Cal's Greatest Football Coaches: #3 Jeff Tedford

Note: This is the sixth in a series by Ohio Bear and CalBear81 about the eight greatest football coaches in Cal history.  Click here for the earlier installments: #8 Mike White, #7 Garrett Cochran#6 Nibs Price#5 Bruce Snyder, and # 4 Stub Allison.  



On December 12, 2001, the University of California introduced Jeff Tedford as the 32nd head coach in the football program's history.  Tedford came to Cal after a successful run as the offensive coordinator at Oregon, where he solidified his reputation as a quarterback guru, grooming future NFL draftees Akili Smith, A.J. Feeley, and Joey Harrington.  When he took over the reins of the Cal program, Tedford was coming off a season in which he coordinated the offense for Oregon's Pac-10 championship team, which had knocked off Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl. 

What was Tedford getting himself into back on that fateful December day in 2001?  Not a whole lot good.  At the time Tedford accepted the job, Cal had--

  • Not had a winning season since 1993. 
  • Not gone to a bowl game since the 1996 Aloha Bowl
  • Lost seven straight Big Games to the hated Stanfordites
  • Gone through three football coaches in the previous seven years.

The last of those three football coaches was particularly bad.   Cal was reeling from the disastrous four-year head coaching stint of Tom Holmoe, who guided the Bears to a 1-10 season in 2001, the school's worst since a 1-9 season in 1962.  In all, Holmoe went 16-39 in his four years as coach.  

Oh, wait -- not 16-39; it was officially 12-43, at least according to the NCAA and Cal's record book.  Not only had Holmoe managed to lose, he managed to having a program that lost and cheated under his watch.  When Tedford took over, the program was in the crosshairs of an NCAA investigation, which ultimately resulted in sanctions against the program for, among other things, academic fraud involving former wide receivers Michael Ainsworth and Ronnie Davenport.  Cal's penalties included a one-year bowl ban and the nominal forfeiture of the Bears' four wins in 1999.       

Given that backdrop, it is not overstatement to say that Jeff Tedford accepted the head coaching job at one of the worst programs in a BCS conference.  He had his work cut out for him.  

But making the most out of a diffcult situation was nothing new for Jeff Tedford.  A 2004 ESPN College GameDay feature on Coach Tedford highlighted that fact, shining the spotlight on a man who overcame obstacles in his upbringing, lived out of a warehouse at one point in his life, and paid his dues in the coaching profession as a volunteer assistant trying to raise a family.

Jeff Tedford Story - College Gameday (via calbearsgobig)


 By and large, Cal fans took a wait-and-see approach to Coach Tedford's hire.   Only 27,000 fans showed up to Memorial Stadium to watch his debut against the Baylor Bears in the 2002 season opener.  Coach Tedford set the tone from the get go, calling a double pass on Cal's first play from scrimmage.  Quarterback Kyle Boller threw a backwards pass to running back Terrell Williams, who in turn threw a 72-yard touchdown pass to David Gray, to stun the Baylor Bears--and probably stun Cal fans as well.  The Bears rolled to a jaw-dropping 70-22 victory that Saturday afternoon and, in rousing fashion, equaled its 2001 win total.  

And it only got more remarkable.  Two weeks later, Cal remained undefeated with a 46-22 road victory over 15th ranked Michigan State.  After that surprising win, Cal was 3-0 in Tedford's first three games as coach and the team looked as good as it had in years.  What's more, it appeared that Tedford had worked his quarterback tutor magic with Boller.  Once dubbed "Jesus in Cleats," Boller had stagnated in his first three years in the program.  But under Tedford's guidance in his senior season, Boller blossomed into an NFL first-round draft pick.   Boller passed for 2,850 yards and 28 touchdowns, while throwing only 10 interceptions, in 2002.  That was a marked contrast to his first three season at Cal, during which Boller completed less than 50 percent of his passes and threw more interceptions (38) than touchdown passes (36).  

By season's end, Coach Tedford's turnaround of Cal football was as startling as it was immediate.  Cal capped the year with a cathartic 30-7 win over Stanford in the Big Game to recapture the Axe and break a string of maddening futility against the Cardinal.  With the Big Game win, Cal finished 2002 with a 7-5 record.  And the Bears were 4-4 in Pac-10 play, posting the program's first .500-or-better conference finish in nine years.  

Cal Football 2002 Season Highlights - Non-Conference Games (via Swamphunter)


For the improbable turnaround of Cal's football fortunes, Tedford won the 2002 Pac-10 coach of the year award.  And, unexpectedly, Cal's 7-5 record meant that the one-year bowl ban was a real punishment: the Bears would have gone to a bowl game but for the ban.  

Cal would not have to wait long for its first bowl appearance since 1996.  Coach Tedford's Bears continued their momentum in 2003 despite the loss of such key players as Boller, Joe Igber, Lashaun Ward, Tom Swoboda,  Nnamdi Asomugha, Jemeel Powell, and Tully Banta-Cain.  Tedford recruited a quarterback named Aaron Rodgers from Butte Junior College to compete for the quarterback position with junior Reggie Robertson.  Though Robertson won the job out of training camp, Rodgers played in two of the Bears' first three games and then won the job for good when he relieved Robertson in the first half of a nationally televised ESPN Thursday night game in a mid-September game at Utah.  Though Rodgers could not deliver a win against Utah that night, one thing was clear after that game: the starting job would he his.  



Jeff Tedford with his star quarterback pupil, Aaron Rodgers.

After a win at Illinois in Rodgers' first collegiate start improved the Bears' record to a pedestrian 2-3 in their first five games, Cal delivered what still stands as the signature win of Tedford's head coaching career.  Cal defeated 3rd ranked an eventual AP national champion USC 34-31 behind a yeoman's performance by running back Adimchinobe Ecehmandu, an efficient offensive attack led by Rodgers (until he came out of the game with an injury), a much-needed relief performance by backup quarterback Robertson, an opportunistic defense, and perserverance by kicker Tyler Frederickson (who knocked in the game winner in the third overtime after having two field goals blocked in the game).  

cal vs usc 2003 mix (via 7isanumber)


Later in the season, needing two wins to become bowl-eligible, the Bears took care of business with a 54-7 rout of Washington at Memorial Stadium (a game in which Cal rolled up 729 yards of total offense) and a 28-16 win in the Big Game, which featured an epic 16-catch, 245-yard receiving performance by Geoff MacArthur.  Cal landed in the Insight Bowl, where the Bears unleashed a potent offensive attack against perennial power Virginia Tech before a national ESPN TV audience.  Cal won 52-49 on a last-second field goal by Frederickson, giving Cal its first bowl win since 1993.  

With the bowl win, Cal finished 8-6 in 2003 (5-3 in the Pac-10).  Coach Tedford had the program on the rise and Cal had plenty of momentum heading into 2004.  



Tedford after winning the Insight Bowl in his second season with the Bears.

If the USC win in 2003 was Jeff Tedford's signature win as Cal's coach, the 2004 season probably stands as his signature season.  With apologies to the 1991 and 1975 Cal teams, the 2004 team was probably Cal's best of the last 50 years.  Offensively, the team had all the pieces--a stellar offensive line, a brilliant quarterback in Rodgers, a 2,000+ rusher in J.J. Arrington, a sure-handed go-to wide receiver in Geoff MacArthur, and a fantastic defense that posted two shutouts in Pac-10 play.  The Bears finished 10-1, the only loss coming at top-ranked USC by 6 points in early October when Cal fell 9 yards short of scoring the winning touchdown.  Cal went 7-1 in Pac-10 play, only the second time in school history that the Bears won seven conference games.  (Pappy Waldorf's 1949 team was the other team to accomplish that feat.)  Cal finished the regular season ranked 4th in the major polls, its highest national ranking in more than 50 years.  And Tedford won Pac-10 coach of the year honors for the second time, making him the first Cal football coach ever to accomplish that feat.   

Of course, the 2004 season will always be remembered for the Rose Bowl that got away.  Texas suspiciously leapfrogged Cal in the final BCS standings and took the Rose Bowl bid from the Bears.  A disappointed Cal team was relegated to the Holiday Bowl, where a ranked and motivated Texas Tech team defeated Cal 45-31 to put a damper on an otherwise brilliant season.  But in three years, Coach Tedford had done something remarkable: he brought Cal from the lowest of lows (the 1-10 season in 2001) to the brink of a Rose Bowl.  

The 2004 season has, arguably, been the zenith of Coach Tedford's tenure.  Fairly or unfairly, that year seems to be the measure by which other seasons are judged.  Simply put, Coach Tedford has raised the expectations of Cal fans and, in the minds of many, has not fielded teams that have lived up to those expectations in the years since 2004.  Consider the Cal teams from 2005 to 2010: just about all of them were good, but all of them are widely perceived to have either stumbled in some fashion or suffered from some weakness that prevented them from being great teams--

2005: With Rodgers gone to the NFL and starting QB Nate Longshore injured in the season opener, Cal turned to junior college transfer Joe Ayoob to lead the Bears' offense. Uneven quarterback play is widely seen as the main culprit in Cal finishing "only" 8-4 (4-4 in Pac-10 play).  Tedford eventually turned to backup quarterback Steve Levy to start the Bears' final two games, a 27-3 beatdown of Stanford in the Big Game and a 35-28 win over Brigham Young in the Las Vegas Bowl.  Because the 2005 Bears had a cadre of offensive weapons (including Marshawn Lynch, Justin Forsett, and freshman Desean Jackson), had a good defense, and suffered heartbreakingly close defeats in three of their four losses, many a Cal fan looks at 2005 as the year of "what might have been?" had Cal had more consistent quarterback play. 

2006: Ranked # 9 in the preseason polls, Cal flopped on the big stage in a 35-18 faceplant loss in the season opener at Tennessee.  To their credit, the Bears regrouped behind a solid season from Longshore at quarterback, who had running back Marshawn Lynch (the Pac-10 offensive player of the year) and wide receiver Desean Jackson as potent weapons at his disposal.  Cal won 8 in a row after the loss to Tennessee (scoring 40 points or more in five straight games at one point) only to fall 24-20 at Arizona in a bitter, bitter loss that ended up costing Cal the Rose Bowl.  Cal wound up 7-2 in conference play (only the third seven-win conference season in Cal history) and were Pac-10 co-champions with USC.  As we are all painfully aware, however, the Trojans got the Rose Bowl bid by virtue of defeating Cal, 23-9, during the regular season.  Cal did finish with a flourish, however, winning the Big Game for the fifth straight year and then dismantling Texas A&M 45-10 in the Holiday Bowl.  The bowl win gave Cal a 10-3 record, Tedford's second 10-win season.  But 2006 is viewed as another "oh, so close to the Rose Bowl" year.  

2007: Cal started 5-0 and reached # 2 in the nation following a 31-24 win at Oregon in one of the finest victories of Tedford's tenure.  But the Bears infamously collapsed, beginning with the loss to Oregon State on the famous (or infamous) Kevin Riley gaffe at the end of the game.  A win would have lifted the Bears to # 1 in the nation.  Instead, Cal lost and went into a tailspin, winning only one more regular season game, losing the Big Game for the first time since 2001, and finishing with a losing conference record (3-6) for the first time in the Tedford era.  Cal still managed to reach the Armed Forces Bowl, where it defeated Air Force 42-36 to finish with a 7-6 record.  Riley rallied Cal from a 21-0 deficit in the bowl game, giving Cal fans hope that Riley would claim the quarterback position once and for all in 2008.   

2008:  Cal played musical chairs at quarterback with Riley and Longshore for much of the season, but rode an outstanding defense to a 9-4 record, including a rousing 37-16 win in the Big Game and a 24-17 win over Miami in the Emerald Bowl.  Yet, the Bears did not have a significant road win, raising grumblings that Cal couldn't win on the road.  

2009:  Expectations were high, as Cal had a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate in Jahvid Best.  But the Bears once again failed to live up to a high preseason ranking, suffering inexplicably lopsided defeats to Oregon (42-3), USC (30-3), and Washington (42-10) on the way to an 8-5 season.  Cal managed to upset Stanford in the Big Game 34-28 for Tedford's seventh win in eight Big Games, but a disappointing performance in the Poinsettia Bowl  loss against Utah left a sour taste in the mouths of many Cal fans wanting more.    

All of those "disappointments" pale in comparison to 2010, when Tedford experienced his first losing season as Cal head coach.  The Bears finished 5-7 and were disturbingly uncompetitive in lopsided losses to USC, Oregon State, and Stanford.  Worse yet, QB Brock Mansion, forced to take the keys to the offense when Riley suffered a season-ending knee injury, did not look prepared to run the Cal offense effectively.  Cal's offense, which had been so good for much of Coach Tedford's tenure, had become one of the conference's worst, making some wonder what has happened to Tedford's quarterback grooming prowess.    Whether Coach Tedford is on the proverbial "hot seat" is actually a topic of discussion among a large segment of Cal fans.  

The said, the objective numbers cannot be dismissed when assessing Tedford's run at Cal and his place among Cal's great football coaches.  For instance:

  •  Tedford's record is 72-42 (.632) in 9 years and he is third all-time in wins behind Andy Smith and James Scheaffer (with the latter gaining a majority of his wins when Cal played rugby instead of football).  
  • Tedford has coached 114 games for the Bears, setting the school record for most games coached.  Pappy Waldorf and Stub Allison are the only others who coached Cal in more than 100 games.
  • Tedford has coached Cal to 24 road wins, which is the most of any coach in Cal history.
  • Tedford is 7-2 in Big Games.  His seven Big Game wins tie him with Pappy Waldorf for most by a Cal coach.
  • Tedford is 5-2 in bowl games, owning the most bowl wins and coaching in the most bowl games of any Cal coach.  



Coach Tedford hoists the 2006 Holiday Bowl trophy.  Cal has won five bowl games during Tedford's reign.  

Off the field, Tedford hasn't been too shabby either.  You want our players to epitomize academic success in addition to athletic prowess?  Okay.    

But Tedford's teams have not only got it done on the field, they've also got it done in the classroom. His players have been recognized as Pac-10 All-Academic honorees 94 times since his arrival. Of the 163 seniors who have played for Tedford in his first eight seasons, 144 (88%) have earned their college degrees and/or gone on to NFL careers with his ninth season not figured into the equation until the end of the 2010-11 academic year in May of 2011.

In fact, through the 2005-2006 academic year, more than 70 percent of Cal football players who entered Cal during the 2000-2001 academic year earned degrees, earning Cal an honorable mention for academic achievement by the American Football Coaches Association.  Though Cal's Academic Progress Report (APR) numbers released by the NCAA declined sharply this year, the program's numbers are not cause for alarm.  Notwithstanding the latest numbers, Coach Tedford's program has a track record of academic success that would justify giving him the benefit of the doubt (to the extent there is any doubt) as to the program's emphasis on the "student" part of "student-athlete." 

Oh yeah, there's one more thing.  The program kinda sucked before Tedford took over and people didn't show up for games.  That changed.  

Tedford's success with the Cal program has resulted in local devotion and national attention. Cal has averaged more than 57,000 fans per contest in each of the past seven seasons, including a string of 43 consecutive games in front of at least 50,000 fans at Memorial Stadium (Sept. 11, 2004 - Nov. 20, 2010). In 2006, the Bears set school records for average fans per home game (64,318) and overall spectators (450,223). The following year Cal established a school record with 41,366 season-ticket holders in 2007.

Simply stated, Jeff Tedford's teams have filled Memorial Stadium like no other Cal teams over the last quarter century (at least).  

Whose domicile? OUR DOMICILE! (via TouchedTheAxeIn82)

All things considered, Tedford's tenure at Cal has been nothing short of remarkable.   He has built the Cal football program from basically nothing and, for that, Cal fans should be thankful.  It remains to be seen, however, if Coach Tedford can bring the program back to the arc we enjoyed from 2002 to 2006.   Coach Tedford has created expectations and, rightly or wrongly, he will likely continue to be judged against those by Cal fans.  

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