Technically, this space is supposed to be This Week In The Pac-12. But be honest - do you really want to read about how Stanford is one upset away from controlling their own National Title destiny? Do you really care that Oregon and Arizona St. blew out crummy teams? If anybody truly does miss it I'll write it up later, but for now there are more pressing issues on everybody's minds.
I remember chanting 'We love Tedford' at the Big Game bonfire rally, feebly hoping that the passion of the chant would help convince coach to never consider taking another job away from Berkeley.
I remember finding a Cal blog called 'Tedford is God' and not batting an eye or thinking that the title was stupid or hyperbolic.
I remember reading a Tedford profile on one of the most well-respected, intelligent team blogs on the internets. It was a profile on potential head coaches for their nationally prominent program. They referred to Tedford as 'ass kicking savior guy' and tentatively named him as their preference in the upcoming coaching search.
I remember when Jeff Tedford led easily the best stretch of Cal football in 50 years, was widely recognized as an offensive mastermind, and was the only person considered capable of competing with the USC juggernaut.
What happened to that coach? Since Cal's most recent no-show against USC, the same question keeps running through my head:
From 2002 until halfway through the 2007 season, Jeff Tedford compiled a record of 46-20, a win percentage of 70% (It went up to 75% from 2004-2006, after the rebuild was complete). His teams were confident and intelligent. They didn't make many mistakes. They typically got better both within games and within seasons. In those 66 games, there were only three games that could be considered blowouts (vs. a top 10 Kansas St. in 2003, vs. #1 USC in 2005, and at Tennessee in 2006).
From the 2nd half of 2007 up til now, Jeff Tedford has compiled a record of 28-26. Quarterback play has become erratic. Execution has gotten significantly worse. The team no longer improves within games or within seasons. Blowout losses have become common. The Bears frequently beat themselves.
Why? What happened? What changed? How can a coach so empirically awesome become so empirically mediocre, even bad? How does that make any sense?
I've tried to rack my brains for an example of a coach that performed so well for a 5 year span, only to have everything positive that characterized his teams suddenly change. Greg Schiano? Nah, he just had an 11-2 aberration from his usual 7-5, 8-4 meh Big East teams. Phil Fulmer? No, dude was just a victim of the cutthroat SEC - he went 10-4 in his second to last year! The closest example I can think of is Kirk Ferentz, who built Iowa into a back-to-back-to-back 10 win team in just four years, then regressed with three straight seasons of 6 or 7 wins, before winning 11 games two seasons ago. Still, few if any Cal fans feel like Tedford is on the cusp of a 10 or 11 win season.
If this sudden loss of coaching ability is as unusual as I think it is, I'm still left grasping for an explanation. For all of the criticisms Tedford has received over the last few years, I can't imagine Cal fans have an issue with his willingness to make changes. He's tried changing his role and focus as a head coach. He's parted ways with offensive coordinators, defensive coordinators, special teams coordinators and position coaches. He's changes the strength and conditioning coach, for God's sake. He's tried to shake up the practice schedule. Every year I feel like we read stories about how he's changing how the team tries to prepare from an emotional and mental standpoint.
And finally, this year, his solution was one that many Cal fans embraced: We're going to go back to doing things like we did them from 2002-2006. That meant bringing back two position coaches universally regarded as excellent coaches, and it meant a return to Tedford controlling the offense.
And yet the same results.
If you read the question I posed both in the title and body of this post, here is where I must disappoint you. I don't know why things have changed so radically. As I've learned more and more about football over the last few years I've always tried to analyze things logically and dispassionately. What little skills I've developed are failing me now. If any of you have a plausible theory I'd love to hear it. Barring a Michael Silver investigative novel we may never get a good explanation.
So now what? I personally have no desire to either publicly advocate for Tedford's termination, nor do I want to publicly go to bat for him. If Sandy Barbour decides that, for the good of Cal's athletic department, Cal needs a new coach, then I'll support that decision. If she decides that Tedford's performance warrants one more year then I'll be buying season tickets at new Memorial and showing up each week hoping and praying that 2002-2006 Tedford returns in all his awesomeness. I'm a fan of the Bears, I'll do my best to support this program and its players, and that won't change.
But mostly, I'll just be sad. Sad because the promise that I wholeheartedly believed in is gone. Sad because somebody who was instrumental in some of my best memories has become a punch line and a punching bag. Sad because a good man, someone who understands Berkeley, who ran every non-football aspect of the program almost exactly as I'd want, may be forced to leave, and not on his own terms.
Call me a sap, call me an idiot, call me a nostalgic fool - but there's still a part of me who believes that Tedford will recapture that magic that made all of us believers. Do you remember how we all felt in 2004? How could that have been wrong?!
If you're given the chance - please coach, prove that part of me right.