The “what have you done for me lately” group got its way Tuesday, with the firing of Cal football coach Jeff Tedford. I think that is a big mistake.
Cal has had only brief moments as a football power since the end of World War II. The consistent football powers are schools which apply only the breathing test for admission — if they can breathe, they’re in — and don’t expect them to do anything academically once they get in.
In contrast, Cal is a highly respected academic school, consistently ranked as the top public university in the country.
That kind of curriculum makes it difficult to win consistently.
I’ve been following Cal football since the fall of 1956 when I came there as an undergraduate and there have been far more down periods than successful ones.
That also makes it difficult to attract good coaches. Since that 1956 season, Cal has been able to lure only one coach who had been a head coach elsewhere, Bruce Snyder. And Snyder had a losing record at Utah State, so he was hardly a hot item, though he had a nice run at Cal, culminating with their first New Year’s Day bowl win since World War II.
Coaches also have to deal with a Berkeley city government that is off in another world and a college administration which combined to allow attention getters to sit in trees outside the stadium in recent years, discouraging prospects and their parents.
Usually, Cal has had to hire assistant coaches. Mike White was successful and Tedford set a post-war record with eight straight winning seasons, but in between the Bears were coached by Roger Theder (mediocre), Keith Gilbertson (bad) and Tom Holmoe (awful). Holmoe was 16-34 and 1-10 in his last season. Because he played two receivers who got credit for a class they never attended, four of those wins were officially subtracted by the NCAA, which put the Bears on a year probation.
Tedford cleaned up that mess with a winning season and a program that has been more upstanding.
The graduation rate for Cal football dropped to 48 percent this last year which is distressing, but I regard that as a blip. Tedford had always monitored his players’ academic status closely, but I think he was distracted by his campaign for the new high-performance center and the rebuilt stadium, both of which were realized this year.
When I visited with him this spring, one of the things he showed me was a huge room where players could come after practice and study, so he was renewing his efforts to monitor his players’ academic progress. Now, he won’t have that opportunity.
Now, Cal has to hire still another coach. I’m sure athletic director Sandy Barbour has her short list, but there will be question marks about all of them. I’ve heard unofficially that Chris Petersen is interested, for instance, and he’s done a very good job at Boise State, but coaching in the Bay Area would be hugely different.
The good news is that Tedford is leaving some good young talent behind. I’d feel a lot better about that, though, if he were back to coach it.
Glenn Dickey has been covering Bay Area sports since 1963 and also writes on www.GlennDickey.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.