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(More) 2010 Post-Season Thoughts

The loss of Shane Vereen might have created an immediate and pressing need for a replacement running back at Cal.
The loss of Shane Vereen might have created an immediate and pressing need for a replacement running back at Cal.

(1) Ludwig moves on to SDSU.  Uh, what what???  I didn't see this coming.  Again, you have to wonder if this was a firing or a voluntary departure.  The timing suggests... well, let's talk about the timing.  Since this happened so far after the end of the season, it suggests a voluntary departure since Tedford is (usually) pretty quick to fire coaches (within a few weeks, max).  But there are a few other factors in play.  And that factor is...

(2) Michalczik returns to coach the OL ... and perhaps do more than that.  The magician returns.  He's quite possibly the most important coach on the roster aside from Lupoi (DL coach) and Gould (RB coach).  It's a bit interesting that Michalczik has returned considering the word was that he wanted to become an offensive coordinator, and since that wasn't going to happen at Cal, that's why he left (and went to Washington).  So I think Coach M's return says one of two possibilities: (i) He has been promised a role as an offensive coordinator or at least a co-offensive coordinator; (ii) he has given up on his hopes of being an offensive coordinator.  I think it's probably the former.  If I recall correctly, wasn't Coach M the assistant head coach or something in 2007?  I wouldn't be surprised if he takes on some greater title than just "offensive line coach."  Perhaps "run-game coordinator" or "co-offensive coordinator". 

When I spoke to some of Cal's offensive linemen from the 2006 year, they were all spoke very highly of Coach M.  One stated that the guys believed he was the best OL coach on the west coast.  I don't have any reason to doubt them.  Coach M has had a knack for turning relatively low regarded recruits into consistent, impactful players, and even NFL players.  I'm glad he's back.  I hope he stays for a long time.  I think this is an excellent hire. 

(3)  Perhaps Ludwig was kindly shown the door now that Coach M has arrived.  That's what some people seem to think and I think that's very plausible.  Perhaps Tedford wasn't quite sure if Coach M would be retained by the Raiders and that's why there was delay in hiring Coach M.  And because Tedford wasn't sure that he was going to get Coach M he decided to wait on showing Ludwig the door.  No use on prematurely firing the guy you already have when you're not sure you're going to get the guy you want to replace him, right?

I still find the Ludwig departure a bit puzzling for a few reasons. 

First, I was thinking that perhaps Tedford was going to aim for some stability and consistency with his OCs.  The best way to achieve that would be to.. you know... keep one around for more than two years.  I mean, the offense does change every year, even under the same coordinator, but it can be expected to change more if you bring in a new guy.  The new guy has to learn Cal's terminology.  The Cal players will have to learn some of the new guy's terminology which he has brought with him.  Cal's playbook has evolved so much over the Tedford era it's a bit mind-boggling.  You see remnants from Dunbar in the "open" formations (5 wide).  You see remnants from Tedford's offense in 2007 with twin-TE sets, and pro-style formations.  You see remnants of Frank Cignetti's wildcat ("crazy" formation), and outside toss runs and blocking.  You see some of the sandbox creativity remnants of Andy Ludwig with these gimmick plays (hook 'n' ladder, quasi fumble-rooski with a hidden Sofele, fake-substitution pass Vereen along the sidelines, etc.).  The Cal offense does so much now, and it's only going to do more.  I guess what I'm getting at is, perhaps the offense needs to tone down the "more" part for a few years and just work on the "execution" part.  Learn how to do a few things really well, instead of doing so many things but not really do any of them very well. 

The second reason I find the Ludwig departure a bit puzzling was because I felt like Ludwig was finally "the guy."  It seemed like Ludwig and Tedford had a bit of a history.  Here are a few snippets from one internet story reporting Cal's hire of Ludwig:

Ludwig has been an offensive coordinator the last 12 years with stops at Utah (2005-08), Oregon (2002-04), Fresno State (1998-01) and Cal Poly (1997). He left Utah for the offensive coordinator position at Kansas State following the 2008 campaign before deciding to move to Berkeley and coach with Tedford.

"I am happy and excited to have Andy join our staff," Tedford said. "I've kept in touch with him over the years and followed his career, and we have a lot of history together. Andy is an excellent coach, which is evident by his guiding Utah to an undefeated record last year. He is an outstanding offensive coordinator and play caller."

Although Tedford and Ludwig have not previously coached together, they have been closely linked at Fresno State and Oregon. When Tedford left Fresno State to become offensive coordinator at Oregon, Ludwig replaced him as offensive coordinator for the Bulldogs. The same happened when Tedford left Oregon to become head coach at Cal, with Ludwig moving to Eugene for three years.

Tedford says they have kept in touch over the years.  That seems to suggest Tedford and Ludwig just aren't professional correspondents but perhaps even friends.  They have "a lot of history together," and Tedford seems very impressed with his abilities as an offensive coordinator.  I thought that Ludwig was finally that OC that Tedford wanted, whom he really truly trusted to call plays, and would stick around for at least five years or so.  Nope. 

What's also interesting to note is that Ludwig's previous stints at other schools have been pretty short too.  He has only stayed one to four years at his previous jobs.  Perhaps he likes the challenge of moving to a new team, figuring out how to utilize these new players, and calling plays with these new kids.  Or perhaps he wants to become a head coach and he realizes it's not really going to happen here until Tedford is fired (at least another two years at the very earliest).  But then if he wanted to be a head coach, then why go to SDSU who just hired Rocky Long? 

I guess we'll never really know whether this was a voluntary departure, a firing, or a kindly-shown-the-door deal. 

Am I concerned about losing Ludwig?  Not really.  Because...

(4) Perhaps this also means Tedford will take over QB development responsibilities.  I think this is atop every Cal fan's wish list for this off-season.  We want Tedford to groom the QBs like he (seemingly) did in his first few years. 

Normally, in past years, the offensive coordinator at Cal has had the duties of grooming the QBs.  I think this... hasn't gone well for a few reasons.  First, the OCs are Xs & Os guys.  I don't really see them as positional coaches and technique guys.  In 2006, when Dunbar was Cal's OC, I don't remember him EVER giving pointers or tips on QB technique to Longshore and the other QBs (caveat: I wasn't always around the QBs so I can't be sure of this, but when I was he was mostly talking Xs & Os stuff to them). 

Second, technique is something teams don't work on as heavily during the season than the off-season.  The season workouts split time doing technique drills, and also gameplanning.  Whereas during the off-season the team is mostly doing technique drills, and scrimmages.  So instead of getting tons of technique reps during the off-season, then practicing that technique in scrimmages, 7 on 7s, or 1 on 1s, you're only getting half the time doing that stuff.  Technique begins to degrade a little bit, and can often get a bit ignored in the X & O heavy position that is QB. 

(5) Perhaps Tedford takes over playcalling duties too.  This is another reason why I'm not exactly concerned about losing Ludwig.  To me, this seems like a long-shot.  I don't see Tedford taking over playcalling duties again since he's all about keeping a "pulse" on the team and being more of a CEO; that's why I expect Coach M to do the playcalling.  But if Tedford does take-over playcalling duties, then I think we're in good hands.  Nobody does it like Tedford. The players still have to execute otherwise Tedford's great playcalling will go to waste, but Tedford is also pretty good about tailoring the plays to the players' strengths.

I suppose some people might be a bit afraid of Tedford calling plays since 2007 wasn't that great of a season overall (mostly the second half of the season).  But, as I so heavily chronicled in the past, I think the problems that season were mostly performance issues and not playcalling issues. 

(6)  Coach K(razinski) gets fired.  Okay, that was a surprise.  He was the one that helped design the SHPAC and now he's not even going to be the guy to break it in with the players.  Sucks for him. 

I found this firing a little surprising.  Why?  Well, he seemed well-liked among the players.  Players respected him.  Many NFL players came back to train with him, and many of the NFL-prospects chose to train with him instead of going to expensive training camps in Arizona to prep for the NFL Combine.  And Coach K was also one of the few remaining coaches that Tedford brought with him from Oregon.  He was one of the original Tedford guys.  So much for loyalty, huh, Tedford?  Cal fans ought to be happy about that. 

But was Coach K a good developer of talent?  I can't quite say with certainty since I didn't get to sit in on tons of weight-lifting sessions, but I did get a ton of time watching him do summer workouts.  From what I saw, he did his job.  He worked his guys.  He was always telling them about their technique and getting them to improve it.  He was trying to get them faster and stronger.  He was encouraging.  He was friendly.

One rumor I heard going around was that Coach K's biggest fault was that he was stubborn and didn't respect modern training techniques.  I don't have enough information to comment about this.  I do remember though from summer workouts that he would have new drills to do from year to year, so the players weren't always just doing the same thing over and over again, but perhaps that wasn't enough. 

Another rumor was that while the players were getting stronger, they weren't exactly getting faster.  I think someone might have even mentioned how Coach K himself sort of embodied that idea; he was a strong guy but he also had a gut.  Perhaps he focused too much on strength and not enough on speed.  

I guess if I were to critique Coach K, my biggest critique would be that it never seemed like the players were truly gassed and exhausted from his workouts.  Yeah, they'd hit the weights and build muscle.  Yeah, they'd sweat outside doing stairs, and other drills on the field.  Everyone was tired but nobody was as seemingly gassed as the current players are reporting to be under new strength and conditioning coach Coach Blasquez.

(7) Rumors that Tedford will coach the QBs himself.  Hallelujah! 

(8)  Rumors that Tedford will hire a TEs coach.  Weird.  Seems like an awful lot of money to spend on a guy who will pretty much be responsible for coaching only five to six players on the team. 

If Tedford does hire a TEs coach, then that means Cal will not hire an OC as since all the coaching slots will be taken up.  This of course suggests that Coach M or Tedford will be doing playcalling. 

(8)  Addendum:  Okay, so in the time which I wrote this post and it was published, FootballScoop is saying that Tedford will hire a graduate assistant to coach the TEs (scroll down to January 27, 2011 post):

Cal: We have learned that Jeff Tedford will hire a grad assistant to coach the tight ends.

The wording of the FootballScoop rumor is a bit puzzling.  Do they mean that a GA (graduate assistant) will be the coach for the TEs?  Or do they mean Tedford will promote a GA to a full-time coach, and have that person coach the TEs?  If it's the former, then Cal will still have a coaching slot open.  Tedford could either than fill that slot with another coach, or just go without that coach and use the saved money to increase the salary of some of the existing coaches on roster.  If it's the latter, then obviously all of Cal's coaching slots are filled and that means Cal won't be hiring an OC, and thus Tedford or Coach M will be doing the playcalling.

(9) Tedford & Co. may offer juco runningback C.J. Anderson out of Oakland.  I usually don't talk about recruiting too much but I think this is interesting.  Tedford doesn't usually recruit juco guys.  Well, to be more precise, Tedford seemed to refrain from heavily recruiting juco guys over the past five years or so.  In Tedford's early years, he signed tons of juco guys.  Why sign juco guys?  Because they are more experienced, and they are more likely to be able to play and contribute right away.  Thus, they are a great way to fill an *immediate and pressing need*.   Oh, what's that?  Did I say "immediate pressing need"?  I did.  Yes, at runningback -- where Cal already has five scholarship players (soon to be seven if you include incoming recruits Lasco and Bigelow).  It seems to me like offering a scholarship to C.J. Anderson would be Tedford & Co. stating that they are a bit uncertain about our current stable of runningbacks, and that perhaps none of them will be able to be our #1 guy.  Interesting.

(9) Addendum: Okay, another change in news since I wrote this post.  C.J. Anderson has committed to Cal!

(10)  Cal (pretty much) had the number one defense in the Pac-10 last year, yet still (only) went 5-7.  I find that pretty sad.  Let's look at some of the statistics.

#1 in the Pac-10 for least amount of defensive plays (797, or about 66.4 plays per game).

#1 in the Pac-10 for least amount of yards given up (3827 yards, or about 319 yards per game).

#2 in the Pac-10 for least amount of yards given up per play (4.8 yards per play).

#1 in the Pac-10 for least amount of yards given up per game (318.9 yards per game).

#2 (three-way tie) in the Pac-10 for sacks.

#1 in the Pac-10 for forced fumbles (but only #9 in the Pac-10 for fumble recovery percentage )-:).

#2 in the Pac-10 for opponent third down conversion (but #10 in the Pac-10 for opponent 4th down conversion )-:).

#3 in the Pac-10 for opponent red zone conversions.

Wowzers.  I know we played a few crap teams.  But still.  If the defense is that good, you think that the team would win more than five games.  And since the team didn't win more than five games, it just goes to show how bad that offense was.

(11) One other benefit of bringing Coach M back is that it could also result in improved TE play.    Uh what what?  Yes, TE play. 

Everyone knows that Jeff Genyk is the current TEs coach (and Alamar was the former TEs coach).  Everyone seems to think that those coaches were the only guys coaching up the TEs.  That's not true. 

At least when I was with the team, the TEs would also work with the OL coach (at the time, Coach M).  Alamar would work with the TEs on their position specific techniques, but there were always a few periods of every practice where the TEs would go over to the OL and practice their pass protection assignments with Coach M.  Coach M was the main coach during those periods and it was him who coached up the TEs on the mental aspect of the game.  If this same practice structure and coaching structure exists this upcoming season, then we should be comforted in knowing that Coach M will also play a hand in the development of the TEs too.  

(12)  Tedford still plays a heavy role in the Cal offense.  Thanks to Avinash for pointing this out, but it appears as if one of the reasons why Ludwig left Cal was because he wanted more freedom to run his offense.  Here's a Ludwig quote from Sign On San Diego News:

"At Cal, I was an offensive coordinator with a coach who was also an offensive coordinator," he said. "I'm excited to get back to running my system. I have nothing but positive things to say about my time there and we'll be implementing a similar system to what we had at Cal, just with my signature on it."  (emphasis mine)

Pretty juicy quote right there, if you ask me.  It sounds like Tedford was meddling with the Ludwig's duties a little more than perhaps Ludwig liked.  I think this suggests that Tedford doesn't quite trust other people to call plays that he wants to be executed.  If that's the case, then perhaps Tedford needs to just call the plays himself.  After all, he is (supposedly) one of the best offensive minds in college football, right? 

Here's another hearsay quote from the same article, supra:

Ludwig said he left Cal on very good terms with head coach Jeff Tedford, who he called one of the best offensive minds in all of football.

As the old adage goes: if you want something done right, then you had better do it yourself.

(13)  Did you see Alex Mack score a touchdown?!  See our post on it.  A few aspect of this video that really stuck out to me.  First was Alex Mack's work ethic, and seriousness.  It all starts in the very beginning of the play.  After Mack snaps the ball, he is still protecting his QB despite the defensive line not showing any interest in pass rushing (you can see Mack's left arm contacting a defender).  All the other offensive linemen are just standing around and not even grabbing onto or pushing any other defensive linemen.  Why is this significant?  It only takes a moment for a defender to slip past an offensive linemen to give up a sack.  Mack isn't letting this happen. 

Second, Mack also has his head on a swivel and is STILL watching all directions for possible stunts and twists by the defensive line.  I mean, who does this?!?  It's the freaking PRO BOWL for cryin' out loud.  But Alex Mack does this.  Why?  Because it only takes a moment of inattention for an offensive linemen to give up a sack. 

Third, when the ball is thrown, who is the ONLY offensive linemen down the field trying to make a play?  ALEX MACK.  Why is this significant?  Because a lot of lazy offensive linemen don't get their lard asses down field fast enough because they think they are too far behind the play to be of assistance.  But not Alex Mack.  Dude is down the field, giving effort, and trying to score a touchdown. 

Why am I making a big fuss about this?  I mean, we're talking about the PRO BOWL here.  We might as well be talkin' about PRACTICE.  Am I right?  WHO THE F--- CARES?!?!

Those three traits I pointed out above are why Alex Mack is so good.  Those three traits are reasons why Alex Mack made the Pro Bowl.  Those three traits are what makes an offensive linemen a GOOD offensive linemen.  Those three offensive traits are things that Cal's current offensive line has lacked a lot of since the more disciplined veterans of the mid-Tedford era have left. 

People wonder why our offensive line hasn't been that greatly.  It's not all coaching, folks.  It's not all innate player talent either.  It comes down to the players' mental discipline.  It comes down to whether they are willing to put in 100% effort, and have the drive and determination to make themselves better every practice and every day.  Alex Mack had that.  I saw it every freakin' day in practice.  He was serious.  He was intense.  He just didn't go through the motions.  He was a perfectionist.  Look where it got him.  And Aaron Rodgers too. 

Cal needs more players who have the discipline, hunger, and drive to be better players.  These players don't become successful by accident.  Nor do the teams that these players are on become successful by accident either.