The longest continually active Cal Bear blog

Archive for the ‘Coaching Commentary’ category


$2.825M

Well, it’s a bit more than my suggested $2.75M, but in the range of reasonableness, if at the very top of it.  Personally I would have rather seen that last $75K go to the assistants.  The reason is that I think Dykes will do very well if he has the defensive assistant coaches needed to field a good defense.  Just like with head coaches, getting and keeping good assistant coaches requires paying them well.

The other interesting clause is the automatic 1-year extension for every 7-5 season with a 980 APR.  At first I thought this was the 4-year APR, which would mean any extension would be unlikely to kick in for a few years.  While we’re expecting a high score this year (997), the previous 4 years are 946, 969, 923, with the 923 falling off next year, hamper his ability to make 980.  Even if the team scored a perfect 1000 next year, that would only be a 4-year APR of 978.  But, it’s the single year numbers he will be graded on, so there’s a good chance, Dykes can get an automatic 1-year extension most years if he can keep his current level of on the field performance.

Air Force will be a test of defensive coaching

Air Force is an easy team to beat if you have time to prepare for their triple option offense.  Their systems is quirky and effective, but their personnel is vastly undersized on the lines due to the limitations of being a service academy. That’s why the best time to play them is either the 1st game of the season or a bowl game.  The team has the time to prepare for the triple option, neutralizing their advantage.  Without that advantage, they’re much easier to beat.

The last time Cal played them, in the Armed Forces bowl in 2007, for the 1st 20 minutes of the game it looked like the defense hadn’t spent a minute preparing for the triple option.  Frankly, it was one of my greatest disappointments in the Tedford era as far as my trust in the coaching staff.  But eventually, the team figured out how to defend it and Kevin Riley led a dramatic comeback, and the Bears won.

We’re about to find out how good the current defensive coaching staff is.

Unlike other games where all the issues that make up a good defense are mixed together: talent, effort, maturity, scheme, coaching, in this game, since the way to beat the triple option is pretty well known and it’s not an issue of talent, we can know that the result will come from effort (a result of good coaching), maturity and coaching.  And since this team has plenty of upper classmen, it means the defensive result is pretty much entirely about coaching.

It will be interesting to see.

How much should Cal do to keep Dykes?

Dykes is rumored to have interviewed for three different jobs: Missouri (although they announced someone else recently), South Carolina and Virginia.  It’s unclear if Dykes really wants out of if he’s just trying to get Cal to offer better terms than what they offered, specifically more money and a longer more guaranteed extension.

So the question becomes, how much should Cal offer to keep Dykes?

My thinking is that his salary should be upped to about $2.75M, but that he should only be extended 2 years (so 4 years total from now) with it getting reasonably cheap for the Bears to let him go after 2017.  I’m OK with Cal having to give a fairly large sum after next year.  With the amount of talent leaving (particularly if Goff leaves) and how the schedule is shaping up, it’s reasonable to expect Cal to take a bit of a step back next year.  Thus it’s reasonable for Dykes to insist his contract protects him from a one-year blip.

What do you guys think?  (Answer in the comments and respond to the poll on the sidebar)

Frustrated with my fellow Cal fans today

I’ll have my OTRH podcast up tomorrow morning, but I wanted to make a comment in the mean time:

GET A HOLD OF YOURSELVES!?!

I’m frustrated too, but what I’m seeing on the various Cal sites today is bothersome to me.  Dykes made reasonable calls taking the points instead of going for it on 4th down.  At the end of the game, yeah, they were surrender punts and kickoffs, but guess what, the game was ALREADY surrendered at that point.  (Anybody here really think Cal was going to recover two consecutive onside kicks and score 2 TD’s with 1:50 left?)

My point is overall Dykes was reasonably aggressive.  He went for it on 4th down a handful of well chosen times.  Those 9 points made it so Cal was within a score in the 4th quarter.  Yes, Cal would have had a much better shot at winning had a couple of those field-goals been touchdowns, but that should be blamed on bad catches, bad throws, or if someone would like to put in the effort to prove it, bad play calls on 1st through 3rd down.

Cal needed two things Saturday: Better redzone execution and a defense that could hold a tough rushing team for 4 quarters.

Dykes lack of aggressive play-calling wasn’t the problem.

My prediction for the next 5 years

After Saturday’s beat down in Berkeley, I had a vision, a vision that must be shared.

The Bears are going to get better next year. Significantly better.

Year 2 of the Berkeley conversion will result in a far higher level of execution as Dykes and company are able to focus more on execution than on scheme implementation. This young team will be a lot more mature and seasoned. Goff will be significantly improved and will lose the jitters of a Freshman who’s made a couple too many mistakes. The injury plague that has inexplicably gripped this team will not last forever. The Bears will give us early hope that 2014 will include a bowl game.

And while this trend might even extend into year three with so many of today’s young players still on the team, that will be the end of it. Our hope that the trajectory of improvements seen in 2014 continue into the future will find themselves dashed in 2015 and 2016.

Simply put, Dykes won’t win enough games, particularly the critically important ones. Even though massively improved from this year’s 2-10 effort, we likely won’t go to a bowl game, or if we do it’ll be such a low one that nobody of note cares. The recruiting situation will get much worse. We will go back to half empty stadiums full of die-hard Bear fans only.

What good will and program momentum Tedford initially built will slide into a distant memory. The program will return to its steady state position for the last 60 years, lots of 4-8 seasons with just enough home wins and the occasional big upset that keeps the die-hards around.

In between the 2015 and 2016 seasions, Sandy Barbour will be let go because the financial plan built on an assumption of success will go from troublesome to a disaster as season ticket sales plummet. particularly in the ESP sections. The new AD will fire Dykes after the next season, with a year left on his contract. The new AD will be faced with the very difficult decision of who to hire for a massive rebuilding project and probably have very limited funds to do so.

The result will be to go back to the playbook that resulted in hiring Tedford: hire a young coordinator with no head coaching experience from a newly successful BCS conference (NOT mid-major) school. He would like to get somebody with a more polished resume, but both the lack of cash and the lack of intangibles to lure someone like that will prevent it.

And in year 5 we start over again.

(Either that, or I’m reading my Crystal Ball upside down again, like I apparently did in the WSU preview.)

Defensive problems are not just youth/injuries

Spent some time over on CGB yesterday evening reading what people thought about our defensive struggles. There are still a lot of people deflecting blame from the coaching staff regarding the defensive woes over there.

Simply stated, while the youth of the defense (much of which is because of injuries) is a big factor, it is not THE factor.

First of all, most of these injuries are not new. The coaching staff has known who they were going to be missing for some time now. That gave them a significant amount time to train replacements and make scheme adjustments. It isn’t like 4 guys went down on Thursday’s practice. Most of them have been missing all season and it was known for a good number of them about mid-way through fall camp they were hurt. So we’re talking about a full month, PLUS THREE GAMES, where these injuries have been known to the world. It is the coaches job to make adjustments for these sorts of things.

Secondly, we have big weaknesses in areas where we still have depth. By way of example, yeah, the defensive line lost Jalil, but where are the rest of the highly touted guys? Where are Moala and Coleman? It’s not like they’re getting double teamed or given special attention. Or if you want to look in the secondary, McClure is getting schooled out there and he’s always been projected to be a starter this season and has a pretty strong history in his early years as a backup.

In fact, McClure is the perfect case study to determine what’s going on, at least from how I see things.

McClure has a lot of talent, showed a lot of promise in year’s past and has a fair amount of experience for a non-starter. If he’s having trouble, one of three things are true:

  1. He’s being coached poorly to use wrong technique.
  2. The scheme being used puts him in a difficult situation.
  3. He’s personally not giving the effort (which could include the effort to learn) he should be.

Numbers 1 and 2 would be the fault of the coaching staff, so if we can eliminate number 3 I think we can safely point to the coaching staff as the problem. And while it is not definitive evidence, the fact that we’re seeing defensive problems throughout the defense and not just with a player or two, it suggests it’s not effort issues, particularly considering that if there’s one thing Dykes has done exceptionally, it’s to get these young men to buy into bringing a strong effort.

Thus, personally, I think the main issue is coaching.

And more specifically I think the problem is a poor scheme setting the defense up for failure.

I said before the season that I was leery of the move back to the 4-3 but was willing to be open-minded, particularly since the lines between a 4-3 and a 3-4 have blended in the most innovative defenses. Well, this IS NOT an innovative defense. This is an old-school Big-10, completely unprepared for modern college offenses, we’ll just be playing a lot of 2 linebacker nickle, defense.

I’m just not seeing anything that makes me impressed with the scheme. I’m seeing cornerbacks being put on islands play after play and asked to do the near impossible. I’m seeing safeties and linebackers who have the same assignments over and over again. I’m seeing formations that pre-snap are obviously exploitable with no post-snap adjustments to take it away. Heck, just in general I’m not seeing a lot of deception or hiding of schemes.

Sorry folks, we’ve got a weak defensive staff right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d be happy to find out a few weeks from now that everything is clicking and all of a sudden Buh and company have taken their game to the next level. I’m open to the possibility that Buh is very talented but in a bit over his head and with time will improve dramatically. I’m willing to be a bit patient. Nobody needs to be fired.

But I don’t have to delude myself into thinking my patience is waiting for for some players to get healthy, when in fact what I’m waiting for is the coaching staff to figure out its incompetence.

4-3 vs. 3-4

Of all of the things I heard over the off-season, the one that gave me the most “instinctual” heart-burn, it has been the decision to return to the 4-3 defense from the 3-4. I think we all remember recent history, but for those who don’t, or perhaps to lay out how I think recent history went:

Starting in 2005 or so, spread offenses started to become all the rage (because they were working). The big thing they did was find a way for smaller teams to work around big defensive lines by going around them. They started developing key plays like the read-option where they could isolate one defensive end and take him out of the equation (either way he guessed, the play went the other way).

And as I said, it worked… almost too well.

But of course defensive coordinators aren’t going to stand still and just take a beating. They started developing new ideas. One of the first was the “Bend But Don’t Break” strategy, which relied on lot of zone coverage and spreading out the defense a bit. It worked to some degree, particularly when they’d force the spread offenses into a big loss every once in a while, breaking their rhythm and into more traditional passing situations on 3rd down where the big defensive linemen could go for broke after the QB. But it only worked so well and it left the defense on the field a lot giving up a lot of small gains that would take their toll in the 4th quarter.

The next stage of development started in the 2008-2009 time frame. (And to give credit to our former coaching staff of which I dare not speak, they were on the leading edge of this.) Defenses realized that by taking a defensive lineman off the field and replacing him with a linebacker they got a number of positive effects. First of all, there was more speed on the field to cover more territory. But just as important (and often overlooked) was the gap assignments of the defense were no longer as predictable to the offense. As a result, things like the read-option trap for the defense end was no longer so clear. Who’s the appropriate guy to read? The DE or the 4th/outside linebacker? It could change on each play depending on alignment.

And this new strategy worked! Looking at the teams who had defensive success against the best spread teams, most of them were 3-4 teams. And while the games of cat and mouse continue to the day, the playing field feels a lot more balanced.

So this 4-3 thing has to be a disaster in the making, right?

Frankly, it might be… but I’m also not so sure until I watch them on the field.

The reality is the line between a 3-4 and a 4-3 has blurred. If you have your outside linebacker up on the line with his hand on the ground pre-snap, how much different is that than a 4-3? If you replied with “speed”, then when your outside linebackers in the old 3-4 become DE’s in your new 4-3, how different is THAT?

The more I think about it, I guess to some degree 4-3 vs. 3-4 isn’t all that important. But I do think there are some concepts that have been integrated into the modern 3-4 offenses that are very important to success in today’s Pac-12. So if you’re going to run a 4-3, you need to make sure you incorporate these things.

So this post was a long way of saying here’s what I’m looking for out of the defense when they take the field:

  • Do they occasionally drop linemen into coverage? One of the keys to the 3-4’s is that where the rush is coming from is very confusing to the QBs and the offensive linemen. You do that by bringing different linebackers at different times. And at some point, you bring so many linebackers that you need a lineman to get up out of his stance and cover the middle zone. This is even more true when 4 of your rushers (instead of 3) are “predictable rushers”.
  • Are the outside linebackers lining up fairly widely? Remember in 2011 when USC beat the ever-loving-crud out of us? (Yeah, I’ve mostly blocked it out too, but dig deep, it’s in there somewhere.) One of the things I remembered was part of how they beat us was by placing the outside linebackers extremely widely. Whenever we went sideways, which we liked to do a lot with Maynard and co. that year, it was a disaster. It seems like the 4-3’s that are successful place their outside linebackers pretty wide (although I don’t think it has to be as wide as USC did that night).
  • Where are the safeties playing? An alternative to the previous strategy is to bring the safeties up, on the outside. This has an upside of keeping the inside run support fairly strong with the outside linebackers able to collapse inside as needed. The downside of this strategy is that there are certain deeper passing routes that are harder to cover with the safeties out of their traditional positions. However, I think a fairly innovative defensive coordinator will be doing the same sort of “position swapping” (or maybe you could call it ‘creative zone coverages”) that we’re seeing today between the linemen and backers, but instead between the safeties and their fast linebackers. It’s something that will keep the QB REALLY off balance. (If I see this I’ll be very impressed, but will expect to see some growing pains.)
  • How dominant are our ‘true’ linemen? I think the #1 key to the 4-3 is that by putting 4 big bodies up on the line you have the potential to be very disruptive right off the snap. But that’s the thing… they NEED to be disruptive. You can’t have a stalemate on the line. Back in the pre-spread days, stalemates on the line were often OK because on running plays the stalemate resulted in a minimal gain and passing plays could often be contained by good secondary coverage. These days, if you’re going to have big bodies on the line, they’d better be disruptive right off the snap (and BTW, I think we have the personnel for this).

So, is the 4-3 bad? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s what I’ll be looking for to find out.

Thoughts on Goff being named the QB starter

For those who haven’t heard, Jared Goff has been named the starting quarterback.

This was a moderate surprise to those who have believed the rumor mill dating back to the 2012 season that Zack Kline was the program’s savior, but for those who had been paying attention, it wasn’t that much of a surprise:

  • Coach Sonny has long said that the keys to being his QB was consistency, accuracy and quick decision making. Who’s been most consistent since Spring practice? Who’s the only one who can somewhat routinely hit the trash can in their throwing drill (accuracy)? I think the thing that has been hindering Goff has been the decision making, but the word on the street is that he’s improved dramatically since Spring practice and is doing as well if not better than Kline.
  • Which QB was recruited by Sonny? I think the tie goes to the guy that the head coach recruited.
  • As Dykes said in his comments, Goff isn’t really a “true-freshman”, he’s an early-enrolled freshman. Being here for spring practice, and then having the time between then and now to absorb the system makes a WORLD of difference in regards to freshmen QBs.
  • Kline just threw too many interceptions in practice to make his case. He may have one heck of an arm, but the new offense is predicated more on accurate short throws instead of long passes.

And here’s the kicker, the lore around Kline, is just that: lore. Lot’s of people were sick of Maynard last year. Lot’s of people wanted a change. And is the case on every team where the starting quarterback is struggling, the backup QB is the knight in shining armor ready to save the team. But the few times I saw him play in practices I was never really overly impressed. That’s not to say he didn’t have potential. That’s not to say he wouldn’t have been a better choice than Maynard. But it is to say he was no miracle savior.

But the rumor mill/peanut gallery/fanciful dreamer crowd was just too strong in creating a fairy tale that Kline was this semi-mythic recruit destined to save the program once he was given the chance.

News flash: It just wasn’t based on facts.

This if of course not to say that Goff was for sure the right choice. I don’t really know (and unless you’ve been at all the practices, you don’t know either). But what I do know is that this shouldn’t be a shocking surprise. Goff earned being named the starting QB and most showed the characteristics that make a good QB, particularly in Dykes system. I’m looking forward to seeing him perform on 8/31.

GO BEARS!

No joy today

Jeff Tedford was fired today.

It was the right decision.

But that doesn’t make it any less disheartening.

Tedford was the best thing to happen to Cal football in at least 25 years, if not 50. How can one be happy when his time has passed? It’s like being joyful at a funeral because you’ll be able to go play golf tomorrow and not go to the retirement home to visit grandpa. Yeah, the retirement home can be dreary and depressing, kinda like the last 5 football games, but I can’t be happy today at Tedford’s funeral because I don’t have to sit through another difficult game with him at the helm.

This doesn’t change at all that firing him was necessary (and please don’t complete my previous metaphor about grandpa… its limited applicability ended with the sadness, NOT with Euthanasia) and frankly, I think it was that sort of determination by Barbour to do what was necessary that Tedford lacked in recent years.

The big question is, how could a coach who had done so well for so long, fall so hard? We all know that the program has been on the wrong path for at least a few years, but how many was it? Why was Longshore that last QB to have true success under Tedford? Why did a team that ALWAYS won their bowl game start losing them and then not even making it to them? Why did a team that tended to finish strong, so often finish with a whimper?

And when did it really start? Did it start when Maynard was named QB (and perhaps as a concession to Allen)? Did it start in 2010, the first losing season? Or how about 2009, where the Bears lost their final two games after upsetting both Arizona and Stanford?

I’ve thought about this a lot and for me I think it all goes back to the most iconic moment in Tedford’s career… the last second lost to Oregon State in 2007. I’ve had this thought for a long time, but I haven’t been sure or confident in it, so I’ve been hesitant to harp on such an overly analyzed moment.

But now that Tedford has been fired, I think it is time to take stock of his entire career, leaving no stone unturned, and there’s no doubt in my mind that the moment Kevin Riley was tackled and Tedford let his emotions get the better of him for just a second, was the moment everything changed.

Ryan Gorcey summed it up very well in his column today:

After heaving his headset to the turf following a rookie play by rookie quarterback Kevin Riley on Oct. 13, 2007, when the Bears were just moments from being the top team in the land, thanks to a bevy of other upsets, Tedford vowed to be more in-control on the sidelines, to be more of a CEO. What he became was even more conservative, even more guarded, even more insular.

Before that night, Tedford was 48-20 as Cal’s head coach, with a 27-14 record against the Pac-10. Since that night — including that gut-wrenching loss — Tedford is 33-37 overall, and 21-30 against conference opponents.

Before that night, Cal had lost just six games by 14 points or more. Since then? 17 losses by 14 points or more. Tedford has gone 2-4 against the Cardinal. He has gone to four bowl games, and lost twice, having not won a bowl game since the 2008 Emerald Bowl in San Francisco.

This is a man that has let his caring for his players — who has let the desire to please his charges, and to do what he thinks is best for them — get in the way of doing what needs to be done, of adjusting and changing and adapting. By his own admission, he has trusted players too much, particularly when it came to finishing their degrees — with a vast majority of players who count against the graduation success rate still having two or fewer online classes to take after promising Tedford years ago that they would get them taken care of.

Frankly, the numbers Gorcey references speak for themselves and prove that 10/13/2007 was the day when everything changed. But why? Why did that somewhat innocuous, understandable mistake (a rookie mistake by a rookie), have had such tremendous effect on the program?

And the answer is because Tedford’s heart grew 10 sizes that day and he lost the edge that made him the successful coach he was.

Many times after that year, Tedford made significant changes to the program, but they were all just a futile effort, an exercise in re-arranging the deck chairs as the ship went down, because the one thing that really needed changing, was the one thing he was unwilling to do… to return to the hard-edged Tedford that built up the program.

That hard-edged Tedford was a man that Tedford himself didn’t like. It was a hard, driven man, who was decisive and determined. Before that day, when Tedford was asked a stupid question in a post-game interview, the reporter would shrink after Tedford’s cut-throat answer and intimidating stare let the reporter know he was an idiot.

Since that day, Tedford answered questions in a far more dismissive and non-confrontational way. While there was still a gruff edge to him, it was more like a curmudgeoney old man instead of a heartless dictator. Mostly, he kept his demons bottled up inside and did his best to answer with platitudes so as not to be overly harsh or confrontational.

Looking at the transformation a different way, Tedford took stock of himself after that night and decided he didn’t like what he saw in the mirror. He vowed to change who he was and win a different way.

Sadly, he never found a way to do it.

In short, that fateful night in 2007 was the moment that Tedford contracted a disease that ended up being terminal. He let compassion get in the way of leadership. He let kindness get in the way of truth. He let generosity get in the way of righteousness.

So how can I be happy when compassion, kindness and generosity killed a beloved coach’s job; when compassion, kindness and generosity allowed him only one season in The House that Tedford Built; when compassion, kindness and generosity cause people to dance on his grave?

I just can’t be happy that these are the things that took Tedford down, no matter how true it is and how necessary it was that he be fired. I can’t imagine being anything but devastated when taking stock of what caused his fall from grace, no matter how painful a fall it was.

Tedford, if you ever read this, (and I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way) you will always be considered a Cal great in my eyes and I will always look back on your time as the Cal football coach with fondness. I’m very sorry it had to end this way and will always look back on today with a certain sense of regret, no matter how successful Cal is in the future.

I will instead do my best to chose to remember moments like USC 2003, Oregon 2006 and 2007, Tennessee 2007, all the Big Games you won, particularly 2002 and 2009, the 2003 Insight Bowl, the 2006 Holiday Bowl and 2008 Emerald Bowl. These were great moments for Cal football and we have you to thank for them.

Thank you for your 11 years of faithful service to Cal football. California Memorial Stadium will ALWAYS be The House that Tedford Built and someday, when time has allowed for hardened hearts to soften, I hope to see a statue out front to commemorate that.

First Big Game thoughts

Well that stunk. REALLY stunk.

I’ll start with giving Stanford’s defense credit. That front seven is even better than I thought. Either that or the Cal offensive line had the worst effort by a college football team in college football history. I would have trouble sprinting as fast as they got through the line. They were causing havoc everywhere. Every play that started with the ball in the backfield was in trouble. The sweep plays couldn’t even get to the outside to see if perhaps they could turn the corner. It was UG-LY.

To make matters worse, it appears Stanford took a page from Oregon State’s playbook that has been so successful in thwarting Cal. They KNEW they were going to get home to Maynard or the back quickly, so they didn’t need to worry about the long developing plays that could cause them lots of trouble. All they needed was to cover the receivers for the first couple seconds and if somehow the WR’s got behind them or wide open, the play was going to be a sack before that was a problem.

So the linebackers and the secondary very much focused on getting in the throwing lanes that develop in the first couple seconds and they had won. Lot’s of press coverage and other things that defend the quick developing stuff. It was a very good game plan.

But that’s where I end my praise for Stanford and start in on my criticism of the coaching staff, particularly since as I mentioned, we’ve seen this from Oregon State for years.

TEDFORD, THERE ARE WAYS TO BEAT THIS SORT OF GAME PLAN… ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION!?!

Here’s my four-point plan on how to beat the defensive strategy we’re going to see for the rest of the season:

  1. Change the routes so that they are much quicker developing. Focusing on things like quick slants to the inside, 5-7 yard outs, TE routes right up the gut and sit in a zone hole, etc.
  2. Pick routes that can be analyzed pre-snap by Maynard, so he knows where he’s going before he’s got 7 guys in his face. He’s just not able to read the field when he’s being harassed all day.
  3. De-emphasize Isi. I’ve been a big supporter of him for a long time, but what we need right now is not him and frankly, he hasn’t been playing up to the same level he was this time last year.
  4. Throw/toss to the running backs behind WR screening. This will work particularly well with press coverage because it will be easy for the WR’s to engage the DBs.

I’m not a football genius and I can figure this stuff out. But here’s what ticks me off…

THIS SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN A SURPRISE.

Why is it that a couple times a year Tedford seems completely caught off guard by the adjustments teams are making to him? All of us saw what Stanford’s front seven was going to do to us a MILE away. And Tedford seemingly had no inclination or at best, and if that’s the best it’s terrifying, he had no answer to it.

The routes our WR’s were running were horrible. Lot’s of complex stuff that was slow developing. There must have been 10 different times I looked at the coverage and said “Oh, if WR X is running a quick slant, we’re golden.” But he NEVER was. Not when we were in the redzone when it should be the go-to play call.

I think Tedford out-thinks himself. “Everyone knows the right play here is a quick slant to Keenan, so I’d better not do that.” Take a lesson from Oregon coach… sometimes the reason everyone knows is because IT WORKS, and IT WORKS even when EVERYONE KNOWS. Oregon has something like 4 plays, but they run them with precision. The defense knows what it is up against and they still can’t stop it because it’s fundamentally sound.

I think part of why it ticks me off is because I really want Tedford to succeed. I like the guy and I want him to be successful in Berkeley. I think this game sealed his fate. Yes, if we come back and get bowl eligible, he’ll have saved his job, but I just don’t see it happening. Beating UW and OSU is not like beating UCLA. It won’t be that easy.

Heck, if he doesn’t change things, Utah may be good enough to follow Stanford’s lead and make WSU the last win of the season.

And I’m pretty sure Tedford needs AT LEAST 5 wins to save his job… and that assumes some intangibles that point in Tedford’s favor in the losses that remain.

So disappointing.

More on my thoughts: Is Tedford REALLY ‘mailing it in’?

We got a link over here this morning from CGB, specifically in regards to my comments that I’m starting to lack sympathy for Tedford, feeling like he might not be trying any more. Because it is a fairly inflammatory statement, I want to clarify a few things:

My lead in was “I’m not so sure I feel sorry for Tedford” and it was in my post titled ‘Off the rails’, so I definitely want to be clear that I’m unsure exactly what I think and it was what was on my mind at the time, in a time of frustration. I announced a couple months ago that this blog was going to be less careful in justifying everything I think and more just a brain dump of what’s on my mind.

Now that it is Monday morning, I must say, it’s both still on my mind and perhaps too harsh. This is one of the positions I’m considering. It may be true, it may not be. Definitely Saturday afternoon/Sunday morning I was leaning more towards that position than I am now.

At the same time, I think it is at least a defensible speculation, based on the following evidence:

  • Interview demeanor. Watch the various post game interviews and look at his demeanor. I’m not seeing a guy who is particularly frustrated or upset. He seems downright non-nonchalant to me. Remember that I have interviewed him in person myself, so I have some insight into what he looks like when he’s upset. To be clear, I’m not talking about his words. I very much understand Tedford not wanting to over-react with what he says. That won’t help his team. He purposely hides as much as he can so as to protect the team and get a competitive advantage. But I know from personal experience that he’s also not particularly good at hiding his emotions, and I’m not seeing it here. Maybe he’s just gotten much better at hiding his emotions?
  • Lack of sideline conflict. During the S. Utah game and the USC game, we saw some emotions boiling over on the sideline from Tedford. I haven’t watched the TV footage of the ASU game but from the stands Tedford looked awful calm Saturday.
  • Overly conservative decision making. This is one that is difficult to judge. Tedford has always been conservative and one shouldn’t be too surprised when he stays that way. But something in me says it is even more conservative than before. Or at a minimum he doesn’t seem to be recognizing that the time for over-conservative decisions is quickly reaching an end if he wants to keep his job.
  • Lack of changes to the team. This is everything from personnel changes like including Bigelow, different options on the offensive line and seeing more youth getting playing time generally, to changes to the play-calls and scheme adjustments. I don’t expect to see a massive overhaul of the team in week 5, but I expect to see SOMETHING… and I’m seeing nothing.
  • Lack of fire in the team. The team I saw play Saturday looked uninspired. They didn’t seem very motivated. That reflects the coaching staffs attitude, at least to some degree. There were moments when the team seemed to play with passion, but overall, it was a very uninspired performance.

Could all of those be explained away? Yes. It’s possible Tedford is (foolishly, but whole-heartedly) focusing on the team being calm. He could be more worried that the team will implode due to over-emotion, not lack of emotion, and so he’s trying very hard to keep an even keel. I disagree with that approach, but as I said in my original post, I care more about effort in whether I like a guy than I do ability. It could be that Tedford just doesn’t have that ‘it’ factor when it comes to team chemistry. I’ve accused him of that before and when I feel that’s the case I feel sorry for him, not upset with him.

But deep down inside, that’s not what my gut is telling me. The vague and difficult to read factors say to me I’m looking at a coach that may just be playing out his hand instead of digging deep to find something new.

And to be clear: I don’t think he’s not trying at all. I have no doubt he shows up every day to do his job. But so do I, and I don’t make $2.5M. For that sort of money I expect exceptional levels of commitment, particularly when things are going poorly.

To complete the ‘compliment sandwich’, Tedford has plenty of time to proof me wrong, I haven’t written him off yet. I will gladly recant these thoughts if I see any of the above things changing or am given any reason to think he’s trying his hardest. I have a long history of liking Tedford and don’t like that his is what I’m thinking.

I very much WANT to be wrong about this.

The ‘off the rails’ post

I try very hard to keep an even keel about things. I go to Cal football games to enjoy myself. I can’t read the various message boards after the bad losses because the negativity is SSOOOOOO amazingly overwhelming that it just sucks the life out of me. While I also don’t want to be accused of being a ‘sunshine pumper’ I refuse to let this blog become a place of continuous and overwhelming negativity.

Thus I give you my ONE get-it-off-my-chest, airing my inner-demon, off-the-rails post:

Can anyone think of an example of such an epic collapse?

I’ve seen lots of coaches get fired over the last 10+ years of watching college football closely, but I can’t think of any examples of a coach with this long of a sustained run of bowl games (9 out of 10), who all of a sudden is at risk of a 1-win season.

It’s particularly galling considering that there are none of the excuses one might have for a weak year. The new QB, a ‘young team’, big injury problems, bad recruiting, etc… the Bears have none of those, at least to the degree that there’s any reason to put the blame on those things.

I feel like the 28 year-old stock-exchange traders in 2008

Remember those stories a couple years back about how there was a huge crop of stock traders, who had never seen a recession before, but because of the extended run-up, were surprisingly high up in their companies and making multi-million dollar decisions in an environment they had ZERO experience with?

That’s how I fee watching this collapse. Holmoe was something very different than this. The team was bad to start with, he never really got them moving forward, and you only give a coach so long to get the program moving in the right direction. I admit I was a bit surprised he fell to 1-10, but it wasn’t exactly a long fall from 3-8.

This has caught me off-guard. I’ve never seen a team quit. I’ve never seen such a regression. I’ve never seen a coach quit.

I’m not so sure I feel sorry for Tedford

Speaking of the coach quitting, I’m pretty appalled with Tedford right now. I still believe that he did something remarkable in Berkeley over his tenure and this will always be the house that Tedford built, but he’s quickly burning through any goodwill I had for him.

We’re not paying him 2.5 million a year for this sort of a lack of effort. I’m pretty sure that fabled cot of his hasn’t seen anyone lay down on it in a long time and is covered in dust, not blood and sweat.

I can have a lot of sympathy for a guy who’s giving it his all but just doesn’t have it in him. Heck, I still like Holmoe! I think it’s great he moved up to being an AD, a job he seems more suited to, and wish him the best at BYU. He was a sub-par football head coach but he is a very nice guy by all accounts.

But I have NO SYMPATHY for someone who’s not trying, particularly when they’re collecting a big salary. Tedford looks to me like a guy who is just showing up to collect his big paycheck. I’m not so sure he’s a nice guy who wants to do it the right way anymore. His team’s APR scores don’t reflect that. His team’s on the field performance doesn’t reflect that. They reflect a lazy man who doesn’t really care and is bilking donors for millions of dollars.

This team could REALLY go 1-11

If they put up the sort of effort they did today, particularly considering the two most winnable games are on the road, it’s not unreasonable to think this team goes 1-11. Utah and WSU will be licking their chops looking for their own meager victories to save them from the dreaded basement.

Considering the talent on this team, that’s disgusting.

ASU isn’t very good

I keep reading in various places that we lost to a pretty good ASU team. I call

BS!

ASU wasn’t very good. ASU fans should be worried sick that the ridiculous performance the Bears put up today managed to get to 17-20 4th quarter score. ASU wasn’t very good. It’s part of why the loss was so appalling.

Keenan Allen is part of the problem

Is he really as good as we all talk about him being? The guy is dropping passes. The guy has the worst traction on the field EVERY WEEK, worse than any other player on either team. I’m not so sure he runs very crisp routes. He’s not getting that open (not nearly as much as the other receivers that Maynard is ignoring). Yeah, there’s no doubt he’s still fast and big and doesn’t go down easy, breaking through arm tackles, but is he really that good?

I don’t think so.

And yeah, I know he was sick yesterday. I’m basing this on his body of work for the season, not yesterday alone.

The Faustian bargain that sank Tedford

Speaking of which, I think the package deal that got Tedford Keenan Allen, may just have been the moment where he lost his mojo and eventually his job. It’s ironic that it was for a wide-receiver, as the last time he had ‘team chemistry’ problems, 2007, it was a wide receiver (Desean Jackson) who was rumored to be at the center of it.

You get this feeling that a big part of the reason Tedford has lost this team, that they don’t seem to “get” what he’s trying to teach them, has to do with the fact that Maynard is under center. I still believe that Maynard has more potential than many give him credit for, but there are plenty of other QB’s on the roster with potential.

It just feels like part of the deal with Keenan Allen was that he had the right to insist on his brother as QB as long as he was close to as good as the rest. Tedford has never named a new starter at the end of Spring practice. Heck, did he ever do it with an established starter? Why all of a sudden with Maynard did he?

The whole situation reeks.

Sorry, there weren’t 51k people there today

There seems to be some disagreement as to how many people were at the game yesterday. Of course everyone agrees that the stated number is ticket sales, but many thought it didn’t look much more empty than previous 50k games.

But that was back when the stadium held 72k and the donor sections were packed to the gills, making the empty sections look emptier by comparison. With a half empty set of donor seats and only 63k capacity, that south endzone and the corners looked VERY empty. I wouldn’t be surprised if only 40k, heck maybe even 35k, were there.

The fans have been deciding on Tedford’s contract with their feet and it’s not pretty.

The whole situation is not pretty.

Firing Tedford discussion embargo lifted

OK, I am officially lifting the embargo on the ‘Fire Tedford’ discussion. Today’s performance was dreadful. What’s worse is that it was both uninspired and uninspiring. You’d think a coach on the hot seat would have a little more fire in his belly. Tedford seems woefully uninterested in how terrible this team is.

Can I make a suggestion?

Can we take a 4 game break from talking about how hot Tedford’s seat is?

I was thinking about how surprised I’ve been with how topsy-turvy the commenting has been on the other sites. There’s been very little moderation. Everything is either awesome and great or DOOOOOOMED! People are WAAAY over reacting to losses. People are saying we’re going to go 2-10, or “at best” 3-9, MAAYBE 4-8 with a miracle.

There just doesn’t seem to be any ability to take the bad games in stride and remember that all mediocre teams have good games and bad games and sometimes the best teams in the conference make mediocre teams look worse than they are. That’s what makes them the best.

Just to throw out a few of examples of that:

  • Cal lost to USC 30-9, right? So we’re doomed to 2-10… wait THIRTY!?! That was last year’s score… yet the team went 7-5.
  • Cal lost to Nevada 52-31, right? … OK, you’ve caught onto my game. :) But in 2010 after that loss the Bears still went 5-7. A disaster yes, but not 2-10.
  • Or how about that cross country trip against a ranked team, and lost 17-35? The Bears went 10-3 that season (2006).

And while there was wailing and gnashing of teeth after those losses, the overall outlook was never as bad as it has been this weekend. Why?

The only conclusion I could come to is that Tedford’s seat is getting hot. And I get it. We’re all sick of mediocrity and there’s little reason to believe at this point that Tedford will rise above it, particularly in the next year or two.

And part of that is it’s very hard to fire a coach who has been so beloved in the past. It takes a real act of will to cast him off. The way we emotionally accomplish that is by over-emphasizing our negative emotions to build up the strength to do it.

It will likely come to that at some point, perhaps at the end of this season, perhaps at the end of next season.

But I’d kinda like a chance to enjoy the games, between now and then. And if we can just all forget that Tedford is on the hot-seat for a few weeks, we might just be able to enjoy the games. I suggest 4 games, until after the Big Game. After the Big Game, Tedford will have either bought himself another season with lots of wins or his seat will be plenty hot and it’ll be time to have the REAL discussion on whether he gets fired.

In the mean time, we might be able to enjoy watching our mediocre Bears in what will likely be some close and exciting games. They may not win them all, but it’ll be exciting. Isn’t that why we watch the games, for some excitement and enjoyment?

No huddle no one-time gimmic

For those who don’t read the CC Times Cal blog, it looks like the no-huddle is going to be the status quo going forward:

The no-huddle offense is here to stay. Tedford said the team has been practicing it since spring ball and it will be the Bears’ primary offense going forward.

Frankly, that surprises me.

I really think this is a mistake with one lone exception: Up up tempo play after a big play. It was nice to see the Bears hurry to the line and get another play off after a successful play. It was a big change of pace and definitely kept the defense off balance.

However, I think that change of pace is most meaningful when the offense is huddling up the rest of the time. With Tedford’s offense being so complex, they need every second they can get to absorb the play and internalize it before executing it.

Told ya so

Tedford elaborates on why he kept the team in the dark about Bridgeford starting:

“The (number of practice) reps were the same. We practiced the way we wanted to practice. I didn’t want to get a bunch of distraction going on, didn’t feel like it was something our opponent needed to know.”

It was all about deception to Nevada… Ugh.

Maynard’s benching handled poorly?

The big controversy after the game was the decision to bench Maynard for the 1st quarter.

Personally, I fully stand behind Tedford’s decision to bench a player for not taking his academics seriously, particularly when he’s a player who is struggling academically, as Maynard is rumored to be. Even if it means the Bears lose a game because of it, I fully stand behind proper discipline/academics being more important than winning.

Yet, I also agree that this was handled poorly.

To be clear, all the wrangling over why Tedford did it the way he did, let’s make it quite clear there is only one answer: Tedford didn’t want the opposition to know. It’s just that simple. There were no other motives. The only way to assure that is to tell as few people as possible and not do anything in practice that would tip his hand to the press of what he was about to do.

But, that’s when a head coach has to take a step back and ask himself: What’s worse, the opposition knowing, or my team being poorly prepared for the game?

The answer to that question is obvious, and should have been to Tedford before yesterday afternoon.

That’s the real problem here. I had hoped Tedford had figured more out about team psychology and proper preparation, but I’m starting to worry that the last 6 years of experimenting and trial-and-error, have not led him to the right conclusions. He’s running out of time to figure this out.

The 3 phases of Tedford

I’ve had a few thoughts bouncing around in my head regarding Tedford’s personality that have finally gelled.

It started when comparing Romney to Tedford, not in their politics (I have no idea what Tedford’s politics are), but personality. People call Romney “The Android” because all his attempts at acting casual, where he shows his (supposedly) human side, all come out looking like an android who’s trying to fake it. It seems to me that Tedford suffers for the same sort of problem and it has most definitely affected the program.

But if it’s been a permanent defect, why didn’t it affect the early teams? And that’s when I hit upon the following 3-phase theory:

Phase 1: The freshman (2002-2006)
When Tedford came to Cal, he came to a program that was naturally VERY hungry. After years of failure, all of the players in the program were aching for a measure of success. They were ready to put their trust in anyone who had a plan for how to succeed. So when Tedford came in as a geeky, know-it-all freshmen, the team was perfectly happy to copy his homework, so to speak.

Tedford didn’t have to motivate, he just had to show the well motivated players how to succeed. And much to Tedford’s benefit, through his excellent skills as a coach, an undervalued talent rich team and a little bit of luck, success came right away. The freshman was a hero!

But like all freshmen with a little bit of luck, it wasn’t all Tedford’s doing. Also like all freshmen, he was humble enough and excited enough about the success to not over step his capabilities or to assume that it was all his doing. He continued to work hard, to continue to have success and as he continued to work hard and have success, he graduated.

Phase 2: The sophomore (2007-2010)
Sadly, all freshmen, with their quirky mixture of excitement, nervousness, undoubt and humility, must “advance” to becoming sophomores.

Sophomores know just enough to be dangerous. Humility gives way to a false confidence. They start to think they’re better at more than they are.

Thus Tedford hands off his best expertise, coaching quarterbacks and managing the offense, and tries to focus on “team chemistry”. One big problem: This isn’t his strength. As I stated in the lead-in regarding Romney, it’s not really believable. It’s not really him. He’s not particularly comfortable in the role.

To make matters worse, the false confidence, the lost freshman humility, exacerbates his difficulties. The result is a mediocre leadership job and a dearth of his tactical leadership of the offense. Nate Longshore never overcomes his 2007 injury. Kevin Riley never truly makes the most of his potential. A string of offensive coordinators who can never quite find their grove are invited in and escorted out after butting heads with a coach who can’t quite decide if he’s CEO or if he’s the tactical genius… and he handles the indecision like a sophomore, instead of like either an exuberant freshman or the more experienced upperclassman.

It’s probably worth taking a quick interlude to make clear that I think being a head coach is an exceptionally hard job, one that I doubt I could ever do. It’s a rare combination to find a mature man who both connects high school seniors to convince them to come to Cal and can continue that connection through their college years, all the while having the right combination of leadership that both disciplines and inspires, and the football knowledge/insight needed to make a top-flight football program work.

So when I say he struggled as a sophomore I say it in no more a condemning way than when I look back on my sophomoric periods in my life and wonder how I survived both because of how difficult those times were and how much of a sophomoric idiot I was. It’s empathy, not criticism, for the most part.

But struggle Tedford did. He put on a false facade of confidence like all sophomores do, but it’s transparently obvious to everyone else that it’s a facade. For the first time, people wonder if Cal is going to be successful in the long run.

Thankfully, like all sophomores, their false facade is only a mask and inside they’re working harder than they’re willing to admit. They’re torn up inside by what used to be so easy when they were a freshman and it really bothers them. It drives them to find new paths to success. It’s not an easy path and it’s full of lots of dead ends and stunted/foolish attempts to solve the problem.

Eventually, and not when the sophomore wants them to be over but when they’re truly ready, the sophomore does graduate.

Phase 3: The upperclassman (2011-present)
When I’ve watched the post-practice interviews, I’ve seen a very different Tedford than others. I’ve heard complaints about him looking bored or disengaged, sometimes too defensive, sometimes not defensive or passionate enough. That’s not the Tedford I see at all.

I see a Tedford who’s finally comfortable in his own skin. I see a Tedford who has true confidence in himself, not a false facade. I see a Tedford who’s jokes and off-hand comments reflect who he really is, not who he wants to pretend he is. He’s embraced that he’s more of a X’s and O’s nerd than an inspiring leader. He’s found a way to be the head of a program that works for him.

I don’t really know how it’s going to turn out. Not all upperclassmen are straight A students. Tedford’s natural skills may not be enough to be the well rounded head coach who can simultaneously entice, motivate, discipline, control, teach, form and be an expert at the game.

Early on, he didn’t need to be all those things. He was standing on the shoulders of others, who left him a somewhat intact city to build up. 10 years of head coaching behind him, he no longer has the luxury of standing on other’s shoulders. He must do it all himself and I don’t know if he has what he needs to be successful.

What I do know is that what we get out of Tedford in the next handful of years will be the best that Tedford can offer. We no longer have a freshman who’s figuring it out as he goes nor a sophomore who projects a facade of experience while struggling on the inside.

We finally have our upperclassman.

4 new Pac-12 coaches, playing 3 of them

One of the most intriguing things about this year is the amount of head coach turnover. Fully one-third of the conference head coaches are new in 2012. And Cal gets to play 3 of them. I was going to say that seemed disproportionally high considering 3 of the 4 are in the Pac-12 south, but 3 of our 9 conference games seems to be be remarkably similar to one-third. But to add to that, one of our non-conference games is against a new head coach.

From the various commentary I’ve read, both blogs and news media, it sure doesn’t feel like most of them are making enough of this.

To try and get inside my perspective, imagine for a moment you’re a fan of a team that was 7-5 last year. The general consensus is that your team will be better this year, probably. In week 3 you’ve got a home game against a team with a new head coach that has perennially stunk. They’ve flirted with bowl eligibility only twice in the last seven years. As the game approaches, they do look improved, but how much can two home-wins over a Big-12 bottom feeder and a non-BCS team tell you? You also won your first two at home over weak opponents, in what are even more convincing fashion. Plus, you’re ranked, they’re not. You’re at home, and they’re a long way from home. This is their 3rd new head coach in the last decade and the last two didn’t help things.

Are you worried about this week 3 opponent? Probably not.

Well, if your name is Michigan State and the year is 2002, you SHOULD have been. For those who don’t remember their Cal Bear history, Tedford’s coming out game was the 3rd game of his first season, going on the road to #15 ranked Michigan State and winning 46-22, smacking them in the mouth early.

My point is, sometimes head coaches make a HUGE difference in a program and we should know that more than anyone. Just as many teams underestimated the Bears when Tedford was hired, it’s a big mistake to underestimate our foes who have new head coaches.

Let’s flip my “imaginary” scenario around and look at from our perspective.

Were the Bears 7-5 last year? Yes
Is the consensus that the Bears have a shot at moving up this year? Yes
Are our first two games against weak teams we should beat with ease? Yes
Will we likely be ranked if we start with two blowout wins? Ye… well maybe. :)

So that’s our half of the equation. How about our opponents:

UCLA has been to a few bowl games in recent years, but generally has struggled. They’ve replaced the head coach multiple times with no real meaningful effect.

ASU has been on a downward trend, missing a bowl 3 of the last 4 years and while each of the last two head coaching changes started out well, within a year or two, they had gotten worse.

WSU probably most closely mimics the pre-Tedford Bears. Not competitive for most of a decade with some signs of improvement at times but other times colossal failures.

Ohio State…. well nobody is overlooking them, so why bother with the analogy.

I guess my point is this. We’ve owned ASU and UCLA in Berkeley, where we get them this year, for as long as I can remember. We haven’t lost to WSU since Tedford’s first year, 2002. There’s a strong temptation to overlook these teams. What’s really changed, right?

Well… maybe. But maybe not. New coaches change things. You can’t count on old trends.

Will all of these teams be better in 2012? No, just as some coaching changes are positive, some coaching changes are for the worse. Frankly, while I have my thoughts on who will succeed and who will fail, history shows it is notoriously hard to predict how coaching changes will turn out. Coaches with strong histories of success can fail. Coaches with dubious histories finally turn a corner. New head coaches rise to greatness. Other new head coaches prove the Peter principle is always at work.

So we’d better be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that none of these changes will matter. We’d better not notch games in our anticipated win column without pause. These changes could make all the difference in the world.

Endorsing Tedford for head coach

Sorry for the lack of posts. It’s been busy. Plus, I was pretty frustrated after my awesome OTRH podcast I recorded on the way home from Stanford Stadium turned out to be missing from my digital recorder when I went to import it on Sunday. Plus, my Tivo from some inexplicable reason didn’t record the game. Technology revolted against me!

In any case, I know this isn’t a revolutionary thought, but I think Tedford is our guy and is doing a fine job. When I think about what I wanted from him this season, he’s met just about every one of those goals:

  • Bowl Eligible: Check
  • Offensive improvement, particularly at QB: Not so clear early, but after watching Maynard against Stanford and the overall offensive improvement, Check
  • Continue to operate with integrity: Check
  • Give reasons to believe there will be improvement in future seasons: This team has shown a lot of potential from young guys who are getting better every week, Check

What’s becoming more clear is the recruits we were getting 2007 to 2009, were just not the best and right kids. Now that the SAHPC is effectively complete and the stadium renovation is 50% done, the recruits are giving Cal a better look. The 2010 and 2011 classes were much better and the young guys who have played have looked really good.

Add to that the reunited coaching staff and the improvement in the team as the season has wore on and I’ve got a lot of reasons to believe that the Bears are on the right track. 2012 will be better than 2011. 2013 and 2014 are our shots at getting to the Rose Bowl with Tedford at the helm. Mark my words.

Go Bears!