Jeff Tedford, Todd Lichti, Alex Rodriguez
Much of the criticism has come from two groups: (1) Younger alums who have had little experience with losing seasons at Cal and don’t realize or care that Tedford has reversed a pattern of dismal football that extended back a half century; and (2) The non-alumni fans who jumped on the bandwagon when Cal started winning and now think they know more about what’s happening than Tedford does.
The losses have weighed heavily on Tedford, whose face looked drawn when he appeared at the Big Game media luncheon this week. He was, he admitted, “sleeping a lot less,” as he tried to figure how to right the ship.
During the bye week, instead of giving freshmen players more opportunities in practice, Tedford instead went back to the basic blocking and tackling drills, as if it were the start of training camp. “The players responded well,” he said. “They seemed to want to get back to that.”
Tedford is well suited to college coaching – which is why I’ve repeatedly said he won’t jump to the NFL – because he truly cares about his players, on and off the field. He and his assistants monitor the players’ classroom work closely. Graduation rates for players, which had been below 50 per cent, jumped to 80 per cent (16 of 20) for his first recruiting class.
Instead of blaming his players for the awful Washington loss, Tedford took the blame himself, saying he hadn’t done a good job of coaching and needed to do better. (Incredibly one of my readers took that as “proof” that he was right when he described Tedford as overrated.)
At this week’s luncheon, he said he felt the pain of his players, insisting that they were both practicing and playing hard (true, except for the Washington game).
In truth, there have been several reasons for the Cal slump. The most obvious is that they were overrated – by me, among others. The defense never has played consistently, and the younger players haven’t developed, as I thought they would. The only real playmakers have been defensive end Rulon Davis and linebacker Zach Follett, and both have been injured for much of the season. Davis apparently will play in the Big Game.
Quarterback Nate Longshore’s ankle injury in the Oregon game has been critical; he’s still not 100 per cent. “He won’t be until he can rest it for a couple of months,” said Tedford. I thought Tedford shold have made more use of redshirt Kevin Riley in the second half of games, but it is very difficult to change quarterbacks in midseason. Longshore knows the system very well, and Riley is well behind in that regard.
The Tedford critics, though, want to put it all on him. I’ve gotten many e-mails criticizing his strategy. The most ridiculous was one which simply said, “Fire Tedford!” (This idiot was at least smart enough not to sign his name to that.) Another said it was obvious that Tedford was only a good offensive coordinator, not a head coach. Another said he was no better than seventh among coaches in the Pac-10.
I believe there are three outstanding coaches in the Pac-10: Pete Carroll, Mike Bellotti and Tedford, in whatever order you choose. Carroll has had the most success, but he’s also had the best players. Even with the disappointing 6-5 record this season, Tedford has a winning percentage of .662 since he came to Cal. That’s second at Cal only to Pappy Waldorf’s .670 in the 62 years since the end of World War II.
Here’s how I’d rate the other conference coaches:
--Mike Riley, Oregon State. Just behind the top three, and perhaps should also be in that category, Riley always seems to have teams which play up to their ability. The Beavers will be in a bowl game this year.
--Jim Harbaugh, Stanford. I think Harbaugh has a chance to be an excellent coach, and I think he’ll be snapped up by another school before much longer. (Not his alma mater, Michigan. He made some injudicious comments about how Michigan gets its athletes through school which I quoted in my Examiner column last spring, and he’s persona non grata back there.) He inherited a team with little talent and no depth, but he has had his team playing hard – and the Cardinal shocked USC earlier this season.
--Dennis Erickson, Arizona State. Erickson has had a successful college career because he’s usually picked schools with low entrance requirements which can get good athletes into school, and he then just turns them loose. But with the 49ers, we saw what happens when he actually has to do some coaching.
--Tyrone Willingham, Washington. Good coaches usually have their breakout seasons in their third season in a program. In Willingham’s third year at Notre Dame, the program went backward and he was fired. In his third year at Washington, the Huskies are in last place in the conference. Draw your own conclusion.
--Karl Dorrell, UCLA. Dorrell has been under fire from alums because his teams have been so inconsistent, winning some big games but losing inexplicably at times, such as the loss to Notre Dame this season. If the Bruins get crushed by USC this Saturday, as I expect, Dorrell may not survive.
--Mike Stoops, Arizona. Another coach on the hot seat. The Wildcats have played well defensively in his four years but have never been a factor in the conference race.
Bill Doba has already quit at Washington State, probably to avoid being fired.
INSTANT REPLAY: When the 49rs-Cardinals game went into overtime, color man Tony Boselli explained why he preferred the NFL system, which starts with a kickoff, as a regular game does, to the college system of teams starting on the opposing 25.
Boselli likes the NFL system because it is more like a real game. “The college system takes the special teams out,” he said.
Spoken like a former player, with no regard for the group which should be most important: the fans. I’ve seen both pro and college teams that went into overtime and there’s much more excitement at the college games – which are also fairer, because each team has equal opportunities. Fans love the instant offense aspect of college overtime.
And, strangely enough, I’ve never heard any complaints about the lack of special team play.
STANFORD STADIUM: Yes, Stanford badly needed a new stadium and, yes, it’s remarkable that it got built so quickly, but did it have to be so ugly? By keeping the façade of the old stadium, it’s all the more shocking when you come into the ultra-modern, charmless interior. When I’ve been there, I’ve felt like I was inside a huge Ziploc baggie.
I suspect others feel the same. Though the season ticket sales have been healthy, the actual attendance has been far less, usually in the 20,000 range. Even Notre Dame wasn’t enough of an attraction to get a full house. I was at last Saturday’s game and I’d be surprised if there were even 40,000 fans in attendance.
This Saturday, Stanford should have a sellout for the Big Game, but there will probably be more Cal fans there than Stanford.
Stanford has had bad teams the last two years, of course, but the curiosity factor usually brings out people to see a new stadium. That hasn’t happened at Stanford. Word of mouth has killed any curiosity for those who haven’t seen the stadium.
LICHTI REMEMBERED: Todd Lichti’s career was remembered by Stanford broadcaster Bob Murphy as one of the five greatest “moments” in his own remarkable career in a Chronicle story this morning. Lichti is largely forgotten now but he’s easily the best Stanford basketball player I’ve seen. In my memory’s eye, I can still see Lichti grabbing a defensive rebound and then streaking downcourt and laying the ball into the other basket. The only player I’ve ever seen who had that same kind of burst to the basket was Bernard King with the Warriors.
Lichti was also very smart. At a Stanford basketball lunch, I once asked him about his academic career. During the course of his answer, he told me he’d gotten a perfect 800 on the math part of the SAT. Then, he added, “and I got 800 on the English part, too.”
That was enough to get him past even the Stanford admissions office.
BOADCASTING AWARD: Amaury Pi-Gonzalez is a finalist for the Ford C. Frick award for broadcasting excellence, which is tied into the baseball Hall of Fame. Amaury started doing Spanish broadcasts for the A’s in 1972 and subsequently also worked for the Giants. Both teams dropped the ball and let him get away, so he is now working for the Anaheim Angels. I’d vote for him if I could, but since I can’t, I’ll be rooting for him.
RODRIGUEZ CONTRACT: The contract the Yankees offered Alex Rodriguez had bonuses for breaking career home run records, but no provision for bonuses if the Yankees actually got to the World Series.
Good thing for Mr. April, a stellar hitter in the regular season who becomes quite ordinary in the postseason. Even the Yankees, with all their money, talent and tradition, haven’t made it to the Series since Rodriguez has been on the roster. That’s why there was virtually no interest in Rodriguez from other teams, and why he suddenly embraced the Yankees and New York, both of whom he had been eager to leave. A great talent but one with the heart of the Tin Man and the sincerity of a used car salesman.
WANT TO WATCH some football? Tickets for big NFL matchups like the Dallas Cowboys against the Washington Redskins on Dec. 30 are available on the TICKETS! TICKETS! TICKETS! link at the bottom of my Home Page, as are tickets for 49ers and Raiders games. Tickets are also available for big college games, including the Big Game and UCLA-USC on Saturday. 1. It’s not too early to think basketball, and tickets are available for the Warriors and all NBA games. In the entertainment world, hot tickets for the legendary group Bruce Springsteen, the Hannah Montana tour and the E Street Band are available, along with those for Van Halen, Kelly Clarkson and Jimmy Buffet. Tickets for Broadway shows like Wicked, Jersey Boys and The Color Purple are also available. Just click on either the Bay Area or national link and everything will come up.
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