Thursday, April 21, 2005

Tedford taking unfair hits in draft

By Ann Killion
Mercury News Staff Columnist
It is a patently ridiculous premise, which is fitting because it goes with the most ridiculous day on the sports calendar.
It is called ``The Tedford Factor,'' a new draft-day phrase to join the nonsense lexicon alongside ``war room,'' ``big board'' and ``on the clock.''
Add it to the list of absurdities on a day when time stands as still as Mel Kiper's hair, when immediate pronouncements are made about complete craps shoots, when we breathlessly watch some poor kid and his family wait futilely for the phone to ring.
``The Tedford Factor'' goes like this: Cal quarterback Aaron Rodgers -- projected to be a top-five pick -- might be downgraded in Saturday's draft. Why? Because five quarterbacks previously coached by Jeff Tedford who were drafted in the first round haven't turned into Joe Montana.
``I don't get it,'' said Tedford, the Cal coach, on Wednesday. ``I really don't.''
Tedford thinks it's unfair to lump Rodgers -- a junior college transfer who transformed into one of the top passers in the nation -- with five completely different guys.
``Aaron's being judged on their success,'' he said. ``It's really not fair.''
I think it's even more unfair to blame Tedford for the failings of a multitude of NFL coaches. Tedford gets the most out of his quarterbacks. He has helped turn five players -- Trent Dilfer, Akili Smith, David Carr, Joey Harrington and Kyle Boller -- into first-round prospects.
Then the NFL geniuses swoop in, analyze the player with all their vast expertise and million-dollar resources and make their pick. And when the guy doesn't become an instant winner, it's Tedford's fault?
Of Tedford's pupils, only Smith can be pronounced a complete bust, mostly -- it seems -- due to his own work ethic. Dilfer, whatever you may think of him, won a Super Bowl. The three others have alternately struggled and shown promise but are still relatively young.
Yet in the days leading up to the draft there have been anonymous quotes from scouts and personnel directors denigrating the Tedford-coached quarterbacks as ``robotic,'' ``mechanical'' and ``rigid.'' One projected Rodgers would be a bust just like all the others.
Tedford coaches his quarterbacks to hold the ball high, to release it quickly. He isn't going to apologize for his system.
``All of those guys have been among the tops in the nation in passing efficiency,'' Tedford said. ``Why are they able to do that?''
The quarterbacks leave Tedford's tutelage functioning at a high level and worthy of being high draft picks. But high draft picks are chosen by lousy teams -- teams that usually have poor supporting casts, instability in the coaching ranks and an institutional lack of vision. The young quarterbacks are forced into action quickly and struggle. The coaches change their mechanics. They're too young to assert themselves.
So that's all Tedford's fault?
It's a little like driving a finely tuned sports car off the showroom floor, taking it to the mechanic with the worst reputation in town, getting the car rewired, and then being shocked when it doesn't run smoothly.
So, yeah, it bugs Tedford when he reads how ``Tedford's methods aren't working in the NFL.''
``To say my methods don't work,'' he said, ``well, I've never coached in the NFL.''
If he did, he could help tap the potential of whatever quarterbacks came along. Cal fans should once again thank the Big Bear in the Sky -- or at least Tedford's teenage sons -- that Tedford signed up to stick around a while longer. Because the only thing all this latest draft-day nonsense seems to prove is this:
Tedford knows how to get the most out of his players. And there are a lot of guys working in the NFL who can't make the same claim.
One of these days, very soon, someone in the NFL is going to figure out that ``The Tedford Factor'' isn't something to degrade. It's something to spend a lot of money acquiring.

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