Did Cal's season really end in January?
When Tosh Lupoi deserted in the middle of the night in January, we were all deservedly angry with how it went down and how he left Jeff Tedford in the dust. We were even more disappointed with his poor conduct in the weeks following his recruitment, as a good chunk of Cal's class re-opened their looks. It was a distateful way for Lupoi to in all likelihood finish off his coaching days at California, particularly after he seemed to have made so many positive steps to keep the Bears competitive through the lower points in the program's history.
But in many ways, Lupoi's departure might very well have triggered Tedford's bizarre behavior that has typified what is looking like his final campaign at Cal.
It's clear that Lupoi's departure was distasteful in every manner, and he deserves the lion's share of the blame. But sometimes, when something this calamitous happens, it takes two to tango.
It worked the other way for Tedford. How could Tedford so grievously misjudge the character of a man he's coached and mentored for a decade? How could Tedford delegate so much power to his defensive line coach that it swayed one of the best recruits in the country in Shaq Thompson (at a position Lupoi doesn't even coach) to decommit in the eleventh hour and head up north? How could it have gotten so bad that Lupoi would turn on him at the most critical hour of the program's history, with a return to Memorial and a top-five recruiting class on its way to usher in the start of a new Cal?
Those questions will probably remain unanswered (and I'm not sure I want to know them). What has been answered is how Tedford has responded to the situation: Poorly.
It couldn't be any more bitter a pill for Cal fans to swallow. He's actually made the impossible happen: He's made Lupoi's decision look like a GOOD one.
Tedford seems to have doubled down on his stubbornness this season to prove that he was right in not doing his best to keep Tosh here, and the Bears have been the worst off for it. The coaching decisions we've seen this season come from a man who seems to be trying to make statements that he was right all along. Unfortunately, the decisions just look worse with each passing week.
There was the Allan Bridgford-Zach Maynard decision on opening day, which was a passive-aggressive punishment that seemed to deflate and confuse the team from the opening kick in a stunning loss to Nevada.
There's the inability to incorporate one of the two most talented playmakers on offense in Brendan Bigelow in meaningful game situations for much of the season.
There was the decision to throw a shaken kicker in to try and hit a 40-plus yard field goal have already shanking two in a row in a winnable road contest.
There is the lack of discipline with regards to penalties, fumbles, sacks, and picks. Each week of this season, you can probably point to three of these four things costing us winnable games. Whether the team has lost confidence or tuned out the staff, who knows, but it just points again to a lack of accountability from anyone up top.
There are the amazing red zone woes that continue to cause the team struggles. The Bears have scored only one productive touchdown in three weeks of action. For an offense with a deep running back rotation, that's pretty remarkable (although I guess less remarkable when you consider how much Maynard has struggled in the red zone).
There's the graduation rate, which shows Tedford hasn't done a good enough job in finding players that fit the Cal profile. Lupoi has reportedly used to sell recruits like Thompson to decommit (ironic, since many of these recruits were players Lupoi had an active hand in recruiting), and these new numbers will provide additional ammo as long as the Tedford regime endures.
And above all, there's the stubborn decision to keep Maynard out there when his limitations became clear to any good defense that stepped onto the field.
Indeed, the players have tried their best to fire themselves up this season, but the coaching staff does them no favors. The offensive braintrust continues to throw Maynard back into a five step drop without a moving pocket or any regular designed rollouts. This happens despite having an offensive line that pretty much has five guards and no tackles and a quarterback that often has no idea how to handle pressure in the pocket.
The Cal offense has been unwatchable in nearly every game this season, and the stubbornness at sticking with a pro-style game for a not-at-all-pro-style quarterback has grown progressively ridiculous throughout the season. Sticking with Maynard when the season began losing its meaning was a costly decision when it was clear it was far more pressing to build for the future.
It figured that Maynard's last meaningful play of the season was a pick to Shaq in the loss to Washington. The narratives write themselves.
It's not like Tedford didn't have his faults. We've all seen these sort of curious decisions before. But now the decisions are coming in spades with a less talented team, and they're costing the Bears winnable games week after week. It seems as if Tedford is trying to put himself in a position to make decisions that would somehow work as teachable moments, but they keep on backfiring on him week after week, whether by bad execution, bad leadership, or bad luck.
Whatever it is, it feels like it's time to pull the plug. You have to appreciate Jeff Tedford and all he's done for Cal, but there is nothing left for him here, and the future will get bleaker when you look at the recruiting trail. As long as he is here, Lupoi and plenty of other recruiters (but particularly Lupoi, since he's been on that staff) will continue to negatively recruit against us and point out all the shortcomings I've pointed out above.
- That Tedford won't play young players (regardless of their talent) until they learn the whole playbook, regardless of its effectiveness.
- That Tedford won't put his teams in a position to succeed by putting his best personnel on the field and employing them in the best schemes to fit their talents.
- That Tedford won't maximize your talent on the college level (the Bears have had over a dozen players drafted the last three years and have barely scraped a record over .500).
- That Tedford doesn't care about whether you graduate or not from one of the most difficult academic institutions in the country.
- That Tedford can bring in all the players he wants, but he'll throw out whatever quarterback he thinks works best and keep him in to run whatever scheme he thinks will work, independent of whether it actually works.
It doesn't really matter whether Lupoi comes off as the meathead version of Lyle Lanley or not while he's making those pitches. Right now that's EXACTLY what's happening on the field.
Cal is not producing on the field, they're not producing off of it, and the future looks bleak with the current regime. Tedford has not responded well this season, and seems to have dug himself into a hole and shut out relatively valid concerns. His stubbornness has had its merits in plenty of seasons. Not this year.
A reboot makes the most sense. Tedford looks burnt out and needs a new start somewhere else. Loose cannon Lupoi needs to never be a factor in Cal's recruiting efforts ever again, and as long as Tedford is here he can cause plenty of damage. And Cal fans just need this nightmare to end and get ready for the next era, starting anew with a new coaching staff and putting the new facilities in place to make it work.
It's almost over Bears. Almost.