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.