Cal football coach Jeff Tedford has spent the past week holed up in his office, trying to process a maddening season that has left a bad taste inside and outside the program. He hears the criticism from fans and the media and acknowledges that some of it is justified.
But Tedford is eager to move forward, and he'd like to do so with fans and alumni on board. However, he understands there are droves of Old Blues demanding some answers before that can happen.
So Tedford contacted the Bay Area News Group so he could speak directly to Cal's fan base. In a lengthy, exclusive interview in an otherwise empty Cal football office earlier this week, Tedford sympathized with the widespread disappointment over the season, acknowledged that an eight-win season isn't good enough and asked fans for their support in turning negatives into positives.
"I feel terrible about it," he said. "There's a knot in my stomach. I feel sick to my stomach every time I think about it. You lose sleep thinking about how you can improve and get better. There are a lot of internal expectations,
but I don't lose sight of how people take pride in our success and are disappointed in our failure. I feel that as much as you can possibly imagine."
The 2009 season was one of the most highly anticipated in years in Berkeley. The Bears returned 16 starters from last year's 9-4 team, and with USC going through a slight rebuilding phase, many observers felt Cal could make its first Rose Bowl appearance in over 50 years. The Bears also were ranked 12th in the preseason Associated Press top 25.
Not only did the Bears come up short in a number of performances, they failed to even be competitive. Cal finished 8-5 and was outscored 182-57 in its defeats. The Bears' 37-27 loss to Utah in last week's Poinsettia Bowl turned out to be their closest setback.
"I'm disappointed we lost five games, but more than that probably is the way those went," Tedford said. "You try to figure that out. The first place I look is in the mirror. We have to make sure we do whatever it takes to improve and not have those issues. I'm really anxious to get back at it to fix that."
After each of Cal's losses this season, Tedford was quick to give credit to the opponent while also pointing out his own team's mistakes. He said the Bears ran into hot quarterbacks in lopsided losses to Oregon and Washington. He said his staff was outcoached on a few occasions.
Now with more time to allow for lengthy reflection, Tedford is interested in the bottom line — figuring out what trends ailed the Bears in 2009 and deeming them as unacceptable once they're determined.
"We're going to do everything we can to define the problems and fix them," he said. "I understand the frustrations. Nobody is more frustrated than me. Eight wins is not what we set out to do. We set out to be better than that. "
When Tedford turned Cal from a Pac-10 doormat into a Bowl Championship Series contender in three years, his name surfaced often when high-profile coaching jobs opened up. Tedford said he's declined three head coaching offers in his eight years at Cal that would have made him more money, one as recently as last year.
Tedford now is signed through the 2015 season. He has a deep passion for Cal. He said that's what makes the 2009 season even more frustrating and why he hopes the Cal football community will stick with him.
"This place means a lot to me and our success means a lot to me," Tedford said. "I'm disappointed not only for our players and our coaches, but for our fans because I know how much they want us to be successful. Even though there have been opportunities to go some other places, I'm completely focused on reaching our goals here. We didn't this year, and I take responsibility for that.
"There is a sense of making our alumni and our fans feel good about who we are. I haven't lost sight of that. It means something to me that they're not happy. I feel as bad for them as I do for us."
What can Tedford do to cure the warts of 2009? He's still in the preliminary stages of figuring that out. Tedford said he's going to make an exhaustive list of everything that goes on in the program and get together with coaches and players to evaluate them. While Tedford often makes references to working harder when things go wrong, he said that doesn't necessarily mean things will otherwise remain status quo.
"We're not just going to work harder at what we already do," he said. "Part of the hard work is defining who you are and what you're going to be, what you're going to actually be working at. At every turn, there are certain things where you may feel like you have to do things differently. Maybe some of the things we've always done are not good enough."
Tedford's immediate to-do list includes replacing special teams/tight ends coach Pete Alamar, who was fired earlier in the week, and hitting the recruiting trail up until signing day Feb. 3. In the meantime, he is hoping to break through the negativity that has clouded the team at the end of the season.
"I just hope people will still lend support to what we're doing so it doesn't get so negative," Tedford said. "I'm just asking for people to support us and our players so that we can move in the right direction. We're going to do our best to learn from it, and we're going to work on it and continue to try to reach all of our goals.
"I know there are a lot of questions. I'm not naive to the disappointment, I'm not naive to the naysayers, I'm not naive to the critics. I want them to know that I'm going to do my best to address the things because it's important to me that we make people proud."