Decision Day: Closing the book on the Jeff Tedford era

Bob Stanton-US PRESSWIRE

November 20, 2012 was not only the 30th anniversary of The Play: it marked the day that Cal fired Jeff Tedford after 11 seasons as its head football coach

Since the game clock wound down on Cal's 62-14 season-ending debacle at Oregon State on Saturday night -- and perhaps even longer for many a Cal fan -- all eyes of all Cal football fans have been fixated on the Jeff Tedford watch. Would Athletic Director Sandy Barbour fire him? When?

On Tuesday, we finally had our answer. Yes. When news broke that the Cal players had been summoned to a mandatory team meeting at 10:00 am, Tedford's fate was discernible. And not long thereafter, the official word came down: Cal announced that Tedford had been "relieved of his duties as football coach." The outcome that seemed so certain on Saturday night, but then seemed in doubt as the days went by without a decision, was finally a certainty.

As the day developed, we learned the details of what had gone on internally since Cal finished its season on Saturday night. While many Cal fans awaited a quick decision on Tedford's fate by Sunday, there was none forthcoming that day -- or the next for that matter. The reason was that Barbour met with Tedford twice on Sunday and Monday. Those meetings were followed by meetings between Barbour, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau, and Vice Chancellor John Wilton on Monday afternoon and Monday evening. It was on Monday evening that Barbour decided to end Tedford's tenure as head coach, with the approval of the Cal administration.

Obviously, Cal's performance on the field was a leading factor in the decision to terminate Coach Tedford's employment. The Bears were 3-9 this season (2-7 in the Pac-12), Tedford's worst season as Cal head coach. Add to the mix the fact that Cal was a lackluster 23-27 overall (14-22 in conference play) since 2009 and it was as clear to Barbour as it was to anyone that Cal's was a football program in decline. In a letter sent to donors and season ticket holders, Barbour referred to the Bears' struggles on the field as a reason for the decision to let Tedford go, but she was also very pointed in her discussion of Cal's declining graduation rate and APR during the last three years.

As hard as it has been to watch our student-athletes struggle on the field, the team's continuing decline in academic performance is of great concern. As recent NCAA data show, Cal football is now last in the Pac-12 in terms of the team's graduation rate: 48% compared to Stanford's conference-leading 90%. In fact, the other metric used by the NCAA to measure academic performance, the Academic Progress Rate (APR), is, in some ways even more sobering. The football team's APR performance has now declined to the point where we are dangerously close to being disqualified from postseason play in the future.

I understand that cynics may conclude that this decision was driven solely by financial issues, and while revenue implications are one consideration, I'm here to say nothing can be further from the truth. I take very seriously the responsibility of providing our student-athletes with nothing but the finest of resources, and my experience as a coach and leader in intercollegiate athletics teaches me that if you establish and sustain the conditions student-athletes need to succeed, it creates a foundation from which all success can follow....academic success, wins, postseason play and ticket sales.

Shortly after Barbour's letter, Coach Tedford himself released a statement that was predictably classy. Tedford also met with the team to say his good-byes, where the team reportedly gave him a standing ovation. Tedford leaves Cal with an 11-year record of 82-57, compiling the most wins of any coach in Cal football history.

Jeff Tedford at California

       Overall  Conference
Year	Record      Record    Highlights
2002       7-5         4-4    Pac-10 Coach of the Year
2003       8-6         5-3    Insight Bowl champion
2004      10-2         7-1    Holiday Bowl, Pac-10 Coach of the Year, No. 9 final AP ranking
2005       8-4         4-4    Las Vegas Bowl champion, No. 25 final AP ranking
2006      10-3         7-2    Pac-10 co-champion, Holiday Bowl champion, No. 14 final AP ranking
2007       7-6         3-6    Armed Forces Bowl champion
2008       9-4         6-3    Emerald Bowl champion
2009       8-5         5-4    Poinsettia Bowl
2010       5-7         3-6
2011       7-6         4-5    Holiday Bowl
2012       3-9         2-7
Totals   82-57       50-45

Later in the day, Cal held a press conference at which Barbour shed light on many of the details surrounding not only her decision to make a coaching change, but what the future may hold in terms of hiring Tedford's successor. (For a transcription of Barbour's comments at the press conference, see here.) At the presser, Barbour repeated what she indicated in her letter to the donors and season-ticket holders: the poor academic performance of the team, as judged by the most recent metrics (i.e., graduation rate and APR) factored heavily into her decision:

I would certainly say that those [academic] indicators and the course of decline both on competitive success on the field and academics were part of the total picture. That's part of where we are. In the end, they both played into the decision for new leadership. I spent a lot of time thinking about it and analyzing things that I could have done differently and the University could have done differently. I accept my share of responsibility for where we are and certainly will apply that analysis as we go forward.

The decision to let Tedford go is one thing -- the financial ramifications of doing so are another. As has been reported ad nauseum here and elsewhere, Tedford did not have a "buyout" clause in his contract. That is, Cal is responsible the remainder of Tedford's salary for the final three years remaining on his contract (reduced by any amounts Tedford makes in the event he gets another coaching job, per the terms of his contract). Barbour acknowledged that there are negotiations ongoing with Tedford for a formal "buyout." Barbour also made clear that neither taxpayer funds nor student fees would be used for the "buyout."

On how the department will pay for a buyout and new coach:
"Let me first say and be very clear it will be no state funds and no student fees. It will be entirely IA (Intercollegiate Athletics) self-generated revenue. Having said that, this decision was made primarily with our student-athlete success in mind. We have a plan to create necessary revenues. We put our student-athletes and provide them with those conditions for success. "

At another point in the press conference, Barbour also noted that neither state funds nor student fees would be used to pay for the new coach's salary.

As for who is running the football program in the interim, Barbour also announced that several of Tedford's assistants have been retained for the time being. The coaches who remain employed by Cal during the interim period before a new coach is hired are running backs coach Ron Gould, quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo, offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Michalczik, defensive backs coach Ashley Ambrose, and wide receivers coach Wes Chandler. Barbour did not mention him by name, but head strength and conditioning coach Mike Blasquez also remains listed on Cal's roster of coaches. Though Cal has retained these coaches for the interim period, Barbour made clear that the new head coach would have the ultimate say on whether any of them remains on staff.

By process of elimination, Barbour's mention of the coaches who were retained means that defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast, linebackers coach Kenwick Thompson, and defensive line coach Todd Howard have been let go.

What comes next, obviously, is the search for a new head coach. Barbour also addressed that order of business during Tuesday's press conference. In response to a question about how much money was available to hire a new coach, Barbour was rather vague, saying only that Cal has an "ambitious plan" to make Cal football successful, that "we're committed to fielding a high-quality, highly successful football program," and that Cal was "entering into a new search to go out and get the very best head football coach, the very best man available for to Cal football." Toward that end, Barbour revealed that Cal has retained the services of an executive search firm to assist with the search. As for the qualities she is looking for in a new head coach, Barbour is looking for the the full package:

But I think there are a number of things that I talked about in answering one of the previous questions in terms of characteristics and qualities. I wouldn't put football expertise at the top because of this institution, but again you have a set of characteristics, and you have to meet all of them. And demonstrated football expertise and success is certainly on there, but it's integrity, team builder, character builder, staff builders. It's innovator, it's visionary.

And who will that guy be? Where will he come from? Too early to tell at this point. But Barbour did not foreclose the possibility of Cal plucking someone from the NFL to take over the reins of the program. Barbour freely admitted that "an NFL guy that we think fits our criteria" will certainly get a look, but also acknowledged that a hire from the NFL ranks is complicated by the fact that the NFL season runs into January. Timing could be important, as Barbour also expressed an interest in hiring Tedford's successor relatively quickly:

On any timeline to hire a new head coach:
"As expeditiously as we possibly can. Timing is of the essence in all of this. Timing was critical related to the decision, in being fair to Jeff and his staff, in what we needed to do and what the decision was going to be, if we needed to search for a new head coach. Obviously, a lot of folks are still playing this weekend; a lot of folks are still playing next weekend. So we'll have to navigate that. We will do this as quickly as we possibly can, but not sacrificing getting the right person to lead Cal football."

Who will that "right person to lead Cal football" be? We shall see. The process is sure to test the patience of Cal fans anxious to move forward. But it will be well worth the wait if Barbour makes a good hire.

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