King of California
Friday, November 19, 2004
The place is more of a hallway than a room-three chairs wide, a dozen rows deep. Reporters and camera crews consume all available space.
Cal coach Jeff Tedford turns from the podium after answering questions about the game his team lost-one that further cemented his national reputation. As he speaks, the USC band triumphantly blasts outside the door.
Tedford finishes and moves behind a screen, where he is greeted by newly hired Chancellor Robert Birgeneau. A friendly exchange occurs, muffled by the sounds of trumpets and tubas.
A similar scene has been repeated at all the Bears' home games-the freshly appointed chancellor congratulating the football coach who has molded a floundering program into one that is the envy of Gainesville, Fla., and Lincoln, Neb.
In three years, Tedford has turned Berkeley into a football town.
It is Tedford's first time on the Cal campus. He has been hired as the Bears' new coach but is still working as offensive coordinator at Oregon. A few weeks from now, the Ducks will destroy No. 3 Colorado 38-16 in the Fiesta Bowl. Tedford's current pupil, Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, will throw for 350 yards and four touchdowns. Today, however, the coach meets his Cal team.
"When he stepped into that room, it was like magic," recalls senior safety Ryan Gutierrez. "You can't explain it. You believed you were going to win. From the very first thing he said, you believed we would win with the group of guys that were in that room."
Tedford's wizardry was evident from the very beginning.
In his first year, he inherited one of the worst teams in school history and won seven games.
In his first game, he orchestrated a 70-point onslaught against Baylor.
On his first play, he called a halfback pass from Terrell Williams to David Gray that traveled 91 yards into the end zone.
Fewer than 30,000 fans witnessed Tedford's dramatic emergence, but sitting among them was a high school junior the Bears would come to know well in the future-Marshawn Lynch.
"I hadn't really seen games before," says Lynch, now Cal's true freshman sensation. "But then I came to the Baylor game and saw (Gray) get that catch. It told me that (Tedford) was doing something. Look, I'm still talking about it, and it's two years later."
Gray is from McClymonds High School in Oakland; Lynch from cross-town rival Oakland Tech. Both represent one key aspect of Tedford's recruiting tenet-keep local players.
"He is looking in his back yard," says Lynch, who was rated the nation's No. 2 running back as a high school senior. "We have some talent in Oakland, and it's not just Oakland-it's the whole Bay Area."
Lynch was also heavily recruited by Oregon-as was the Bears' leading running back, J.J. Arrington. Funded by Nike CEO Phil Knight, the Ducks boast the nation's finest facilities and the conference's longest-tenured coach, Mike Bellotti. However, the difference between the two programs-what drew Lynch and Arrington to Cal-is simple.
"Tedford," says Lynch. "It's everything about him-he's a genius."
Recruiting tenet No. 2 for Tedford-utilize junior college talent. Three of the team's best players went to a junior college before coming joining the Bears-quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Arrington and defensive end Ryan Riddle. Starters Joe Maningo, Matt Giordano, Garrett Cross and Francis Blay-Miezah were all in the same junior college recruiting class.
Tedford too was a junior college player-a quarterback at Cerritos College in Norwalk, Calif. From there, he bounced to Fresno State, then to the Canadian Football League for six seasons.
His coaching career began soon after his playing days ended. He began as an unpaid assistant with the Bulldogs, then returned to Canada to work with Calgary in the CFL, then back to Fresno State and on to Oregon, before landing his first head coaching job with the Bears.
However, Tedford's name was by no means first on Cal's short list to replace Tom Holmoe.
Then the defensive coordinator for the NFL's Baltimore Ravens, Marvin Lewis was actively courted, but Lewis opted to remain in the professional ranks. Tedford then won the job over South Carolina's defensive coordinator, Charles Strong.
The man who was once a third choice is the first option of any program with a coaching vacancy.
After one season, Tedford was heralded as a quarterback guru after resurrecting the career of Kyle Boller, who had floundered in his first three years. When the season ended, Kentucky called, but Tedford declined.
After two seasons, he was known as a recruiting genius after finding the next of his great quarterbacks playing at a junior college in Chico. He subsequently interviewed with the NFL's Chicago Bears and Atlanta Falcons.
Now, as his third campaign with the Bears nears its end, the 43-year-old is widely regarded as one of the best coaches in college football. After the season, Tedford will likely be the hottest commodity on the coaching market.
He has already been rumored to be next at Florida and Washington. Other high-profile, deep-pocketed, college programs may follow, as well as the NFL with its multimillion-dollar contracts. However, the pro game seems to be of little interest to Tedford.
"I'm very happy to be at Cal," he says. "I feel more comfortable with the college game, being around the kids and recruiting-that kind of thing."
College offers, on the other hand, get more veiled responses, with Tedford's team competing for a BCS bid. Tedford insists he does not hear the rumors, as he spends upward of 120 hours a week in Memorial Stadium.
"I stay insulated," he says. "I'm pretty much in the office, so I am not even slightly distracted. I have made it clear to the players that all the things said in the media are out of our control."
Ignoring the media is made easier for Tedford because of his intense work schedule.
Four nights a week, he sleeps on an air mattress in his office. Thursdays are family nights, when he drives home to his wife and two teenage sons in Danville. Every other weeknight he is awake until 1 a.m., scheming and watching film. When he eventually sleeps, he does so with a pen and pad next to his makeshift bed.
"He is committed to his job. He would not be himself if he didn't do that," says Jonathan Giesel, a senior offensive lineman. "Lots of things changed around here when he came."
Keeping Tedford in Berkeley, however, seems to hinge on the splintered wood and cracked cement of the team's dilapidated facilities.
The coach has repeatedly urged the school to update Memorial Stadium, which is subpar by any standards and disastrous when compared to the Ducks' Autzen Stadium.
Tedford-currently being paid $800,000 with the potential to make as much as $1.2 million with incentives-has the power to command an even richer salary and is coveted enough that the reconstruction of Memorial Stadium outlined in his contract seems likely to succeed.
If ground is not broken on the stadium project by Dec. 15, the buyout of Tedford's contract drops to $500,000 as does a clause stipulating that the coach cannot go to another Pac-10 school.
An updated stadium is also seismically necessary. It is 83 years old, runs along a fault and is held together with a steel plate where the cement has split.
As of now, $15 million has already been raised by private donations, according to Dexter A. Bailey Jr., Cal's executive associate athletic director and the head of the stadium fund-raising project. The amount is enough to enter into a second phase of planning.
"The situation right now is for Chancellor Birgeneau and (Athletic Director) Sandy (Barbour) to clearly define the project," says Bailey. "We need to decide what we will be doing in the physical space. We will try to raise half of the funds in the silent phase and then go public."
The cost of the project will likely exceed $100 million, but winning breeds dollars. Season ticket sales are up from 16,155 in 2002 to more than 38,000 this year. Additionally, all but two of the team's games have been televised.
In the two months since Birgeneau appointed her, Barbour has come to realize the significance of Tedford and the stadium.
"I've gotten a sense of his importance to the university and the commitment he has to the program," says Barbour. "He is a tremendous leader of young men. To him, their lives outside football are as important as their lives inside football. You get a sense of that talking to the student-athletes and especially in talking to their parents."
Only Tedford knows where he will be next fall. But for now, Tedford-and his genius-live between the concrete walls of an old stadium nestled in the heart of Strawberry Canyon.
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