Jeff Tedford, Zach Maynard, Jim Harbaugh/Jim Schwartz/Mike Nolan; Albert Pujols; A's Park
JEFF TEDFORDíS early success at Cal apparently convinced a considerable number of Cal alums that the Bears could be a consistent football power. That wasnít ever going to happen. The only way that happens is if schools simply have no academic demands for athletes, which is true for all SEC schools but Vanderbilt, or if they have a two-track system, as USC has long had, where a student desiring a good education can get it but athletes who arenít interested in academics can be put in easy classes that donít give them an education. (These classes also exist for sons and daughters of alums who are big donors, which is why some of us think that the schoolís initials stand for University for Spoiled Children.)
I would hope that Cal alums wouldnít choose either of those courses. One of the reasons Iíve liked Tedford is that he really keeps track of his playersí academic progress. His players usually graduate with meaningful degrees, except for those who leave early to play professionally. His predecessor, Tom Holmoe, let the academic standards for athletes slide. That got Cal put on NCAA probation in Tedfordís first season but it didnít do Holmoe any good.
Besides USC, the conference school with the best teams lately is Oregon, whose academic standards look good only when compared to Oregon State. Stanford has easily the highest admissions standards but coaches have always recruited nationally as an Ivy League-type school but with a big-time program. That worked for Jim Harbaugh, but check the records of the two coaches before him. UCLA has academic standards comparable to Cal and hasnít had much success lately. Washington had a great run of football success but when an investigation in the early Ď90s into how athletes were allowed to coast academically showed real abuses, the school tightened up. Since then, the Huskies havenít had much football success. Surprise.
Tedford has also faced a recruiting problem with a terrible trifecta: inadequate athletic facilities, an ancient stadium and the infamous tree-sitters, who were allowed to stay far too long by a pliant UC administration and Berkeley government. He has never complained publicly about any of this but anybody who knows anything about college coaches on the recruiting trail knows that coaches from other schools recruited against those problems constantly, just as in the Ď60s, opposing coaches recruited against the Free Speech movement and the raffish element on Telegraph Avenue. If you look at the records for Cal football and basketball in the Ď60s, youíll see how effective that was.
Now, the tree-sitters are finally gone, having achieved their goal of notoriety, the stadium is undergoing a massive renovation for the 2012 season and the athletic training center is finally finished, though football players wonít use it until the spring.
Despite the handicaps, Tedford has had back-to-back recruiting classes which were highly rated Ė though lower than USC and Oregon Ė and that will be a big aid in the near future. There have been only flashes of that so far.
The biggest on-field problem has been finding a good quarterback. Tedford hasnít had a consistent one since Aaron Rodgers left.
It isnít true that he hasnít brought in good ones. One reader complained to me one time because Cal hadnít recruited a to-ranked quarterback like Brady Quinn, but Nate Longshore was actually ranked higher than Quinn as a prep. Longshore had a strong arm and could throw all the passes but he had limited mobility. Under a hard rush, he had a lamentable habit of throwing costly interceptions.
Before Longshore, and immediately after Rodgers, Joe Ayoob came over from CCSF after a brilliant career in junior college. Watching Ayoob in practice, I thought he would be an excellent successor to Rodgers, because he was a gifted athlete who was an accurate passer and also a running threat. But by that time, the Cal crowd included many who were what I call ďfans of winningĒ and, when Ayoob didnít produce immediately, they booed him incessantly. Even his fellow students criticized him on campus. It destroyed Ayoob, a likeable young man who hadnít expected any of that.
After Longshore, Kevin Riley looked like the answer, but he became woefully inconsistent, due to a medical problem I canít write about. But Riley was leagues better than Brock Mansion, who has all the physical tools but not the mental toughness to be a quarterback on this level.
Now, Tedford is going with Zach Maynard, another inconsistent quarterback. Maynard has a strong and usually accurate arm, and he has the ability to escape the rush with his running, but he also has had the tendency to get ďhappy feetĒ and throw interceptions because he hasnít set himself properly. Much of that is because his previous experience was at Buffalo, where he didnít face this kind o competition. I think heíll settle down and do a good job the rest of the season, and I hope that starts Saturday against Utah.
Allen Bridgeford, another quarterback who was highly rated as a prep, is currently behind Maynard, and a four-star prep, Zach Kline of San Ramon, has declared for Cal.
When I looked at the schedule before the season, I knew it would be a hard year. The Bears are in the tougher part of the new Pac-12 and they also had USC on the schedule. I was not at all surprised by the back-to-back results against Oregon and USC, and any alums who were havenít been paying attention.
It will be a good year if the Bears win six games and get to a minor bowl. I think the future is brighter but Cal becoming a consistent football power is not ever going to happen.
DUH RAIDERS made a gambling move by trading next yearís No. 1 draft pick to Cincinnati for Carson Palmer, but I think itís the kind of move a contending team has to make. The Raiders have some big time players but they werenít going to the playoffs with Kyle Boller at quarterback. Even though Tedford resurrected his Cal career, I never thought Boller would be a very good NFL quarterback because he isnít very accurate. Baltimore took him and the Ravens could protect him to a certain extent because of their great defense but the Ravens eventually went to Joe Flacco.
With Palmer, the Raiders have a quarterback who can get the ball to their group of fleet, young receivers. Heís a step up from Jason Campbell, who suffered a dislocated shoulder in the win over the Browns. Campbell has probably thrown his last pass for the Raiders because this is the last year on his contract and the Raiders extended Palmerís contract after they acquired him. Campbell was the type of quarterback who can look good if heís on a team with a strong defense and running game, so he doesnít have to make big plays. Palmer is the type of quarterback a team can look to for big plays.
The Raiders are going to have a Bum Phillips type of draft next year with their first four picks traded away; Bum used to trade picks so he could take off early on draft day. The Raiders will also have to surrender their No. 1 pick in 2013, if they make the playoffs, but this is a team that hasnít been in the playoffs since they were trampled by the Tampa Bay Bucs in the Super Bowl in January, 2003, so losing the draft picks is a minor consideration.
For Bay Area fans, itís a real bonanza because both the Raiders and 49ers look as if theyíll be playing in the postseason, so thereís going to be a lot of excitement. Hey, fans may not even realize the NBA isnít playing!
THE OVERBLOWN story of the week was the Jim Harbaugh-Jim Schwartz handshake after the game Sunday, and the one who really over-reacted was Schwartz, who chased after Harbaugh. Schwartz was no doubt upset because the 49ers made the big plays when it counted, not the Lions, not to mention that Schwartz was badly outcoached.
Harbaugh is an intense, enthusiastic guy, and thatís rubbing off on his team, which is a good thing. Theyíve won three games in the Eastern time zone already this year, and no 49er team has done that in years. And the last win, in what has become the noisiest stadium in the league, was the most important of all because the Lions were undefeated. When they went up, 10-0, early, they seemed to have everything going for them. Even earlier in the year, the 49ers would have collapsed, but this is a very different team, thanks to Harbaugh.
Thereís another important factor in all this. Iíve maintained all along that the 49ers can finance their Santa Clara stadium only if the team is successful enough to be able to get significant contributions from business and PSLs from fans. Neither was going to happen with the sad-sack teams under the two Mikes, Nolan and Singletary, but the excitement level has been really ramped up under Harbaugh.
Of course, many in the media are sniping at Harbaugh because he isnít very outgoing at news conferences. Well, I remember when Mike Nolan was here and he took notes at practice so he would have talking points. Nolan was easier for the media to work with but somehow, I doubt you could find anybody who would want him back.
BASEBALL IS the most random of games and, once again, weíre reminded of that at World Series time. During the season, teams will go on extended winning streaks, and theyíll be victimized by losing streaks. Usually, those even out, but sometimes a team gets hot at the end of the season and it carries over. It happened last year with the Giants, and itís happened so far this year with the Cardinals, who got hot as the Braves collapsed and got in as a wild card.
This will be a much different Series than last year because neither the Cardinals nor the Rangers have the pitching the Giants have. But they have much stronger hitting. The best hitter on either team is Albert Pujols, who started the season in a terrible slump. When the Cards played at AT&T, he was only hitting about .188 and a bunch of funs were taunting him by chanting his batting average. I thought, ďYou bush leaguers. This guy is going to be in the Hall of Fame.Ē Pujols predictably came out of his slump and wound up hitting .299 with 37 homers, 99 RBIs and 101 runs scored. I wonder what the idiots taunting him would think if he were in the middle of the Giants lineup?
BASEBALL NOTE: Every year at this time, I think how much better it would be if the award for best player were called just that, instead of Most Valuable Player. With the Cy Young award, itís clear cut, going to the pitcher who has the best season. Felix Rodriguez won it last year though his team, the Seattle Mariners, was never a factor in the pennant race. But position players on non-contenders, such as Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays suffer because writers question how valuable they are when their team doesnít win. Bautista hit 54 homers last year, 43 this year, though he led the majors both in walks (132) and intentional walks (24).
The name of the award also opens it up to pitchers; Dennis Eckersley won by the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards one year. If the award were just given to the player who had the best season, it would be much more logical.
LAST FRIDAY in the Examiner I talked about the possibility of the 49ers and Raiders sharing a stadium in Santa Clara and noted that, if the Raiders left the Coliseum, it could be turned into a baseball-only park, as the Angels had done in Anaheim after the Rams moved to St. Louis.
The next night, I saw The Chronicleís baseball writer, John Shea, at a party thrown by Sam and Barbara Spear, and John said he had read my column and expanded on the idea for his Sunday column, positing that the Coliseum be torn down and a baseball park built in its place, with the help of some financial aid from MLB, which has done that for the new park in Miami.
John didnít put it in his column but talking to me, he thought that the Aís could play at AT&T while a new park was built. The Yankees played in Shea Stadium, then the home of the Mets, while they were building a new Yankee Stadium. Iím sure the Giants wouldnít mind. Years ago, when I proposed that the Giants park should be used by both baseball teams and the Coliseum by both football teams, the only support I got for that was from a Giants executive, who liked the idea of another tenant who would pay rent.
It sounded like a good idea to me but, guess what, when John called Lew Wolff about it, Wolff said he wasnít interested. Surprise. Wolff has had his eye on San Jose from the start because he wants to make a real estate deal there. When Oakland councilman Ignacio de la Fuente in 2006 proposed a site already owned by the city, Wolff didnít even look at it. After all, he couldnít make a real estate deal.
It should be obvious by now that baseball commissioner Bud Selig is not going to call for a vote on the Giants territorial rights to San Jose, but Wolff continues to believe that he will. He must be talking to San Jose Mercury columnist Mark Purdy, who keeps coming up with schemes to get the Aís to San Jose. None has worked so far, and none ever will.
WOMEN IN SPORTS: A reader pointed out to me that Kim Ng is vice president of operations for MLB, so Amy Trask isnít alone in being a woman in a professional sports operation. Still not exactly a crowded club, though.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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