, while the defense does its thing on the other side. And I imagine many fans would be satisfied with that strategy in a way they weren't three years ago.
The 2007 collapse is always overrated as an offensive problem. Cal fans forget there were a LOT of things wrong with that 2007 team. It was not all on gimpy Longshore and Tedford bumbling away.
- Offensive line woes: As soon as guys started getting injured, the team's offense eroded. Poor pass protection saw Longshore throw the ball away on an inordinate amount of passing downs (sacks allowed is one of the most deceiving stats in college football) or occasionally up for grabs in hopes of making a play. The run attack got stiffed on several occasions against poor defenses. Michalczik is always regarded highly by Cal fans, but this offensive line could never meet the challenge down the stretch.
- The speedy but overwhelmed Justin Forsett being entrusted with the majority of the carries; Forsett performed admirably, but his offensive line could not block for him and he went down on first contact a lot, stalling many important drives. This forced Longshore to pass from many long-yardage, obvious passing down situations.
- The weakest defensive line of the Tedford era, Gregory's boys could never get a big stop in run defense (other than a young Tyson Alualu, there was really no blue-chip talent on that D-line). Offenses in the Pac-10 (particularly Arizona State, Washington and USC) used the clock to their advantage and kept the Bears off the field.
- Tom Schneider got injured before the start of the season, leaving us with the inconsistent Jordan Kay to try and make things happen--his inability to nail field goals or strike good kickoffs put our teams in disadvantageous situations offensively (less points) and defensively (short fields for the opposing offense to work with).
- Talent depth was a major problem on that team. If recruiting stays on its upward trend, it should be less of a problem going forward.
While the offensive results were less than desirable during the latter half of that season, I never thought it was the disaster nega-Bear fans made it out to be. We'll see if it happens again.
The storm clouds are brewing. I don't know exactly how much pressure donors are putting on the athletic program, but it wouldn't be a stretch to say they were probably very displeased with the direction of their football team. Consecutive losing seasons at this point will be treated harshly, regardless of the marginal talent level of the team he had to work with.
Tedford knows this is a sensitive time. He knows how thin and young our team will be next year, regardless of the influx of talent. He knows another losing season could severely damage the prestige of the team at a time when the faculty continue to pressure the regents and chancellor to cut more deeply into athletics. He knows the recruiting classes will be in place soon, and any more seasons of negligence could begin hampering those positive steps.
And clearly, with Tedford no longer working so much with that unit, the offense has been average to plain bad the past few years. Tedford wasn't going to wait around and see if Ludwig could turn things around from being blown out and shut down seven times the past two years. Go back, look at all those blowouts, and you'll see approximately three to six meaningful points COMBINED in those contests. Competitive losses are hard to take but perfectly acceptable--losses like those just can't be tolerated. And so Ludwig went.
All the excuses are soon about to be used up. He's sacked all the coaches everyone has complained about. The incomplete facilities that had long been considered the main hindrance to our recruiting woes will be completed over the next year. The highly touted recruiting classes are about to start hitting the field the next two years, and while they are defensively-tilted, there is enough offensive talent around to expect them to produce at a competent level.
Jeff Tedford has put himself directly on the line. Whoever is calling plays the next few season can no longer be scapegoated for offensive woes. This offense will almost certainly be Tedford's. The credit or the blame will now go solely to him. Only victory can save him.