Jeff Tedford: Cal's Best
The easy answer was yes. The best Cal coaches I had seen previously were Mike White and Bruce Snyder, but they didn’t match what Tedford has accomplished so far. White was 3-8 his first season and took three years to get his team to .500. It took Snyder longer, four years, though he eventually coached the first Cal team to win a New Year’s Day bowl game in 54 years.
In contrast, Tedford has never had a losing season. He took over a team that had gone 1-10 the previous season and was thoroughly demoralized – and coached them to a 7-5 season. His teams have improved each year through last season’s 10-2 mark, which had the Bears No. 4 in the country before their disastrous loss in the Holiday Bowl.
Each year, he’s faced a different challenge. This year it’s been to bring along an inexperienced team so they’ll be ready for the big games in the second half of the schedule, including the Nov. 12 showdown against USC at Berkeley.
The Bears are 3-0 going into tomorrow night’s game in New Mexico, but Tedford believes his team has yet to play up to its potential in any area of the game. That’s my belief, too, and it highlights one of Tedford’s strengths: He never let his players relax, always driving them to be better. After the season, they can enjoy their accomplishments, but he never allows that during the season.
Tedford is the complete coach. He and his assistants have done a great job of recruiting, and they’re getting most of the high quality recruits from the Bay Area who used to go elsewhere, as far away as Miami. He’s never bought in to the negativism that often surfaces in Berkeley, and he and his coaches use the academics as a selling point to recruits, as well as the diversity on campus and the breath-taking location.
To watch Tedford on the practice field is to see a man completely in his element. His practices are very well organized, and players run from one segment to another, with the high energy that carries over to the games. Tedford is involved with everything, but he always pays special attention to the quarterbacks. Nobody since Bill Walsh has been as good a coach of quarterbacks.
After practice, Tedford will speak to players, either individually or in groups. He does that away from the field, too, talking to players, especially freshmen, about their classes, about their adjustment to college life. That’s the reason I’ve never thought Tedford would jump to the pros. He likes the teaching aspect, the emotional connect with players. A pro coach is more like a chairman of the board, talking to the media but doing no actual hands on coaching. That would drive Tedford crazy.
BOTH TEDFORD and his defensive co-ordinator, Bob Gregory, are great at halftime adjustments, too. That’s a primary reason that the Bears are known as a second half team.
There is no better example than last week’s win over Illinois. In the first half, the Illini ran wild, showing formations from the spread to a basic T, using multiple-receiver sets, running the option. Everything but the kitchen sink. The Bears were fortunate to be behind by only 17-7 because Illinois completely dominated that half.
In the second half, it was a total switch. The Bears controlled play all the way, en route to a 35-20 win. They were so dominant by the fourth quarter that Illinois coach Ron Zook in effect threw up the white flag, not using timeouts to stop the clock because he knew his team had no chance to come back.
What happened? Superior conditioning was one answer. The Bears wear down opponents in the second half, especially with their huge offensive line, and the Illini had compounded their problems by running a hurryup offense, which seemed to exhaust them more than the Cal defenders.
The bigger reason is that both Tedford and Gregory are able to make halftime adjustments.
This is much more critical in college ball than in the NFL, where teams are more predictable. An NFL coach who looks at the videos from his opponent’s last three games knows basically what to expect. The only surprises come from the “gadget plays” that are sometimes thrown in by a weaker team, as the 49ers did in their opener against the Rams.
In college ball, there’s a much wider difference in systems, and it’s a challenge when you come up against a team that does not run a standard offense, because there’s no way a team can adequately prepare in practice. Teams playing the Air Force, for instance, always have trouble defending its option offense, which they won’t see against any other team. Cal never did catch up to Texas Tech’s wide open passing game in the Holiday Bowl last December because its cornerbacks didn’t have the speed to keep up with the receivers who flooded the field.
At halftime of the Illinois game, though, Gregory had seen everything the Illini could do, so he was able to show his players how to shut down Illinois, which they did in the second half.
In contrast, Tedford hadn’t shown Illinois everything in the first half, so he could put in some of his pet plays, like the inside screen, to take advantage of the Illinois defense he had seen in the first half.
It was reminiscent of the Oregon game last season. Showing some offensive tricks that Gregory had not anticipated, the Ducks roared to a 27-14 lead in the second quarter and had more than 300 yards of offense in the first half.
But again, Oregon had showed everything in that first half. In the second half, they were held to less than 60 yards total offense and the Cal offense controlled the game, with Aaron Rodgers passing for 275 yards and J. J. Arrington running for 188. The Bears won, 28-27.
NOBODY KNOWS yet what to expect from this team, but what we do know is that it will be well coached.
And, yes, Jeff Tedford is the best coach I’ve seen at Berkeley.
NOTE: I will be a guest on Marty Lurie’s “Right Off the Bat” show before Saturday’s A’s game, 11:30 a.m. on KFRC, 610 AM.
Also, I've update the "Letters" section, adding 12 e-mails on various subjects.
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