Wednesday, September 05, 2007

San Jose Mercury: Tedford learns his lesson

Here is the link.


By Jon Wilner

College football coaches make mistakes all the time, but it’s rare when one of them admits it, and even more rare when one of them admits a mistake in a huge game that tarnishes his program’s national profile.  But Cal Coach Jeff Tedford admitted last week that he botched the Bears’ preparation for the 2006 season opener at Tennessee.  Not only did he admit it, he explained it, then explained how he planned to correct it, then went out and did just that.  The ‘06 Tennessee game was a new experience for Cal in the Tedford years, and new experience for Tedford as a head coach: a major intersectional game.   Sure, he had coached the Bears in big games, but they were all either conference games or bowl games. There had been nothing like opening the season at Tennessee on national television, with Cal thinking BCS, Marshawn Lynch thinking Heisman and Old Blues thinking their team had finally arrived.  Throughout the summer and training camp ‘06, Tedford reminded his players of the challenge that awaited:

Playing in massive Neyland Stadium, hearing “Rocky Top” blaring over and over, 100,000-plus fans making noise like nothing the Bears had ever heard, the oppressive heat and humidity, the SEC atmosphere, and the Vols themselves.  And not surprisingly, after hearing about it all, the Bears got caught up in it all. They were overwhelmed by the atmosphere and intimidated by the Vols. It was the worst performance of the Tedford era, given the stakes and the opponent.  Somewhere along the way — perhaps on the sideline during the game, or on the plane ride home, or during a sleepless night in the football office — Tedford realized he had goofed. His preparation had been all wrong.

Last week, at his Tuesday press conference, Tedford talked about realizing his mistake.  “As I try to find why we didn’t play our best, the first place I need to look is in the mirror to find out where I could maybe have done a better job of motivating the team,'’ he said.  “I don’t know that’s the case for sure, but as I look, that’s what I come up with — that’s what we went into the game with: that’s who we’re facing, that’s Tennessee, a great tradition, loud, they’re going to be playing “Rocky Top” all the time and all that kind of thing.”  Now, Tedford’s no dummy. He’s a smart football guy and he’s a smart people person, and he wasn’t about to repeat the mistake.

So when spring practice rolled around, and then training camp, the word “Tennessee” was never spoken.  The coaches talked about the Vols privately when watching film. But when it came to talking to the players, to addressing the season, the team in orange was never mentioned.  “I really liked our approach this year,'’ defensive coordinator Bob Gregory said. “We were very even-keeled. The guys knew what had happened. We didn’t have to tell them anything.”  Did Tedford share his frustration — with himself, with how he prepared the team in ‘06 — with the coaching staff?  “I think he mentioned it once,” Gregory said. “I think sometimes Jeff is a little harsh on himself.”

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