Pac-12 Media Day: Jeff Tedford on Offensive Philosophy, Coaching Changes, Feast or Famine Defense

One of the best events at each Pac-12 Media Day is the luncheon that takes place after the press conferences.  After they finish television and radio interviews, coaches and players join members of the media for lunch and a lengthy interview session.  This year, Tedford finished up his other commitments earlier than usual and spent about an hour talking with a handful of us media folks about a variety of topics.  He covered the usual topics you'd expect: expectations for fall camp, questions about Maynard, bouncing back from his first losing season.  But he also went into surprising depth on several subjects.  Those familiar with Tedford's press conferences know that he is usually pretty reserved.  We typically hear some basic information about relatively predictable topics.  This time, however, he was quite candid about a variety of topics and went into surprising depth on a few issues.

I've organized this post according to topic, where I have summaries of what he said with some quotes mixed in.  We'll start off with his discussion of the philosophy behind his ideal playbook.

Playbook Philosophy

  • Most Cal fans could see this question coming:  is there any temptation to run a handful of plays to perfection, similar to what Oregon does (especially with a mobile QB like Maynard)?  Tedford says "yes and no."  Tedford emphasizes that Oregon's tempo guides their plays and that is what allows them to run a relatively small number of plays.  He did admit that he needs to change some aspects of his own offense: "we do need to cut back: less volume, more creativity."  He has to take the size of the playbook and "cut it back so everyone understands what they're doing."  Of course, he has to understand the team's offensive identity before making modifications to the playbook.  Despite knowing the team's identity at QB, WR, and O-line, Tedford says the team cannot have an offensive identity until we know who will be the starting RB.  Once they have that, Tedford says it is much easier to determine which plays are run.
  • From here, Tedford opened up to talk at much greater depth than he usually does at these events.  It was a rare opportunity to see Tedford talk off his media hat and put on his philosopher hat.  He described his ideal offense as "diverse and efficient."  Modifying the playbook is a challenge for Tedford, as he is the primary play caller this season.  For every play he adds into the book, he has to take something out.  His goal is to keep it around 100 plays.  Though it may sound like a large number, this accounts for all downs and distances: everything from 1st and 10 to 3rd and inches to 4th and 3.  It also includes location-specific plays such as red zone plays.  In addition to situations playing a role in determining which parts of the playbook will be used, the availability of personnel also plays a big role.  Tedford can only use plays for which he has enough healthy players (i.e. multiple-TE plays may not be called as often due to lack of healthy bodies).  Ultimately, Tedford wants to create a system that allows for diversity in multiple situations.
After the jump Tedford talks about Maynard, the return of Michalczik and Kiesau, the cause of the feast-or-famine defense, and much, much more.  You'll learn far more here than you will from the 15-minute press conference earlier in the day--I guarantee it.

Maynard

One of the first topics at lunch was Maynard, though Tedford only spoke briefly about him.  He mentioned him several times throughout the luncheon, though.

  • Maynard's academics are not an issue at all.  He is taking summer classes now and is doing well.
  • Although Maynard is great at making plays with his feet, Tedford emphasizes that he is quite good at looking down the field while on the run, in case a receiver breaks free.
  • Although Maynard threw several interceptions in his year at Buffalo, Tedford is not especially concerned with TOs.  Obviously, it's something Zach wants to avoid, but it's not a pressing issue.  In one of the last practices of the spring, Maynard threw a few interceptions, but they were on plays that had not yet been run until that scrimmage.

Practice: Spring, Summer, Fall

  • The team will get keys to the almost-finished SAHPC on September 1st, but coaches will not use the SAHPC much.  Players will use its academic facilities and lounges.  Occasionally coaches will hold meetings there, but most of the meetings will take place up at the Witter facilities.  Once the SAHPC is completely finished, players and coaches will take much greater advantage of its facilities (obviously).
  • Speaking of Witter, it's ready to go for fall camp.  They have sorted out the turf issues that moved the team to various venues for spring practice.
  • Occasionally the team will practice at Evans Field this fall (yes, you read that correctly).  Tedford mentioned that he wants guys to use the field for footing exercises.  They will only use the field a couple times during the entire season, though.
  • The team will not get any practice time at AT&T park.  They only time they will be at AT&T on non-gamedays is for walk-throughs.
Blasquez
  • Marvin spoke a bit about Coach Blasquez, whose workouts have been getting rave reviews from players.  Marv says he's more than just a strength coach: he's more like one of the coaches on the field.  Beyond building players' strenght and endurance, Blasquez emphasizes three details: "intensity, togetherness, and detail."  Players finish their workouts as a team and Blasquez continually emphasizes teamwork and togetherness in workouts.

Feast or Famine Defense

  • Tedford tried to answer the question of why the defense could hold Oregon to one TD one week, then get lit up by Andrew Luck the next week.  He repeatedly turned to the USC game as an example, where he said Matt Barkley was on fire.  Receivers were well covered, but Barkley still completed pass after pass.  Tedford says it was not an effort issue (that is, guys did not give up during the game).  Does Tedford know how to prevent this?  I did not get the sense that he did.  He really seemed to struggle with this issue.
  • Would scolding himself and his players help in these situations?  Not really, said Tedford.  "What's yelling and screaming--demoralizing them" going to do, Tedford asked.  Not much.  Instead, at halftime Tedford encouraged his players to take the second half "one play at a time"  and "win the second half."  They did that against USC, though moral victories do not show up in the final standings.  Finally, Tedford said that the offense has to bail out the defense in situations like that (much like the defense bails out the offense in games like the Arizona, Oregon, and UW games).  If the offense cannot bail out the defense, a blowout is going to happen.  This led to another period of time where Tedford was much more candid than he usually is during these discussions with the media: his discussion of the return of Kiesau and Michalczik.

Welcoming Back Kiesau and Michalczik

  • Tedford says Kiesau and Michalczik understand the history of Tedford's program at Cal and they are familiar with the program's foundations on offense.  They have no "hidden agenda," which stood out as a very peculiar phrase (indicating perhaps a lack of trust among previous assistant coaches?).  They are not afraid to speak out if things are not running smoothly on offense.  Tedford says he, Kiesau, and Michaczik all "speak the same language" and understand each other very well.  Surprisingly, Tedford revealed that in past years he would occasionally leave the room during meetings to let coaches speak without holding back.  Apparently some were afraid to speak up, to tell Tedford when he was wrong.  This is not the case with Kiesau and Michalczik.  They are perfectly comfortable telling Tedford when he's wrong, and they are not afraid to do so.
  • The offensive coordinator roles are becoming more defined: Tedford said Kiesau will be in the booth this season.  As co-offensive coordinator, Tedford will be in the huddle more often.  He says he wishes he could be in the booth all the time because that is "without a doubt" his comfort zone.  Last year he had several times when he wished he could go up to the booth, but stayed on the sidelines instead.
  • Tedford is very impressed with Kiesau's growth and development since he was last at Cal.  Kiesau understands the receiving game from the perspective of a quarterback, which goes a long way towards coaching WRs.  Recruits who have spoken to Kiesau say they almost feel they have an unfair advantage going into their senior years--speaking with Kiesau and learning from him have been that helpful for them. 
  •  Tedford seems very happy with the return of Kiesau and Michalczik.  He feels a strong connection to them and says "I have tremendous trust in [Kiesau] and Michaczik."
Working Smart
  • Tedford acknowledges that after 9 years with the program, he still continually learns how to improve his operations.  One of these lessons recently learned is that there is a difference between working hard and working smart.  He has learned that working harder is not necessarily better.
  • He has learned to work smarter by giving players more time off to recover to ensure that they are fresh and healthy when it's needed.  As an example: he's now giving players Monday off instead of Sunday.  The reason?  They can put Saturday's game to bed on Sunday and give players time to focus exclusively on academics on Monday.
  • Being smart also transfers over to playcalling.  Tedford is firm in his belief that you have to be educated and smart when taking risks on the field (where risks are high-risk, high-reward plays).  If the defense is playing lights out, for example, he'd be much more likely to take risks and be aggressive with the offense.
Will Lyles
  • Tedford and his staff only used Will Lyles' services for one year.  Lyles was originally involved with Elite, whom the program was paying $10k for recruiting services.  When Lyles left Elite and began charging only $5k for the same services, Tedford sought his services.  Unlike Chip Kelly's outdated materials, Cal received useful scouting info.  In fact, LB coach Kenwick Thompson brought the original materials into Tedford's office the other day.

Miscellaneous

  • Modern Family is filmed at Fox Studios and Tedford was quite excited about that.  He's a fan of the show.
  • Brendan Bigelow sounds like he's on track, but Tedford does not really know because he cannot supervise summer workouts.  The trainers say he's doing well, so he will see contact in drills during fall camp.  Apparently he is pretty strong and can change directions well, so it sounds like his knees are in good shape.
  • Everyone is set to attend the Summer Bridge program, except CJ Anderson who is finishing up a class at his community college.
  • On trick plays: they are dictated by personnel.  If you have someone as special as Keenan Allen, it opens up the playbook considerably.
  • Tedford praises all the new coaches' recruiting abilities.  Each has a specific geographic focus: Kiesau works Southern California's Inland Empire, Arroyo has the 99 corridor up through Sacramento.  He did not mention Michalczik or Ambrose's locations.  Additionally, they each have specific segments of the Bay Area.
  • Would Tedford ever start a true freshman QB?  After a long pause, he gives a reluctant yes.  One caveat: he'd have to play in the spring first.  No QB will come in and play after only three weeks of fall camp.
  • Sam DeMartinis was on hand, working as part of the Cal Media Relations staff.  He has graduated and is no longer part of the team (which was a surprise to all of us).
  • Tedford says the new taunting rule is "over the top,"  but he and his staff will drill it into players to make sure no one gets flagged for excessive celebration.
  • After nearly a decade with the team, Tedford said a losing season really helps refine the team's focus.
  • The team was 6 (9, actually) points away from being 8-4.  Tedford kept coming back to this idea to indicate that there is a very fine line between winning and losing.
  • Unless depth issues come up, there are no plans to change any players' positions.  Those most likely to switch positions are the youngest players--particularly WRs and DBs swapping positions.
  • Tedford hopes to bring in 2-3 TEs this recruiting class.
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