BERKELEY -- The odds keep rising against Jeff Tedford, and he keeps beating them, which is impressive for an old-school man striving to keep pace with the ceaseless treadmill that is new-age coaching.
This is Tedford's 11th season at Cal, making him the longest-tenured NCAA Division I football coach west of Texas. Only nine of the 122 men currently holding those jobs have had a consecutive run in one place that has lasted longer, and all nine have claimed at least one complete conference championship.
Tedford, 50, has survived despite never winning an outright Pac-12 title because his employers remember how irrelevant Cal football was before his arrival. They have exhibited levels of faith and patience rarely seen in the era of insane turnover.
Such faith and patience, especially among the more ambitious and influential Cal alums, whose voices tend to dictate the fate of coaches in Berkeley, is about to be tested like never before.
The clock started ticking on the new and very real Tedford Watch last Saturday, when the Golden Bears opened the season with a stunning loss to Nevada at the refurbished Memorial Stadium, the crown jewel of a $471 million project designed to allow Cal to raise its national profile -- especially in football, which generates the bulk of sports-related revenue.
"This is all great," Tedford had said recently, amid the new-car smell of the place, "but this is about performing on the field. The
The new stadium and adjoining performance center are Tedford's babies, built on the momentum of his extraordinary first five seasons at Cal, when the Bears went 43-20 (27-14 in the conference) and spent much of 2004 in the national championship conversation.
Tedford lifted a dormant program to the edge of national acclaim. Season ticket sales more than doubled between 2002 and '07. The NFL sniffed around, prompting Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour to cobble together a handsome new pay package making Tedford the highest paid employee on the state's payroll.
But the five seasons beginning with '07 have not been remarkable: a 36-28 record, 21-24 in the Pac-12. Cal over the 2010 and '11 seasons is 12-13, 7-11 in the conference.
The relatively poor facilities Tedford overcame in making his initial impressions became a sore point. The digital-age recruit is attracted as much to flash as substance, and big-time colleges have it. For Cal to become a national factor, an upgrade was essential.
And now it's here, after a megabucks investment. More is expected now that Tedford and his staff believe they are equipped to better compete with the best of the conference.
"That's exactly right," Tedford says. "We've been recruiting here for a long time with things that are really (substandard) as far as facilities are concerned. Now we have that, even though that's just one piece of recruiting. We've been pretty successful recruiting here without it, which tells you it's only one piece.
"Now, with this, the (recruit) who may have teetered and went the other way because of it, that won't happen now. Facilities won't be reason why someone doesn't come here."
Tedford's biggest thorn, according to alumni, has not been his recruiting, but his ability to translate a steady flow of future NFL talent into a powerhouse Cal program. That's what he must do now. It's a matter of job security.
Tedford realizes the stakes are considerably higher. Gone are the days when the national profile of the Pac-12 is defined solely by USC. Oregon has established itself as a power program. Stanford is coming off successive top-10 seasons. Four new coaches were lured into the Pac-12 by hefty contracts begat by a lucrative new TV contract.
"The goal is to make sure we compete to be the best conference in the country," Tedford says. "A lot of the things we do -- like (Pac-12 coaches) going back East for a media tour and the TV contract with the Pac-12 Networks -- are kind of outside the box. We're being progressive."
Here is where Cal, and Tedford, must keep pace. No longer will Old Blues stop at grumbling about winning seasons that deliver second- and third-tier bowl games.
Where, then, is the bar set?
"Conference championships," Tedford says.
That will require a mighty comeback by Tedford. He'll have to do it without his star recruiter, former assistant Tosh Lupoi, who tripled his pay by taking a job at Washington.
Tedford's fortitude is beyond question. But can he discover a new level of ingenuity? He will have to become a regular in the Top 25 to have any chance of becoming a college football institution in today's hire-and-fire climate.
There are no more Bear Bryants. No more Bobby Bowdens or Bo Schembechlers or Joe Paternos. It's tough for a college football coach to become a mainstay when two or three years of mediocrity can lead to dismissal.
Tedford was an exception to the rule. Not anymore. Not after getting his new toy.
Southern Utah (0-1) at Cal (0-1), noon, Pac-12 Networks/Bay Area
Duke (1-0) at Stanford (1-0), 7:30 p.m., Pac-12 Networks/Bay Area
UC Davis (1-0) at San Jose State (0-1), 5 p.m., no TV
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