The sky is falling! The sky is falling! That’s the word this week on the Cal message boards as alums — mostly younger ones, I’m sure — have had the kind of hysterical reaction to the Cal football team’s two losses that you’d expect from supporters of the schools known as football factories.
Let’s put this in perspective:
» FACT NO. 1: Cal is two botched plays from a perfect season.
Against Oregon State, the Bears played a redshirt freshman at quarterback, Kevin Riley, who had never started a game and, in fact, had hardly played. Riley played well after a shaky first quarter and had driven the Bears downfield to be in position to either tie the game or win it. Then, he had brain lock, understandable for a 19-year-old who had never been in this situation.
Instead of throwing the ball away to stop the clock, he tried to run and, when stopped, ran to the sideline with the ball as time elapsed.
Against UCLA, the Bears were trying to position themselves for a field goal to win the game when Nate Longshore threw an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
That’s hardly a program meltdown.
» FACT NO. 2: Jeff Tedford is the most successful Cal coach since the early Pappy Waldorf years, when the Bears went to the Rose Bowl three straight years — 1948-50. Waldorf’s last winning season was 1952, exactly half a century before Tedford’s first season at Cal.
Two more wins this season will give Tedford his sixth straight winning season, equalling Waldorf’s 1947-52 run. His teams have been to four straight bowl games. Since Waldorf, only two Cal coaches — Bruce Snyder (29-24) and Mike White (35-30) finished with winning career records. Tedford is 48-22, and his .686 winning percentage is superior to Waldorf’s .670.
» FACT. NO. 3: Since Tedford has been at Cal, the graduation rate of football players, which had been below 50 percent, has risen dramatically. Of the 20 players he recruited for his first class, 16 have graduated, an 80 percent rate. The NCAA tracking system, which measures progress to graduation, has every player on track to graduate; the eventual graduation rate almost certainly won’t be 100 percent, but it will be high. This is no accident.
Tedford and his assistants closely monitor their players’ academic progress.
That last fact may be the most significant because it shows that Tedford has been successful without sacrificing academics, as so many top-10 schools do.
Much of the criticism of Tedford has come from younger alums who don’t realize — or don’t want to — how Tedford has transformed the negative atmosphere around Cal football.
And some of the criticism is just plain silly. The most prevailing, for instance, is that he “plays not to lose.” Really? Instead of going for a game-tying field goal against Oregon State, he was trying to get a touchdown to win the game on that botched play. Against UCLA, the Bears threw 34 passes and ran the ball 30 times. They passed 17 times on first down, ran only 10. Longshore was throwing to try to get a first down when he was intercepted.
Cal is very lucky to have Tedford. The younger alums need to realize that and quit their whining — or transfer their allegiance to a Florida school if winning is the only thing that matters to them.