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Jeff Tedford: Where Things Went Wrong

California Golden Bears head coach Jeff Tedford is probably coaching his final game this weekend. Where did it all go wrong? Experts from the California Golden Blogs and Bears With Fangs weigh in.

Justin Sullivan

If you had to trace where things began to unravel in the Tedford era, where would you start?

Ohio Bear, California Golden Blogs: The easy answer is the 2007 season, but that is not my answer. Even with out the Nate Longshore injury that arguably changed the course of Cal's season, I have long thought that the 2007 Bears were a flawed team that probably wouldn't have won the Pac-10 anyway. And I thought the 2008 Bears were a pretty good team; it was a good bounce back from 2007, frustrating quarterback shuffling notwithstanding. For the true unraveling point, I go to the Oregon game in 2009. Cal was a top-10 team, looking like it was the real deal.

And then -- BOOM! 42-3. It seemed that the fortunes of the program changed that very day. Sure, Cal had some good wins that year against ranked teams (Arizona and Stanford) but the Oregon game took away a certain swagger that the program had. After being blown out so few times prior to that, Cal has been disturbingly uncompetitive in numerous games since that fateful day at Autzen.

Vincent S, California Golden Blogs: I'm going to go back even further. Of course, hindsight is 20/20. I'm looking at the 2004 Texas Tech loss. Why? One thing I've realized is that our defense has been middling to great, which should be adequate for Cal's purposes. However, the offense has basically regressed every single year. In my opinion, the biggest reason for that regression is our experimentation with other offensive systems.

Tedford used to run a very traditional pro-style offense. As he grew as a coach however, he started tinkering. It seems like whenever we got destroyed by a team, Tedford (I'm hypothesizing here) felt that we could, and should, learn from our destruction. We lost to Texas Tech's wide-open spread passing attack. As such, Tedford begins incorporating spread elements into our game. More shotguns, more varied WR sets, and ultimately, the hiring of Dunbar as OC for the 2006 season.

2006 turned out relatively well, mainly due to our overwhelming superiority in terms of talent on the offensive side of the ball. 2007 opened well, but due to events I don't need to repeat here, Cal ended the season at 7-6. Once again, Tedford reevaluated. Previously, he had a dominant amount of control of offense, and to him, that was clearly what was wrong with Cal. He stepped back, hiring Frank Cignetti as offensive coordinator. 2008 seemed to be a rebound year; home destructions of Stanford, Washington, UCLA, and a USC game that was only lost due to some questionable reffing (Patrick Turner bounce catch, the mythical penalty on Shane Vereen's TD catch, etc.) seemed to portend a great 2009.

2009: 42-3. Oregon overnight went from a disappointment against Boise State to Rose Bowl contenders. Tedford subsequently further experimented with his offense by studying Oregon - adding zone-read type plays, check-with-me's, and even more variety.

As our offense has ballooned in complexity, so too has our inability to execute it well. Vintage Tedford was a beauty to watch; when Brent Musburger calls it the "much-feared Tedford attack" (paraphrased), something has to be going right. Modern Cal offense has been much less pretty. Penalties, missed assignments, and turnovers seem to be a hallmark of our offense now - over half a decade ago, a single fumble would have gotten you benched. Even this past summer, Tedford was still tinkering with his offense - Stanford's success with TEs led Tedford to travel to New England to explore Bill Belichick's attack.

Modernizing an offense is by no means a terrible thing. Done right, it can be very helpful to an outdated attack. It's when the tinkering gets in the way of the fundamentals, something has gone terribly wrong. In the storyline of the evolution of Cal offense, initial additions were helpful, and probably peaked in 2006 and into 2007. Further additions seemed to hurt more than they helped.

Now, I realize I've written basically a timeline of Cal football. Hopefully that was helpful.

Bears With Fangs: Man, after Vincent's recap, it's hard for me to pick one. But my immediate gut reaction has got to be that fateful night against Oregon State in 2007. Granted, I know it's the easy answer, and Cal had some decent seasons and some thrilling seasons later, but something changed that night. I'm sure Tedford isn't conscious of it, or would never admit it, but when Tedford threw that clipboard down in frustration, it's almost as if something snapped. Maybe Tedford felt he had to be overly conservative after that. Or maybe he would never fully put a huge level of responsibility on a young, inexperienced player ever again. Maybe nothing changed with Tedford. Who knows? All I know is that the program has easily been in decline since that very moment. The Bears are 34-35 since that fateful night, INCLUDING wins over FCS foes. In my mind, it would prove to be the watershed moment dividing the tale of two halves of Tedford's tenure for the Bears: 2002-the first half of 2007 (5.5 years) vs. the latter half of 2007 to 2012. The results speak for themselves.

Berkelium97, California Golden Blogs: The 2007 season seems like the obvious choice. From 2002-2007 Tedford seemed to be very hands-on with the offense and particularly with the quarterbacks. We all remember the stories about Tedford playing chess with Aaron Rodgers. Even in 2007 our freshman QB Kevin Riley looked leagues better than anything we have seen on the field since then. Once Tedford realized his focus on Xs and Os led him to overlook the locker room issues in 2007, he vowed to keep a closer eye on the pulse of the team by taking a CEO-style role. It has been all downhill since then.

Where Tedford's hands-on training has most been missed is quarterback coaching. Kevin Riley went from promising freshman to marginally improved senior. Zach Maynard has improved slightly since joining the Bears. Meanwhile the backups have ranged from entirely unprepared for FBS football (Brock Mansion) to barely serviceable (Allan Bridgford). Once renowned as a "QB Guru," Tedford has not produced a great quarterback since Nate Longshore's ankle injury torpedoed his 2007 season.

It's more than just quarterbacks, though. Since 2007 we've gone through offensive coordinator after offensive coordinator and QB coach after QB coach. Meanwhile we have a fantastic OC and QB coach roaming the sidelines as the CEO. Most recently we have a bizarre, Frankenstein's monster-eqsue offensive gameplan. We've thrown everything including the kitchen sink into the offense and run it via committee. As a result, we have a confusing, inconsistent, lackluster offense. One of the ironies about the upcoming coaching search is that the ideal candidate would be a circa 2002 Jeff Tedford. We need someone who can instill discipline and accountability while retooling the offense. Has anyone at Berkeley invented a time machine yet?

LeonPowe, California Golden Blogs: Everyone seems to have covered most of the salient points, but I'll add one more and it was when Nate Longshore's ankle got twisted and sprained against Oregon in 2007. Let's run a hypothetical about this - let's say Nate continues to play pretty lights out - we probably beat OSU, and end up #1 in the country for a few weeks, go to a high end bowl (maybe even the Rose Bowl?) - the team doesn't fall apart emotionally because we're winning.

So with that - a healthy Nate comes back for 2008 - let's say it's another successful year and hopefully Riley comes in 2009 and he's not second guessing himself all the time - and we have some bowl game years. With that sort of success from 2007 - 2009, hopefully we recruit slightly better during the tree sitter years and we have a little bit more depth to weather the down years of 2010 - 2012 - and maybe instead of two losing seasons, we have two minor bowl season and we're ready to re-load for 2013? Obviously there's lots of what if's and a lot of things have to go right, but I think this whole conversation changes if Nate doesn't hurt his ankle then.

ragnarok, California Golden Blogs: Not to belabour the point, but it's really hard for me to look at the record and not conclude that the Nate Longshore ankle injury was the turning point of the program. In the 3 ½ seasons leading up to that event (since the start of 2004), Cal had gone 33-9, won a share of the Pac-10 title, and had yet to lose to Stanford. They go up to Oregon and despite trailing by a touchdown entering the fourth quarter, they come back and beat a top 10 team on the road.

Since then, Cal's record is a mediocre 34-36, and that includes as many wins (4) over FCS schools as over ranked teams (none of whom we ranked in the Top 15). The Bears have been even worse on the road, posting just a 9-21 record, with three of those wins coming at moribund Washington State, and another needing overtime to beat a really awful Colorado squad. Despite a couple of notable wins (the 2009 win at #17 Stanford being the standout), the Bears never again won a game where they were a significant underdog, and not once since that Oregon game in 2007 did the Bears win a game where they trailed entering the fourth quarter. The difference in records is so stark it's almost shocking when you add it up.