Cal Football Right On Target
by Glenn Dickey
Feb 02, 2006

IN COLLEGE football, success begets success, and Cal football is in that happy loop right now. Jeff Tedford’s success in his four years at Berkeley has made it easier to recruit, which means more success, which makes it even easier to recruit.

Cal has not been in this situation for more than 50 years. The previous pockets of success – Mike White’s years in the 1970s, Bruce Snyder’s triumph in the Citrus Bowl – didn’t last. Neither did the coaches. White was fired because he brought in players with dubious academic qualifications. Snyder left because an incompetent athletic director, Bob Bockrath, made no effort to keep him.

So, you’d have to go back to the Pappy Waldorf years, when Cal went to the Rose Bowl three straight seasons, for a period with continued success. Waldorf’s tenure ended badly. I arrived at Cal for his last, losing season and remember that he was hanged in effigy at Sather Gate at one point. Before that, I had seen only one Cal game, against San Jose State, when I was a senior in high school in the fall of 1953. Obviously, I’m not qualified to evaluate Waldorf as a coach, though I am impressed by the loyalty of former players with whom I’ve spoken.

I can say that college football was much different in those days. Athletic scholarships had just come in, and coaches didn’t do much recruiting.

Now, the pace is frenetic. Tedford and his assistants recruit even during the season, and they hit the road right after, visiting multiple homes in a day; a story in The Chronicle this morning told of Tedford eating dinner with three families one night.

The hard work has paid off. This year’s recruiting class is ranked 20th nationally by those services that follow recruiting closely, tied for second in the Pac-10 with UCLA behind, of course, USC, which is ranked No. 1 nationally.

No surprise there. USC has been the dominant force in the conference for the last 80 years. The Trojans have a built-in advantage because they’re in the middle of probably the greatest reservoir of high school talent in the country. Whenever USC has a good coach, the Trojans win – and they’ve got a very good one now in Pete Carroll. From time to time, there are reports that Carroll might go back to the pros, but that’s not going to happen. He’s the kingpin in Los Angeles now, especially with no pro competition. He has nothing to gain by leaving.

But Tedford’s coaching and recruiting give the Bears a chance to compete. This year’s recruiting class isn’t as flashy as last year’s – there’s no single player who is comparable to DeSean Jackson – but it’s probably even better than its rating, because Tedford and his assistants concentrated on linemen who, typically, mature later than skill position players. They could afford to do that because the Bears have so many skill position players coming back.

Tedford has concentrated on getting the top local athletes to stay home – he got defensive tackle Derrick Hill from McClymonds this year – but he’s also recruited top talent from other areas. He beat out USC for Jackson, from Long Beach Poly, last year, and this year, he got defensive back Darian Hagan out of the L. A. basin; Hagan has been compared to Donnie McClesky.

Oregon coach Mike Bellotti, who’s from northern California and coached at UC Davis, has often picked up top athletes from northern California. This year, Tedford went into Bellotti’s territory to pluck quarterback Kevin Riley of Beaverton, Ore., one of the top 10 quarterback prospects in the country. Riley will undoubtedly redshirt this year because the Bears will have Nate Longshore, Steve Levy and Joe Ayoob returning, along with Kyle Reed, former McClymonds star, who redshirted last season. But those who have seen Riley expect him to be in the thick of the battle for the starting quarterback role by the 2007 season.

THIS IS the way it’s supposed to work for a successful program, as a coach builds consistentency. With Tedford, some years will be better than others, but even the down years will be better than most of the Cal seasons which preceded him.

One important reason he’s been able to do this is because he didn’t buy into any of the excuses that had been used for the failure of Cal football before him – lack of support from administration and faculty, the Telegraph Avenue scene which has turned off parents of potential recruits.

In fact, he’s turned supposed negatives into positives. He’s used Cal’s academic standing as a talking point with parents, instead of using it as an excuse for missing out on top players. He’s talked of the advantages of coming to a beautiful campus in the vibrant Bay Area.

It’s not easy at Berkeley, for athletes who must also be students. At least since I was in school, the UC bureaucracy has proudly promoted a “sink or swim” approach. Tedford has understood this and he works closely with his players on their academics, and also with the social aspect of their existence in a large university which can be frighteningly unfriendly.

In recent years, there have been prominent voices, such as former chancellor Chang-Lin Tien and former athletic director Steve Gladstone, who have insisted that Cal could have a football team which ranked with the nation's best. Tedford has backed up those statements with his performance.

There has been a downside to this. Tedford’s success has brought in those “fans” who only root for winners. Though I criticized alums for their reaction to Ayoob’s problems last fall, in fact, I believe most of the criticism that was heaped on him came from the bandwagon jumpers.

Because Cal’s season ticket base has risen to 43,000, the highest ever, the Big Game at Stanford last fall seemed more like a Cal home game, as probably more than half the 73,000 crowd were Cal season ticket holders. Now, there’s worry that, with Stanford building a stadium that will seat only 50,000, many Cal supporters will be shut out of the Big Game. I believe there will be a modification of the announced Stanford plan to admit more Cal supporters than the current planning allows, but certainly there won’t be anything like the number at the last Big Game.

Overall, though, it’s certainly a great feeling to see Cal winning. Speaking for Old Blues, I say we deserve it, after sitting through dreary season after dreary season, especially in the Tom Holmoe years which immediately preceded Tedford.

THE GOOD NEWS, too, is that the mistakes of the past aren’t being repeated.

Tedford won’t make the mistake that doomed White, because he’s bringing in players who are academically qualified. Athletic director Sandy Barbour and Gladstone before her aren’t making Bockrath’s mistake. Tedford has been well rewarded financially, and the improved facilities he wants are on the drawing board.

Let the good times roll.

LETTERS: I’ll be updating this section later today.

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