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August 1, 2011
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This is the second in a series of articles in which BearTerritory goes in-depth with head coach Jeff Tedford during the various media days leading up to the 2011 football season. Read Part 1 HERE.
LOS ANGELES -- California head coach Jeff Tedford doesn't have a lot of experience with losing. In his career, he's 72-42 at the helm of the Bears. He's gone to seven bowl games, won five.
But, last season, Cal finished 5-7. Like a prayer, Tedford has repeated the following mantra ever since that final, rain-soaked day in Strawberry Canyon: "We were six points away from 8-4." Before he can move on to redeeming himself and his program in 2011, he looked back on the lessons learned from 2010.
Some have criticized the now-10th-year head coach for becoming complacent, for allowing an 8-4 mark during the regular season to be considered a success. Looking back on the program's history before Tedford arrived, 8-4 seems like a dream, especially compared to Tom Holmoe's final 1-10 debacle. But after two 10-win seasons, a split conference title with USC and a roster of NFL alumni that reads like a dream team, 8-4 seems a bit underwhelming.
"My point is this: there's a fine line between winning and losing," Tedford explains, as he sits down for lunch on the lot of FOX Studios after the inaugural Pac-12 Media Day. "That's my point. Sure, you want to win 11, 12, you want to win them all, but there are fine lines between winning and losing, and that was my point. Not that 8-4 is OK. 8-4 is a good year. Is it what you set out to do? No. But, 8-4 is a good season. You're not satisfied with that, by any means. I think you're a lot happier with an 8-4 season than a 5-7 season, not that that's what we're shooting for, but there's a fine line, and we need to get over that fine line. We've gotten past a lot of fine lines in the past, but last year, we weren't productive enough on offense. We weren't good enough on offense to finish the season out right. We couldn't score."
Tedford came into Berkeley with a hot-shot reputation, one which painted him as an offensive genius and a quarterback whisperer. With the success of Kyle Boeller and the ascendance of Aaron Rodgers, that reputation seemed secure. But, since the Bears rode a 3,000-yard passing year from Nate Longshore to a co-Pac-10 title in 2006, quarterback play has been, to say the least, underwhelming, and the offense has followed suit.
Following Longshore's 3,021-yard 2006 season, Teford quarterbacks have produced two seasons of at least 2,500 yards. Kevin Riley threw for 2,850 yards in 2009, and Longshore threw for 2,580 in 2007. In 2008, Riley and Longshore threw for 1,360 and 1,051 yards, respectively, and in 2010, Riley threw for 1,409 before his season ended due to a knee injury suffered against Oregon State. From 2002-06, there was only one season in which Cal quarterbacks failed to threw for at least 2,500 yards -- Joe Ayoob's 1,707-yard 2005 season.
"I'm sure that that's people's opinions," Tedford said, when asked if his reputation has taken a hit. "I would prefer to focus on the body of work over nine years, and not focus on one thing. Yeah, we stubbed our toe last year. We didn't do the things we needed to do. It renews your motivation and your drive to make sure that that never happens again."
From 2002 to 2006, Tedford's teams averaged at least 32.6 points per game. Since then, Cal has only averaged that kind of production once, averaging 29.3 points per game in 2007, 32.6 in 2008, 29.1 in 2009 and a low-water mark of 25.8 last season, scoring 20 points or less in the final five games.
"Offensively, we need to improve," Tedford said, frankly. "We were not close to the consistency that we need to compete at a high level. That generally starts at the quarterback position, and we weren't consistent enough there last year. When Kevin Riley went down last year, we were averaging 37 points a game, and after that, we averaged 13. You're not going to win many games in the Pac-12 with that type of offensive production. So quarterback is somewhere we really need to pay strong attention to. Zach Maynard has been named the starter after spring football, and he earned it. There will be strong competition with Allan Bridgford and Brock Mansion as the backup."
Maynard, the brother of sophomore wide receiver Keenan Allen, will try to pick up the pieces after last year's offensive flop.
"I do have confidence in him, but it's yet to be seen," Tedford said of his newest signal-caller. "I have confidence in him, but until we put him in a position and prepare them, I have confidence in who they are and their mental abilities and their physical abilities to perform. But, the fact of the matter is, we haven't seen it yet, and that's realistic. Not to say it's not there, but I'm anxious to see it. I'm looking forward to seeing it."
Tedford, who will be spending more time in the huddle and in the meeting room with his quarterbacks than he has over the past several years -- an absence which correlates with the decline in the team's offensive potency -- also went on to list the qualities that are needed for his passers to return to their previous heights.
"More consistency, decision making, accuracy, you know, you have to make plays," he said. "It comes down to making plays, and we can do a better job of doing things that put them in position to, changing the launch point, getting the ball out of their hand quickly, all those types of things that let the people around them be able to get the ball in their hands and do something with it."
Perhaps the most embarrassing loss in 2010 was a 48-14 stomping at the hands of the Trojans, a game which produced the now-infamous "we won the second half," remark.
BearTerritory asked Tedford what he does when a game goes off the rails as it did that evening in Los Angeles.
"It depends on what the situation is. Sometimes, it happens to everybody. Sometimes momentum happens. It gets away from you," Tedford said. "You just try to keep encouraging. How do we try to make adjustments? How do we either get the stop or how are we going to score? You just have to try to evaluate everything, and that's the hardest thing that there is, really, like the halftime of the SC game. What would you have said to the team? I've never been in that situation before. The score was 42-0. What are you going to say at halftime? 42-0."
So, what exactly did Tedford say to his team at halftime that day?
"Let's go win the second half. Play one play at a time, and let's go win the second half. Take pride in who you are, play one play at a time," Tedford said. "Yelling and screaming at them, I mean, already they feel like [crap], right? So, what's yelling and screaming at them and demoralizing them even more going to do? Let's make some adjustments, let's go out there and play hard, let's win the second half and take pride in who we are and how we compete. Our thing is, right now, to take a look in the mirror, and decide how we're going to compete in the second half, because that's what's going to stay with you. They went out and they competed hard in the second half. That's kind of what happened there."
And the losses at the hands of Nevada and Stanford?
"Well, we didn't get blown out at Nevada. We just couldn't stop them. There were late scores. That thing just got ugly at the end, but up until, I mean, we were matching them, and had a chance to go ahead until we threw the pick for a touchdown," Tedford said. "We were going to go ahead on that drive, so that wasn't, that just got ugly at the very end when they broke a couple plays. But, besides that, I think the match-ups of SC and Stanford, you know, Stanford came in running the ball really, really well, and they didn't run the ball against us. They beat us in the passing game. That No. 89 went crazy, what was his name? Doug Baldwin. Then Luck broke on a couple huge plays and things like that, but we couldn't generate any offense. You have got to generate some offense when you get in those games, and we couldn't generate offense. That's how a game gets away from you."
Tedford has done a lot of soul searching and contemplating on how games have gotten away from him in recent years. From 2002-2006, Tedford's teams lost five games by 14 points or more. From 2007-10, the Bears lost 11 by at least 14 points, with all but one of them coming within the Pac-10.
"I know this is, no, this is, no, you don't get a prize for this, but we won the second half. If we hadn't dug such a big hole in the first half, I forget what the score was, but I think it was 42-0, so if we'd have quit, then it could have gotten really bad," Tedford said of the USC loss. "Your mindset has to be to try and come back to win, and not just to keep the game close. You need to let it all hang out there to try to get back in the game, and when you do that, you're running the risk of letting it really go the other way."
When asked if he believes the Bears can win the Pac-12 this season, senior wide receiver Marvin Jones gave some insight into the team's psyche.
"Definitely. What team would we be if we thought that we couldn't?" Jones said. "We have the players, we have the skill set and we have the potential to rise above the Pac-12 and win the Pac-12. We're taking the necessary steps to gaining and reaching that goal. All of our minds are on winning the Pac-12 and being the best team that we can be. Without a doubt, we believe."
Tedford was not quite as willing to lay all of that on the table, choosing to take a more political tack.
"You know, I think our kids absolutely believe that if we play to our full potential, then we can win any game that we play," Tedford said. "We do have a very challenging schedule. Starting off with Fresno State is obviously a very good football team. Colorado, Presbyterian, then on the road to Washington, Oregon, USC, Utah. It's a very daunting task to start off the season, but our players have a lot of confidence.
"We have enough experience to know that if we played to our full potential, pay attention to detail, play together and trust each other, we have a chance to be successful in any game. Like I said, there is such a fine line between winning and losing. You have six points between being 8-4 last year. It can go either way. We have a very competitive conference, but our kids have a lot of pride. They take a lot of pride in the program. They take responsibility for the expectation and the standards that have been placed on us, and they can't wait to get the season kicked off and to put last season behind us. So we understand that wasn't the way we needed to perform last year, and they've taken that mindset all through training."
The differences between those two answers are subtle. In the end, motivation comes from the top. After his first losing season at the helm, Tedford is determined not to have to endure that feeling again any time soon.
"I think they play to the last minute. It's not that they're not playing to the last minute," Tedford said. "It's not as if they're not playing to the last minute. There have been some games where we haven't matched up, and once it gets to a certain point and you try to throw the ball every down, then it can get out of hand when you're trying to win. It's easy to try to keep the game close, when you want it to. You run the ball and use the clock. If you're trying to win, you try to throw the ball and get the game back, to get back in the game, and then those games are games that not only offensively, but we haven't played well on defense. The reason some of those games got out of control is that we couldn't stop it. We need to make sure that we don't let that happen.
"I think having a season like we had last season really provides a lot of focus and I think part of it is, just the focus that we've always had, but we may have to back up a little bit."