BERKELEY -- Jeff Tedford's perpetual search for solutions continues even though he has tried most every strategy available, some of them three or four times. He'll keep rummaging as long as he's the head football coach at Cal. That's how he's wired.
When earnest determination becomes the most conspicuous asset of a major college football coach, though, it's hard to justify his continued employment. Results, preferably quick, have never mattered more than they do in the second decade of the 21st century.
Cal will reveal within the next week or so whether it is prepared and equipped to join the new age of college sports and, more specifically, the rest of the increasingly ambitious Pac-12 Conference.
The Tedford resolution represents Cal's time to decide what it wants to be and, frankly, the university has never faced such a pivotal moment.
Even as it has fired and hired coaches, the school never has issued a truly authoritative answer about its aspirations. Yet it will do exactly that when athletic director Sandy Barbour meets with Tedford shortly after the season finale Saturday at Oregon State.
The pivotal issue related to Jeff's continued employment has become not his record -- which at 3-8 this season and 23-26 over the past four clearly is unacceptable -- but whether there is the financial wherewithal to buy out the remainder of his contract, which runs through 2015.
Among the things we know is that Barbour has run out of ways to defend Tedford because he no longer provides her anything to use as a shield. And that Barbour does not have $6.9 million chilling in her briefcase, much less to pay a coach to leave.
We also know that plenty of dissatisfied and influential alumni stand ready to donate to the cause of finding another football coach.
What we don't know, not yet, is whether those donations add up to $6.9 mil -- though insiders imply there has been an ongoing effort to raise funds.
That's why the outcome falls back in the hands of Cal administration and alumni. Their decision will reflect how badly they wish to replace the man they adored in the early years of his tenure, when he was the hot new innovative football mind, delivering a message that was fresh and impressive.
Early Jeff won, and with flair. After so many years as second-class citizens in the Pac-10, the Golden Bears mattered. If the brief height of the Bruce Snyder era revealed Cal's potential, Tedford's first few years allowed everyone to visualize the possibilities.
But 10 years is a lifetime in 21st-century coaching, and this is Jeff's 11th in Berkeley.
And those fantastic possibilities have been amplified with the expansion of the Pac-12, which in the past two years has made dramatic advancement to become a serious national player, particularly in the revenue-generating sport of college football.
By adding its own TV network and increasing overall TV revenue -- a 12-year, $3 billion deal kicked in this year -- Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott has steered the conference into the age of minting money.
It's a new arithmetic, and some schools reacted. Each of the four new head coaches for 2012 -- Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, Todd Graham at Arizona State, Jim Mora at UCLA, Mike Leach at Washington State -- is paid substantially more than his predecessor.
Yet no program made a more resounding financial statement than Washington, which hired a defensive coordinator, Justin Wilcox, at a reported $2.4 million over three years. It also used impressive three-year packages worth up to $1.25 million each to lure Cal assistants Tosh Lupoi and Eric Kiesau to Seattle -- more than doubling their salaries.
Such figures were not in play three years ago. They are now because Pac-12 schools anticipate an influx of revenue. This is the cost of business in a hypercompetitive environment.
Cal -- which in 2011 reportedly paid Kiesau and Lupoi less than $175,000 each -- has to decide if it's willing to play when such figures are the cost of competing.
Investment in Memorial Stadium and its adjacent facility, built on the momentum of Tedford's early years, suggest it is.
It is possible Cal could stand behind Tedford on principle because he is innately decent, even though he has devolved into an ordinary coach. Maybe Barbour and those in her ear will provide the coach one more season to reverse the slide.
Because that new facility demands an infusion of energy, a Tedford 2.0, it is much more likely the money will materialize and that Barbour and the power brokers will go with the prevailing winds, which are trying to blow Tedford out of Berkeley.
Given the stakes of the game, Cal doesn't have a choice.