- Ted Miller, ESPN Staff Writer
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No one argues that Jeff Tedford hasn't done a lot for California. He took over a team that went 1-10 in 2001 and played its football in a half-empty stadium and built a winning program from scratch that played in a full one.
As a business decision, the hiring of Tedford in 2002 has more than paid off. His winning 28 games from 2004-06 created an enlarged fan base. That fan base, enlivened by winning, developed expectations.
And no one argues that those expectations have not been met over the past two-plus seasons. Not by a 1-4 mark at present, nor a 13-17 record -- 7-13 in Pac-12 play -- since going 8-5 in 2009.
Not anyone, including Tedford.
"We're definitely not where we want to be," he said. "We're not going to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves. We're going to attack this and work hard at it and stay together."
In August, athletic director Sandy Barbour told CBS Sports that "Jeff Tedford is not on the hot seat."
That might have been true then, but that was before the Bears opened the stadium that had just undergone $330 million in renovations with a loss to Nevada. That was before USC handed Cal its 12th defeat by at least 17 points over the past three-plus seasons. That was before the Bears were beaten by 10 at home by Arizona State, a team they defeated on the road last year and which fired its coach shortly thereafter.
It's not difficult to defend the big picture of Tedford's 11-year tenure, the longest continuous employment of any Pac-12 coach. As we've previously noted, in 24 seasons before he arrived in Berkeley -- 1978-2004 -- Cal won three or fewer games 10 times while winning seven or more games four times. Tedford has suffered one losing season -- 5-7 in 2010 -- and has won 10 games twice and nine games once. Before he took over, Cal's last winning season came in 1993. Finally, Tedford is 7-3 in the Big Game against rival Stanford.
Yet, again, the focus isn't on the big picture. It's the recent history. Cal hasn't finished a season nationally ranked since 2008. There are two Big Game losses in a row and a rising Stanford playing in consecutive BCS bowl games.
Further, there are four new coaches in the Pac-12 who have boosted their programs to varying degrees. The Bears host No. 25 UCLA and Jim Mora on Saturday. Todd Graham has the Sun Devils on the cusp of a national ranking. Arizona's Rich Rodriguez led the Wildcats to a victory over Oklahoma State. And Mike Leach provided a boost of enthusiasm among Washington State fans in the off-season.
Many Old Blues -- and young ones -- feel a sense of stagnation and malaise. And, with five of the next seven games against teams that are currently ranked with no off week, there's not a lot of hope the Bears can rally for a winning record and earn a bowl berth, as they did after an 0-3 start to Pac-12 play last year.
So what went wrong?
The obvious answer is quarterback play, which is where Tedford built a sterling reputation.
In 2004, Aaron Rodgers finished ranked eighth in the nation in passing efficiency and the Bears went 10-2. In 2006, after struggles the previous season with Joe Ayoob, sophomore Nate Longshore ranked 28th in the nation in passing efficiency, led the Bears to a 10-3 finish and was widely hailed as a future early NFL draft pick.
In 2007 -- Cal fans might recall some of this -- the Bears won a thriller at Oregon, 31-24, and rose to No. 2 in the nation behind LSU. In fact, LSU opened Week 8 with a loss to Kentucky. Cal was poised to rise to No. 1.
But Longshore had hurt his ankle at Oregon. He was replaced by Kevin Riley against Oregon State. No need to rehash what happened next.
Quarterback play at Cal would never be the same. Longshore's career never delivered on early promise, and Cal quarterbacks haven't ranked higher than 61st in passing efficiency since 2006.
As for the present, senior Zach Maynard, who was touted by Tedford as vastly improved in the preseason, is 94th in the nation in passing efficiency. He's been sacked 25 times, most in the nation, so that doesn't help, but he has not seemed to rise to the occasion as a player or leader. He was suspended for the early portion of the opening loss to Nevada, had a heated sideline exchange with Tedford during the Southern Utah game and, last weekend, was caught on camera yelling at his offensive linemen.
But it's not just the offense by any stretch. The defense is giving up 30.2 points per game, which ranks 10th in the Pac-12. It's last in the conference in rushing defense, 11th in pass-efficiency defense and 11th on third down.
All of this has led to plenty of negativity around the program, which makes life difficult for Tedford. While Tedford said he doesn't "read it or get into" the speculation about his job status, he can't ignore the topic in the locker room.
"It's important to address it with the team," Tedford said. "They do live in it and around it."
If the negative chatter -- and losing -- eventually makes Tedford's position untenable, it will be costly to fire him. Tedford is paid privately and not with state money, and, as Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News has pointed out, there is no buyout in his contract.
[Tedford] is signed through the 2015 season, and the Bears would owe him his annual salary ($2.3 million) for each year left on the deal if he’s terminated.
So a change this winter would cost nearly $7 million, and that’s only for Tedford.
Add the expenses involved in turning over the coaching staff -- approx $1.5 million for Tedford’s assistants and at least that for a new group -- and we’re talking $10 million for a complete overhaul.
That means several wealthy folks would have to be highly motivated to get rid of Tedford.
Still, there are plenty of folks who are on Tedford's side. He's run a clean program, has graduated players and has built a program that justified massive facilities upgrades, which he was promised upon his hiring and has patiently waited for. And he's been loyal to Cal, turning down several suitors in both the NFL and college ranks through the years.
Entering the season, it seemed that Tedford still had some leeway. If he produced another winning season, the odds were he would be safe.
Few entertained the idea of the team cratering. Few imagined a season that could be Tedford's worst.
No one argues that Tedford hash't earned patience. A program's winningest coach deserves that. Plenty of it.
The question for the powers that be at Cal, however, is when that patience runs out. It's not a question anyone in Berkeley wants to entertain -- everyone wanted to win in 2012 -- but it's clearly out there looming, unwanted yet real.