BERKELEY — Jeff Tedford made a downtrodden program relevant as coach at California, putting out competitive teams for a decade, developing dozens of NFL players and spearheading a facilities upgrade.
When he was unable to match his own early on-field success in recent years he was fired after 11 years as coach.
Cal fired Tedford on Tuesday, ending a tenure that began with great promise and ended with a disappointing run of mediocrity capped by his worst season as coach.
"This was a difficult decision made after considerable thought and analysis and reflection,” athletic director Sandy Barbour said. "Jeff Tedford is a good man who has brought great success and celebration and to his university and deserves to occupy a place of honor in the Cal family. His legacy is unquestioned.”
Tedford engineered an impressive turnaround for the Bears after taking over a one-win team following the 2001 season. He won a school-record 82 games, churned out numerous NFL prospects and was a major factor in a $321 million stadium renovation.
But after winning 10 games twice in his first five years and taking a share of the 2006 conference title, Tedford was unable to keep the Bears near the top of the Pac-12 conference anymore.
The program bottomed out this season, losing the final five games to finish 3-9 for Tedford’s worst season. The Bears lost to rival Stanford for the third straight season and the year was capped by the most lopsided losses of Tedford’s career, a 59-17 home loss to Oregon followed by a season-ending 62-14 loss at Oregon State.
Barbour met with Tedford the previous two days to discuss the future of the program and announced her decision Tuesday.
"I certainly wanted the answer to be Jeff,” she said. "But I have that obligation to do what’s right for Cal. It was a matter of did I believe that we could turn around some of these worrisome trends competitively and academically. Ultimately my conclusion was it wouldn’t be deep enough to take us to where we need to be.”
Tedford released a statement thanking the school for the opportunity to coach there.
"All involved can feel a great sense of pride with their sacrifice, contributions and commitment that have made it possible to have the winningest tenure in Cal football history,” he said. "We all can be very proud of helping to build a renovated Memorial Stadium that will have a positive impact on many athletes, fans and staff members for years to come.”
Tedford is still owed $6.9 million over the final three years of his contract, although Barbour said the sides are working on a settlement. She also said no state funds or student fees will be used to pay Tedford or the new coach.
Barbour said she would consider both NFL and college coaches and wanted to find a replacement quickly. Cal which will be aided by the firm of DHR International in the search.
The Cal players gave Tedford a standing ovation after getting the news.
"Everybody really respects coach a lot and loves coach a lot,” offensive lineman Jordan Rigsbee said. "It really meant a lot to us to send him off in that way.”
Tedford established himself at Cal as a quarterback guru, helping develop Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers into first-round picks in his first three seasons after tutoring No. 3 overall pick Joey Harrington as offensive coordinator at Oregon.
But if there was one reason for Tedford’s downfall it was his inability to find another big-time quarterback after Rodgers left following the 2004 season. The Bears ran through a group of pedestrian passers like Joe Ayoob, Nate Longshore, Kevin Riley, Brock Mansion and Zach Maynard.
The inability to pair an elite passer with the top-level talent at the skill positions proved to be Tedford’s undoing. The Bears often put together some of the best recruiting classes on the West Coast and had 40 players drafted into the NFL, including eight first-round picks, under Tedford’s leadership.
Cal had 25 players on NFL rosters at the start of this season, ninth most in the nation. That includes stars like Rodgers, DeSean Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. But those star players were unable to get the Bears back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1958 season.
The closest Cal came was in Rodgers’ final season in 2004 when the Bears had a 10-1 regular season, losing 23-17 to eventual national champion Southern California. Texas beat out Cal for a Rose Bowl spot much to the dismay of the fan base. The Bears shared the conference title with USC in 2006 but lost the head-to-head matchup and settled for the Holiday Bowl.
Cal’s fortunes turned downward that next season after a 5-0 start. With the Bears poised to move into the No. 1 spot in the polls following a loss by LSU, they lost to Oregon State in the closing seconds. Starting with that game, Tedford had a 34-37 record over his final 5 1/2 seasons.
The Bears even got passed by Stanford in the Pac-12 hierarchy to the dismay of the alumni, with the Cardinal in position to get that Rose Bowl bid that has eluded Cal over the years despite losing star quarterback Andrew Luck to the NFL.
Adding to negatives for Tedford was news last month that Cal graduated only 48 percent of football players who entered school between 2002 and 2005 — the lowest rate in the Pac-12. Barbour said in a letter to donors that the low graduation rate was a "great concern.”
The one bright spot in Tedford’s final seasons came when Memorial Stadium reopened this fall following the major renovation. The modernized stadium and adjacent $150 million on-campus High Performance Center finally give Cal the facilities to compete with the rest of the conference.
While Tedford’s work rebuilding the program and fundraising for the project were integral in its success, his successor will ultimately reap the benefits.
"This is a great job,” Barbour said. "It’s been made better by Jeff Tedford. This is a very attractive job that will attract a number of candidates that will meet these criteria. We will have an opportunity to make a great choice.”