Odds are you didn't hear much from Cal's offense in 2010, and odds are Jeff Tedford's just fine with that. The Bears set new Tedford-era lows for yards and points per game, finished and failed to top 14 points or 300 total yards in any of their six conference losses. Senior quarterback Kevin Riley was sketchy, and junior backup Brock Mansion was much worse when Riley went out with a season-ending knee injury at Halloween; combined, they came in next-to-last in the Pac-10 in passing yards and efficiency. Even the league's No. 1 total defense couldn't stave off Tedford's first losing season: Three losses came against opponents showing less than 17 points on the board.
So 2011 marks a milestone for Tedford's tenure in more ways than one: Through 10 years on the job, Tedford is three wins from becoming the winningest coach in school history, and is the architect of Cal's most successful decade since the Great Depression. At the same time, he also finds himself searching against for some hint of the old spark that rekindled a gasping program back in 2002, the first of five straight seasons among the top 25 scoring offenses in the country. A new quarterback will help after four stagnant years at the mercy of the inconsistent Riley. But after watching the most recent waltz of woe, he's also to take matters back in to his own hands, by reassuming the role of head play-caller:
When Cal takes the field for its games this season, there will be a new man calling plays for the Bears. In this case, however, it's like the old Who song: Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Jeff Tedford hopes that's a good thing, because he's the boss and he'll be calling the majority of plays in an effort to make his first losing season as Cal's head coach his only losing season.
"I did it the first three or four years here, then went back and forth," Tedford said. "You've got to be all in or out, one of the two. There's got to be a role you play. You get to set things up, have a good feel for things."
Tedford originally gave up gameday play-calling in 2008, off what was then his worst season in 2007 (The Bears rose to No. 2 that October, before going up in flames in six of their next seven), to become become "more efficient" as a CEO-type. Most fans welcomed the transition. A year later, he handed the entire offense over to NFL refugee Andy Ludwig, his fifth new offensive coordinator in five years, with no strings attached. The results: Two mediocre seasons on par with Tedford's worst, followed by last year's implosion. Followed by Ludwig's exit to San Diego State.
A huge, entirely appropriate share of the blame has fallen on the quarterbacks, ironic considering Tedford was once akin to the King Midas of quarterbacks: Going back to his days at offensive coordinator at Fresno State and Oregon, he had a hand in molding six first-round draft picks (Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington, Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers) from 1994-2004, and two others (A.J. Feeley and Billy Volek) who have lasted in the league for a solid decade. It hardly seems like a coincidence that his first bust at the position, Riley, coincided with Tedford intentionally taking a more hands-off approach.
Or so he hopes. In reality, the Bears were devoid of anyone who remotely resembled Jahvid Best or DeSean Jackson as a serious big-play threat, and lost the luxury of workhorse tailback Shane Vereen, who thought he'd get what he could in the draft before being asked to assume another 250-carry workload while the new QB's breaking in. There's some experience up front, but the general vibe is one of a fresh start — the kind of reboot that may only come once a decade or so. If Tedford makes it to 2012, he'll be the longest-tenured coach in Cal history. But his future — and maybe whether or not he even has one at Cal beyond 2012 — hinges on restoring some signs of life in year ten.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.