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Friday, December 3, 2010
Jeff Tedford faces tough choices

By Ted Miller

Jeff Tedford is smarter than I am. He's a standup guy. And he has a moral compass in a business where you do better when you don't.

Jeff Tedford
California coach Jeff Tedford faces an important offseason following a disappointing 5-7 season.
I can't recall him throwing a player or coach under the bus for shortcomings or gameday failure. My impression is Tedford values loyalty -- among his players and assistants -- above anything else. To a fault perhaps, because that value might come before winning. And Tedford needs to start doing that again.

There is something wrong at Cal. The Bears have too many good players to finish 5-7. Yet there's also abundant evidence that Tedford is a good coach.

That means that he needs to take a long, hard and coldly objective look at his staff this month.

Why has his offensive line play slipped since Jim Michalczik left in 2008? Why has the performance at quarterback cratered? Does he have enough fire in the locker room? Does he have enough discipline? Why does his team show up and fight some weeks and seem completely flat others?

"It’s very important to evaluate everything that we do," Tedford said. "Obviously, we need to improve. There were games that were close and games that weren’t. Schematics, offseason work — whatever it is -- my job as head coach is to go back and evaluate everything we do. I’m going to gather information."

Gathering is good. I do not have answers. I am not in the locker room. I don't watch practices. And I won't use hearsay to judge a program. But let there be no doubt: Just going into 2011 with everything the same will not only signify inertia, it will inevitably lead to failure.

My impression is defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast did a solid job this season, and the long-time NFL coach will have a far better feel for the Pac-12 and the college game next fall. Still, is each defensive position coach the right fit? Does he get the most out of his players?

As for the offense: What is a fair and reasonable judgment of coordinator Andy Ludwig after two seasons? Should the Bears offense be better? Does it consistently out-scheme and outflank opposing defenses? Does it make successful, in-game adjustments? Is it fulfilling its potential based on available talent? Are players getting better as they get older?

Then comes quarterback. The Nate Longshore-Kevin Riley years ruined Tedford's reputation as a quarterback guru, and after a few games with Brock Mansion, well, let's just say Bears fans aren't confident that the lackluster play at the position will get better next fall.

Tedford needs to find a mentally tough swashbuckler who demonstrates that mistakes and setbacks won't shake his confidence and make him tentative. And some consistent accuracy would be nice, too.

“It’s going to be wide open [at quarterback]," Tedford said. "We have some candidates there. We have some young guys that haven’t gotten an opportunity because of injuries and youth. There are going to be five or six guys in the competition. Our challenge will be trying to evaluate that many guys with the practice time. It’s not just a two-man race. It’s everybody. Brock got some invaluable experience down the stretch. Obviously, we have to play better at that position. And we need to do a better job of putting them in position to be successful as well."

Cal fans have been obsessed for the past few years over the question of whether Tedford is the guy to get the Bears to the proverbial "next level." Has Tedford plateaued? Or have Cal fans just become too greedy? Berkeley, after all, is not Tuscaloosa or Columbus. It's an elite university that's known more for its counterculture than its football culture.

And you know what? Our country needs a Berkeley more than it needs another win-at-all-cost institution. Of that I am 100 percent certain.

When Cal fans ask about Tedford, you almost feel they are as much asking about themselves and their university: Should I not care this much? Am I keeping this football stuff in perspective? Or should I be more even critical because Tedford is paid a whole bunch of money when world-class professors are not?

Two years ago, the questions were unfair and premature. Tedford had transformed a program and made it a cash cow. But this fall, they became fair and relevant. And it's clear Tedford knows that.

His job this offseason is to make changes that right the program and redirect it toward the trajectory it had during his first five seasons.

The Bears roster doesn't look like one that will win nine or 10 games in 2011. That's not the real issue. It's more about putting forward a consistent product that performs to its capabilities.

You know: One that lays a tangible foundation to again start winning nine or 10 (or 11) games on a regular basis in the future.