Jeff Tedford Has the Formula
“There are really three parts to it: coaching, academics and the social aspect,” he said, just before the start of spring training drills at Cal.
The social part has been the most difficult for Tedford lately, as two of his athletes have had problems with the law. None were as serious as other cases within the conference. At Arizona State, Loren Wade was arrested on suspicion of murder of a former ASU player; at USC, Eric Wright was arrested on a rape charge. But Tedford doesn’t take even minor infractions lightly. Bernard Hicks, a cornerback arrested on a felony marijuana charge, which was later reduced to a misdemeanor, will be suspended for the first three games next fall. Wide receiver Robert Jordan, arrested because he had a dagger on a chain around his neck (the charge was later dropped) will be suspended for the first game.
“You hope that players will use good judgment and not get in a situation where they face temptation, and that’s what we as coaches emphasize when we’re talking to them,” Tedford said. “But at the same time, you have to understand that you’re talking to young men, 17 to 22, who come from all walks of life.”
Suspending players sends a message to the entire team, and it’s the only practical way a coach can deal with the problem. “Coaches can’t be with the players 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Tedford said.
WHEN THE UNIVERSITY university decided that it should diversify the student body, special programs were put into place to help those who didn’t meet the usual admissions standards because they came from substandard schools.
These programs were not put in for athletes specifically, and they are not under the control of the athletic department. The department, though, put in an Athletics Study Center many years ago to provide tutoring and a study hall for athletes, an essential for football players who spend so much time on the practice field, in the weight room and in meetings.
When I talked before the Shrine East-West game to Bruce Snyder, former Cal coach who went on to coach Arizona State, he told me, “I recruited the same type of kids at Cal that I recruited at Arizona State. The difference is that it’s much more of a challenge to keep them in school at Cal.”
There are many “two-track” schools in Division 1-A. Even at colleges known as football schools, there are some athletes who are also excellent students, and they take challenging courses. Most of the rest, though, are put on the “second track,” the one with the snap courses that do little to advance an athlete’s education.
There are very few of those courses at Cal, so athletes have to work to stay eligible and graduate. Tedford works hard to get his players to graduate – he said 85 per cent of the upperclassmen on the team are on schedule to graduate – as did his predecessor, Tom Holmoe.
The difference, of course, is that Tedford has mastered the third part of the formula, coaching, as Holmoe never did. From preparation to execution, Tedford is superb.
THERE ARE PEOPLE who look for reasons that something can’t be done, and there are people who look for ways that it can be done. Tedford is clearly in the second category.
Since I first came to Cal as an undergraduate in the fall of 1956, I have heard people give reasons why Cal could never be a top 10 team in football: It was too much of an academic school; the faculty and administration didn’t support sports; the Telegraph Avenue scene turned off parents of potential recruits.
When Steve Gladstone became athletic director, he said from the beginning that there was no reason Cal football couldn’t be in the top 10, and he hired a coach who agreed with him.
Tedford uses the academic reputation as a plus when he and his assistants talk to parents. He wants the parents to know their sons will get a good education along with a solid grounding in football.
As a result, his recruiting has matched the team’s rise in performance, with this year’s class being ranked in the top 10 nationally by the recruiting services, which has not happened before.
It will be a challenge to match last year’s team, which rose to No. 4 in the country (though, sadly, not in the BCS ratings), with 13 starters gone. Among them are quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who may be the No. 1 pick in the draft, J. J. Arrington, the only 2000 yard rusher in the country last season, Cal’s career reception leader, Geoff McArthur, and single-season sack record holder Ryan Riddle.
Still, with the kind of recruiting he’s doing and the kind of coaching he’s giving the players who come to Berkeley, it seems Tedford should have a long, consistent run at Cal.
He’s really a teacher as much as a coach, especially of quarterbacks, with Rodgers about to join Trent Dilfer, David Carr, Joey Harrington, Akili Smith and Kyle Boller as quarterbacks he has coached who have been chosen in the first round of the NFL draft.
Now, he has another potentially great quarterback, former CCSF star Joseph Ayoob, who was northern California Offensive Player of the Year. Tedford says Ayoob can make all the throws and is a better runner than Rodgers, but he needs to learn the system Rodgers mastered. He’ll have one advantage Rodgers lacked for his first season: Ayoob is already registered at Cal and taking part in spring practice.
THIS WILL be a very young team, but I have confidence that Tedford will make it happen again for the Bears. He’s the real thing.
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