BERKELEY -- The spark Cal's football program hoped would come from a renovated Memorial Stadium this season instead has become a social media firestorm among unhappy fans, with financial implications that could cost coach Jeff Tedford his job.
The Golden Bears are 1-4 headed into Saturday night's homecoming game against UCLA, and the combined weight of losing and a $321 million stadium debt has become the season's core story.
A growing number of Cal faithful are distressed by the recent arc of the program, which has produced just 13 wins in the past 32 games.
Athletic director Sandy Barbour said she hears complaints from fans about Tedford. "I would be upset if they weren't disappointed," she said. "I wouldn't be satisfied with a 1-4 record. He's not and they're not and I'm not."
Asked if she believes the team can reverse its course, Barbour said she has faith in Tedford based on his record as the winningest coach (80-52) in school history. But she stopped short of giving him a so-called vote of confidence.
Tedford has three years remaining on a contract extension he was given in January 2011, providing him an annual salary of $2.3 million. The athletic department has no buyout clause that could reduce the amount.
With numbers growing daily on a "Fire Jeff Tedford" Facebook page, it shows sentiment may run strong enough to motivate deep-pocketed boosters who are ready to pay off Tedford's contact.
Complicating the issue is the overall financial picture of the athletic program. Cal hopes to pay down as much as $270 million of the stadium renovation debt through its Endowment Seating Program (ESP), which gives fans the opportunity to purchase 50-year rights to about 3,000 premium seats.
When asked how closely Tedford's future is linked to the stadium financing issues, Barbour said only that "having a stable, robust, sustainable financial model is one of our key priorities in our athletic program."
Still, a continued poor performance by the team on the field figures to negatively impact those critical ESP sales. The Bears sold out the Sept. 1 opener against Nevada, with 63,000 fans disappointed after a 31-24 defeat. Attendance figures for two subsequent home games dipped to 57,745, then to 51,634.
The bad start to the season has been hard on Tedford. "I'm miserable, can't stand it, nothing worse right now," he said Sunday. "But I'm not going to sit in my office and cry about it. We've got a job to do."
It's not just that the online chat rooms are buzzing with criticism. Even some longtime Cal fans, accustomed to showing patience for a program that hasn't reached the Rose Bowl in more than half a century, are ready for change.
Adrian Cibilich, 85, who attended his first Cal football game in 1940, isn't sure what to think.
"I go to the games and I'm very discouraged," Cibilich said. "They look terrible. They look disorganized. It doesn't seem like Jeff in many ways.
"I don't want Jeff to be fired, that's for sure," the San Jose resident said. "At the same time, I don't know."
Tedford arrived at Cal in 2002, on the heels of three seasons in which the Bears totaled eight victories. He won seven games in his debut campaign, and his 2004 team, led by star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, posted a 10-2 record.
In the wake of that high point, Tedford became a favorite with most fans and the Bears developed long-awaited stability.
"The assumption was it was only going to get better," said former Cal player Burl Toler II, whose son was a senior on the 2004 team. A supporter of Tedford, Toler added, "There have been definite sightings of greatness or goodness, but there hasn't been that consistency."
Tedford guided the Bears to a share of the Pac-10 title in 2006, beat Stanford in the Big Game seven times in his first eight seasons and was 5-1 in bowl games through 2008.
But the coach who arrived with the reputation as a quarterback guru hasn't developed another great one since Rodgers left for the NFL eight years ago.
The Bears are five games under .500 in conference play since the start of the 2009 season, and their most recent 13 wins include three vs. non-FBS opponents. They already are in jeopardy of missing a bowl game for the second time in three years.
Dwight Barker, a Cal grad and former Bear Backer booster club president, believes Tedford deserves an opportunity to reap the benefits of the renovated stadium.
"We would not have a (new) stadium if it were not for Jeff Tedford," Barker said. "I really think recruiting was hurt by the stadium project and all of the lawsuits that took place. All that now becomes a positive."
Barker remains in Tedford's corner, but he understands there are detractors. "It's hard for a team to be 1-4 and not have some sort of a tide rising against you," he said.
The next seven weeks will tell whether Tedford can keep his head above that tide.