It's usually monotonous. Each Tuesday afternoon, Cal coach Jeff Tedford saunters into a scheduled news luncheon, greets a few media types on his way to the podium where he pauses and says, "Questions?" The monotony ended Oct. 2, when before opening the floor to questions, Tedford coughed into the microphone. Four weeks and three losses later, the Bears had fallen from the pinnacle of the college football world to irrelevant and unranked. The cough remained. A reporter asked, "You've still got that cough?" Tedford responded, "Everything will be OK." That's the public image Tedford has put on during this, his most trying season in Strawberry Canyon. Asked Tuesday about the personal effects of the current 6-5 season, Tedford said, "I would prefer to comment on that after the year, when it's all finally finished." But everything is not OK. It's conveyed in Tedford's actions and his words. Usually reserved and ever-aware of the media, Tedford blew a gasket, tossing his headset and play card after losing 31-28 to Oregon State on Oct. 13, and verbally let loose on his players after an uninspired, 37-23 loss to Washington on Nov. 17.
"I was not proud of my actions" after the Oregon State loss, Tedford said. "That was in the heat of the moment. I was pretty wound up about what was going on, but you won't ever see me do that again." As for the Washington postgame? "After the season, I'd be glad to talk about all of that. I'll get specific after the season," Tedford said. Here's what we know:
Cal has played in bowl games for a school-record four-consecutive seasons (and is eligible for a fifth bid). Cal is one win away from 50 victories in a six-year period for the first time in more than half a century. Cal is back on the national landscape of college football. Here's what we won't know until the season ends: What effect does Tedford's new contract, which is through 2013, play into the pressure he feels? How annoying is it to work in the shadow of the tree-sitters outside Memorial Stadium who are stalling proposed facility improvements? When will the threatening phone calls and e-mails finally be enough? "When adversity hits, it brings out your true character," free safety Thomas DeCoud said. "Coach Tedford is a really passionate person, and he spends his life devoted to helping us get better. That's shown through all of these struggles."
Tedford averaged 8.6 wins a season in his first five years and has never won fewer than seven games. In his rookie year, 2002, he was named Pac-10 Coach of the Year for going 7-5 with essentially the same team that had gone 1-10 the year before. This year, there are no excuses. Tedford had a talented quarterback returning for the first time, more than enough weapons on offense and more than enough athletes on defense. Still, the Bears erased a 5-0 start by losing five of the next six games. "He's been pretty consistent, but you can see it weighing on him," tailback Justin Forsett said. Tedford was already known for his work ethic and schedule, which includes an often-used air mattress in his office. Losses have changed nothing. "There are many nights when we don't see him go home," left tackle Mike Gibson said. "His love for the game is more than anyone I've ever known." But during a 6-5 season is there more to be done? Should things be done differently? "It's impossible to do that," Tedford said. "We work and sleep here. Nothing has changed that." Not even a perpetual cough.