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Jeff Tedford, who revived Cal program, falls victim to college football madness

Jeff Tedford who was fired this week was 67-35 his first eight seasons Cal 15-22 his last three. | Jeff

Jeff Tedford, who was fired this week, was 67-35 in his first eight seasons at Cal and 15-22 in his last three. | Jeff Chiu~AP

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Updated: December 26, 2012 6:25AM

Back in a time when newspapers had
money and ambition
and the Rose Bowl still mattered to a Midwestern audience, I found myself in Berkeley, Calif., sizing up the California Golden Bears as an aspiring Rose Bowl contender.

These Bears hadn’t spent New Year’s Day in Pasadena since 1959, when a tough hombre named Joe Kapp was their quarterback. Twenty-two years and a storied career as an NFL swashbuckler later, Kapp was enlisted to duplicate the feat as Cal’s coach, only to fail rather ingloriously. The former campus hero was one of a dozen contributors to a Cubs-like stretch of futility that was becoming increasingly irksome to put-upon Cal fans.

But from Oregon had come a coach who at last seemed possessed of the right stuff. Jeff Tedford’s reserved, studious demeanor was an incongruous fit for the Oregon Ducks’ mad-scientist approach to offense, but he was believed to be the brains behind their sudden rise to power in the potent Pac-10 Conference. Four of the quarterbacks he had worked with at Oregon and at Fresno State had become first-round NFL draft picks.

Kyle Boller, a battered hulk he inherited from the previous Cal regime, quickly became the fifth after a single season of Tedford’s tutelage. And his current quarterback, the inspiration for this Pasadena dreaming, just maybe was the best of them all. Small-town, big-armed kid you might have heard of: Aaron Rodgers.

Associates had told me about Tedford’s hardscrabble upbringing, but he was reluctant to discuss it beyond acknowledging the pillows and blanket on his office couch as symbols of 24/7 motivation. A success-starved campus had embraced him, but Tedford resisted any trappings of celebrity, in particular the tie-dyed “Ted-Head” T-shirts being peddled as a multi-colored homage to an all-business football coach who was about as psychedelic as Dick Cheney.

Good, guy, though. Rodgers, too.

Three years into his run, Tedford had let it be known that Cal’s outdated facilities left much to be desired by the Pac-10’s lofty standards, so plans were under way for an upgrade that would make the job more appealing to the coach and Cal football more enticing to essential high-end recruits.

California staggers forward under the most battered economy of any state in the union, but its showpiece campus now owns a 62,000-seat jewel of a football stadium that features panoramic views of San Francisco Bay. The locker rooms, weight room, offices and meeting rooms are NFL-caliber.

And Cal is in the market for a new head football coach, having dismissed Tedford after he bottomed out at 3-9 this season, capping a 15-22 stretch in the last three seasons in which the mojo of his first eight seasons (67-35) totally deserted him.

I feel for him, and I’d feel worse if he didn’t have a
$5 million buyout to tide him over as he contemplates what’s next. Money aside, it’s a spirit-crushing blow to be told you’re no longer capable of doing what had been your life’s work. And so much for that sleep-in-the-office commitment.

How a coach who was riding so high could fall so far is a cautionary tale as expansion madness in the quest for greater TV exposure, bowl-game dollars and other financial considerations blows up college football.

Let’s put to rest the myth that college sports is a wholesome extracurricular activity designed to enhance the participating students’ educational experience.

This is about money. It might as well be the pros.

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