As Jeff Tedford enters his 10th season at Cal, the dean of Pac-12 football coaches is facing more pressure than ever before.
Coming off his first losing season, Tedford is charged with the task of turning around Cal's fortunes this fall to ramp up interest for 2012, when the Bears will move back into the renovated Memorial Stadium, a project with a price tag of $321 million.
But not much is expected from Cal this season, with most projections having the Bears finishing fifth in the Pac-12 North. Also, the team doesn't have a home field in 2011 -- games have been moved to AT&T Park while Memorial Stadium is refurbished and made seismically sound.
Throw in an unproven quarterback and running back, as well as a growing faction of displeased fans, and Tedford's challenges seem daunting.
"I don't even think about that," Tedford said recently during a lengthy interview in his temporary portable office above Memorial Stadium. "There's pressure all the time. That's just what comes with this job. If I sit around and think about that, that's time I could be spending thinking about something more productive. We need positive energy, and a lot of that needs to come from me, so I'm not going to sit around and worry about things like that."
Tedford has a 72-42 record at Cal, his only head-coaching job. With three more victories, he will become the school's winningest football coach.
But since a jaw-dropping start to his career,
It was in that 69th game that things began to change for Tedford.
While Cal was playing Oregon State at Memorial Stadium, No. 1 LSU lost to Kentucky, opening the door for the second-ranked Bears to rise to the top spot. But quarterback Kevin Riley, who was making his first career start for injured Nate Longshore, attempted to run for a touchdown during the game's final seconds with no timeouts remaining. He was stopped well short, and time ran out for a 31-28 loss.
Cal won just once more during the regular season, and the Bears are 24-22 since that 5-0 beginning. Included in that stretch are a handful of blowout losses and two seasons in which Cal was ranked No. 12 in the preseason and failed to live up to expectations. The Bears haven't finished in the national rankings since 2006.
There is a segment of Cal's fan base that doesn't believe the program is getting enough return on Tedford's $2.3 million annual salary. In some ways, Tedford has been dogged by his early success, creating expectations that haven't been fulfilled in recent years.
"There's no doubt that when you achieve success like Jeff did very quickly, we all get spoiled," Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour said. "The bar gets raised very quickly, and anything less than that seems like a disappointment. But being educators and taking the long view ... what Jeff has meant to, not only the football program, but the athletic program and this university is absolutely tremendous."
Still, a 5-7 record last year and underachieving seasons in 2009 and 2007 have some wondering about Tedford's job security if 2011 is another disappointment. Tedford has five years left on his contract after signing a two-year extension after the 2008 season.
Barbour laughs off that notion, pointing to Tedford's résumé on and off the field.
"His job security is lock solid," Barbour said. "I think Jeff is uniquely equipped to be the head coach at Cal. We are so fortunate to have him lead our football program. He is that right combination for us, a highly proficient coach along with all the other things that are a highly important part of our mission, vision and values to the campus.
"The fact that he has achieved competitive success and done these other things at a really high level is absolutely masterful."
"They'll be back," ESPN analyst and former Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "He's that good a coach. Cal is a great school, and they'll get the good players in there."
Tedford hopes one of those players is quarterback Zach Maynard, a transfer from Buffalo whose mission is to revitalize a Cal offense that has been inconsistent in recent seasons. Many point to the quarterback play -- mainly of Longshore and Riley -- as being a culprit for some of the Bears' shortcomings.
"We have a new guy in here that people need to give a chance," Tedford said. "I'm excited about the spring and the fall that he's had. Now it's time to go play and see what happens. But I have confidence in his abilities."
Tedford became known as a quarterback guru after tutoring several NFL draft picks as the offensive coordinator at Fresno State and Oregon and then developing Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers at Cal.
But that reputation has taken a hit in recent years. After Longshore had a terrific 2006 season, he struggled during the second half of 2007 after injuring his ankle. Riley beat out Longshore for the starting job in 2008 but was twice benched. Riley was the full-time starter the past two seasons and was inconsistent.
"More than anything, it's about consistency," Tedford said. "It's easy to get spoiled with Aaron Rodgers. There's not too many of those guys running around. We want our quarterback to play at a high level. But if he's not playing like Aaron Rodgers, we can't just sink."
Tedford's early accomplishments made him a hot name when college and NFL coaching vacancies came up, but those have cooled. It may not matter now, as Tedford views himself as a lifer at Cal. He's become extremely attached to the university, negotiating the obstacles to break ground on the new High-Performance Center and the Memorial Stadium renovations.
"When they demolished the stadium and I walked through the tunnel and saw everything torn down, it was a little emotional for me," Tedford said. "I started thinking about all the times I walked through that tunnel for practice, for games, for all the things we've done in there.
"All of the emotional involvement that I have with this place now and how much I care about what goes on here is really deep. Whatever people may think, nobody wants it worse than I want to make it all happen."
Since a 5-0 start in 2007 that raised Jeff Tedford's record at Cal to 48-20, the Bears are 24-22. Cal's records the past four years:
Cal vs. Fresno State, 4 p.m. at Candlestick Park, CSNCA