Year after year, as he crafted a name for himself by rebuilding the Cal football program, beating every opponent within the Pac-10, there remained one particularly personal proving ground for Jeff Tedford.
He had to win at the University of Oregon, where he spent four years as offensive coordinator, before he could begin to get comfortable with himself and the success he was having in Berkeley.
Insofar as Tedford polished his credentials in Eugene, earning the opportunity to land the job at Cal, beating the Ducks in Oregon was a necessary step in his growth as a head coach.
And on his third attempt, in his sixth season at Cal, Tedford entered Autzen Stadium and emerged victorious 31-24. It was his 48th win at Berkeley. From an emotional standpoint, none was more important.
"It's a big deal to win there, because they're very successful at home," Tedford said this week. "It's hard to go in there and overcome that crowd very often. So I was pleased, because a couple times we'd been there before and we (missed chances)."
Cal's first trip to Autzen under Tedford, in 2003, ended with a blown 10-point fourth-quarter lead, Oregon scoring two touchdowns in the final 4:19. The second trip, in 2005, ended with a 27-20 overtime loss.
Cal fans wondered if he coached a bit more cautiously when facing the Ducks in Eugene.
He might have. But as Tedford prepares for another trip to Eugene, there is no reason to suspect caution. Not when No. 6 Cal is confronting perhaps the most crucial stretch of his tenure, facing the Ducks on Saturday, then returning home next week for USC.
The next nine days provide Tedford with an exquisite opportunity to exorcise his three most haunting ghosts.
That would be the collapse of the 2007 season, Oregon's role in it and, of course, the powerhouse USC program.
Cal's win at Autzen in '07 was a high for Tedford and his program. The coach had proved he could go back to the old neighborhood and succeed. Winning moved the Bears to No. 2 in the polls, their highest ranking since 1951.
This feel-good week, a coach dumping the monkey off his back, his team visualizing their very own piece of history, preceded a meltdown of epic proportions.
Facing Oregon State at Memorial Stadium the next week, knowing a victory would place them atop the polls, the Bears took a 31-28 loss that, in retrospect, shattered Tedford's talented but emotionally fragile roster.
Cal dropped six of its final seven regular-season games, including the Oregon State defeat and back-to-back losses to Washington and Stanford — two schools to which Tedford had never lost.
The high of winning at Oregon, affirming Tedford while snapping Cal's 20-year losing streak there, had begat a devastating low.
Tedford searched his soul that offseason and concluded he had lost his way, becoming too consumed with offensive minutia at the expense of the big picture.
So he returned last season determined to be a different coach, more of a CEO.
It worked out fairly well, the Bears bouncing back from a 7-6 season to finish 9-4 in 2008 despite instability at quarterback and inexperienced receivers.
So now, again, is another chance for the kind of breakthrough Cal was unable to make in '07. The Bears are ranked No. 6, as they were then heading into the game at Oregon. They are, at 3-0, undefeated, as they were back then, when they were 4-0.
Though Cal's receivers remain relatively inexperienced, Kevin Riley is secure as the starting quarterback. Tedford never has expressed more confidence in the junior from Portland, Ore.
Winning at Oregon in 2007 might have swept away those last little particles of doubt that might have been lingering about Tedford's psyche.
Losing six of the following seven invited the return of that doubt.
There is no sign of it now. Tedford, 47, has evolved immensely from where he was during his first trip back to Eugene, when he recalls being " new as a head coach, I was still trying to figure my way," to being a coach who recognizes grand opportunity.
He will have one Saturday and another next week. He looks and sounds as if he not only welcomes what's ahead but needs it as yet another proving ground, a way to measure just how much he has benefited from the sum of his experiences.
Contact Monte Poole at firstname.lastname@example.org.