By RON AGOSTINI
Jeff Tedford doesn't buy into the idea he's one of those tunnel-visioned football coaches who's clueless about the world around him. Wait a minute. Let's revise the above. Tedford, the man behind Cal's return to college football prominence, wants you to know he has a balanced and rewarding life _ a very rewarding life _ nine months out of the year. It's just during the season, the September-through-November grind, where Tedford retreats into his football bunker. No apologies. No guilt trips. He accepts the perception that his priorities are knocked out of shape and so does his family. If others have a problem with his commitment, well, they haven't steered a football program toward its best run of success in a half-century. He has done that, and more important, he knows first-hand what it takes. "There's only one way I can do this, and it's this way," he said earlier this week during a meeting with Cal fans at Del Rio Country Club. "My wife understands it. My kids understand it. They know what makes me tick. I've tried coming home at 10:30 at night. It's not healthy for me."
What is healthy for Tedford may surprise you. He sleeps Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday night in his office during the season, rather than take the 35-minute drive to his home in Danville. That's his concession to the football monster that consumes him along with so many of his colleagues. He allows himself to come home on Thursday night. Then, it's Friday night with his team on the eve of the game, followed by the typical event-filled weekend. He's a Bear in his lair during the season because he'd be lost any other way. "From August through the end of the season, I don't think I've put gas in my car more than twice," he said. "I just don't go anywhere." Coaches who don the football blinders aren't exactly unusual. Jon Gruden of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers wakes up each day at 3:17 a.m. Why? Because he believes sleep is overrated and, by the way, he's not comfortable with the possibility someone might be outworking him. And that's what it's all about _ the fear of defeat. Frankly, coaches at all levels constantly play that card with their athletes. If the athlete chooses not to put in the extra hour or two, the coach warns that future opponents are doing just that.
"He's beating you right now," the coach says. "What are you going to do about it?" At least coaches like Tedford place the same demands on themselves. "I can't tell you how many times I've put another film on at 12:30 at night and found an answer that helped us win a game, by being there and continuing to work," he said. "If I were sleeping at home, it wouldn't have happened. That's just the way I work." Some of the ivory-towered types at Cal probably have swallowed hard over such blue-collared behavior. Fact is, it's challenge-driven overachievers like Tedford who've made Cal the best public university in the nation. Those Nobel prizes aren't won by 9-to-5 clock-punchers. All major accomplishments require some form of obsession. Fortunately for Tedford, his obsession has been approved by his wife and two teenaged sons. As for Cal, well, how can they question the man behind three bowl victories, two 10-win seasons out of the last three, and a share of the school's first Pacific-10 Conference championship since 1975?
It sort of comes with the territory that Tedford is not yet pleased with what he's done in Berkeley. For starters, the Bears have not yet reached their holy grail, the Rose Bowl, or a berth in the BCS Championship Game. Twice, in 2004 and 2006, the Bears were a win over USC away from Pasadena. Twice, the Bears failed. "Like I told the team, this last 10-win season was the most hollow feeling we've had, only because of the expectations. We felt like we had an opportunity to do something really special," he said. "We came away from the season with a lot of appreciation for the senior class who made the leap of faith and helped us so much, but also knowing we aren't satisfied." A case in point is Cal's 2007 season opener at home Sept. 1 against Tennessee. Tedford might add an office-overnighter for this one. His team, ranked ninth in 2006 preseason polls, laid a nationally televised egg 35-18 against the Volunteers in Knoxville.
"We have something to prove, probably more than we've ever had to prove any other time," Tedford said. "As long as I've been at Cal, we've never been beaten like that."
Then again, Tedford enjoys a fresh challenge, which is why he took on such a reclamation project at Cal. His peace of mind stems from one thing _ hard work. "When I can put my head down at night and know I've spent every minute of the day trying to find answers to put our kids in position to be successful, then I can feel good about it," he says. "I can't cut it short."