SAN FRANCISCO — There was no mystifying collapse or a lack of vocal seniors this season, but there's another reason why Cal hasn't been plagued by a lack of chemistry or direction this year.
Coach Jeff Tedford gave up play-calling duties during the offseason so he could ensure he has a better grasp of all aspects of his program. It's helped the Bears become a more cohesive team, with clear leadership, player camaraderie and individual accountability flourishing.
"I think this year he's been a little more overlooking the team," linebacker Zack Follett said. "Last year he said he was so focused on the X's and O's. This time, he has other guys taking care of that. He's making sure the team as a whole is a little more focused and concentrating on what we need to focus on. After what happened last year, he's definitely paying attention to that."
There have been other seasons during Tedford's seven years at Cal in which he didn't call the plays. As recently as two years ago, offensive coordinator Mike Dunbar was the primary play caller.
But Tedford's need to give up the duty was never more necessary after last season. After the Bears began 5-0 and climbed up to No. 2 in the national rankings, they fell apart. Cal won just one more game the rest of the regular season, dropping off the national map and salvaging a winning season with a victory over Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Along the way, it became apparent the Bears lacked the on-field leadership to manage the crisis. Tedford, so immersed in offensive schemes, wasn't able effectively to prevent the slide from snowballing out of control.
Last season's skid reached the low point when the Bears lost to Stanford in the Big Game. Cal was called for three personal fouls in the first half against the Cardinal. After the third penalty, Tedford still was simply studying the play chart on the sideline when he could have been getting to the root of the problem with the guilty parties.
"It kind of lets me keep more of a pulse of the whole team, especially during the game," Tedford said. "A lot of times when I was calling every play, even in between series, I had my face buried in the play chart trying to figure out what we're going to do next series. It just gives you a better perspective of the whole game and how things are going instead of just focusing on one thing."
After the end of last season, Tedford hired former 49ers quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti as offensive coordinator and primary play caller. Tedford is still heavily involved in game planning during the week and calls a handful of plays on game day, but he said the alleviated burden helps with preparation, as well.
"It frees me up to do things more later in the week with team oriented things," Tedford said. "As the week winds down, (as play caller) you really need to get focused on down and distance and play calling and stuff like that. It's helped later in the week more than anything."
Releasing play calling duties also has allowed Tedford to be more involved with the defense and special teams. As play caller, he rarely crossed over midfield during practices to work with the defense. He's been able to do that more this season.
"Coach Tedford has been on both sides of the ball a lot this year, more so than any year I've been here," linebacker Worrell Williams said. "I look and see Coach Tedford staring and I'm like, 'Whoa, what are you doing here? You don't belong over here.' It's kind of odd. You have the head coach over there looking at you. It really makes you go harder. He's definitely changed the way he coaches. He's more hands-on with everybody. Not to say he wasn't before, but it's more so now."