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Football: Report from Candlestick

It was a little odd to discuss a game that’s not taking place for 3 1/2 months, but Washington Football, Inc., which is hosting the game, obviously wants to start drumming up interest for the Sept. 3 season-opener between Cal and Fresno State at Candlestick Park.

Holding the press conference in the 49ers locker room at Candlestick was a nice touch. Cal play-by-play radio announcer Joe Starkey, who was the voice of the 49ers for so many years and walked through that locker room countless times, served as the moderator.

This will be a special game for Jeff Tedford. It probably will hit him as the game gets closer, but he has so much history with the Fresno State program that there is no way it will feel like just another game. Tedford was a record-setting quarterback at Fresno State and coached on the staff there for six years, including five as offensive coordinator.

“I had great days at Fresno State, both as a player — obviously I got my degree from there — and then my coaching experience there and all the great relationships that I built over the years in the valley with the people there,”  Tedford said. “I still have a lot of friends who live there. I know I’ll probably get a lot of phone calls that week before the game from all those people. …So I love Fresno, love the people and the associations I’ve had there, but obviously my first and foremost though, and where my passion is — I bleed blue and gold now.”

Tedford just has to look at the current make-up of the Fresno State program for it to hit home. He coached with current head coach Pat Hill, and the Bulldogs’ projected starting quarterback this season, Derek Carr, is the younger brother of former Fresno St. star and No. 1 overall NFL draft pick David Carr, who currently plays with the 49ers. Tedford coached David Carr when Carr was at Fresno and Tedford was the Bulldogs’ offensive coordinator.

“When I was coaching David, Derek was about this tall (gesturing low) and we’d stay around after practice and throw Nerf balls around,” Tedford said. “I know the passion Derek has for football. He’s grown up in a family of football. After that game, I wish Derek nothing but the best. Obviously I love David Carr and their family, and Derek as well. They have a quality family, I’ve enjoyed my relationship with them over the years, and looking forward to seeing how his career progresses.”

For a transcription of what Tedford and athletic director Sandy Barbour had to say in the more formal portion of the press conference, click here.

In a more informal interrogation with reporters, Tedford talked extensively about his decision to name Zach Maynard as his starting quarterback. I will have a complete transcription in a separate post, but a few highlights:

  • Tedford said the reason he decided to name Maynard the starter Saturday, which some perceived as strange timing, is so he can start assuming a leadership role through the summer and have the team rally around him. He said that was especially important because Maynard has only been with the program since January. He also said he sensed the team rallying around him as spring practice progressed.
  • Tedford reiterated that he won’t be significantly changing the offense  because of Maynard’s presence behind center, but acknowledged there will be more designed runs for the quarterback.

As mentioned in an earlier post today, Tedford said while playcalling duties haven’t been completely finalized, he plans on calling the majority of the plays this season. That is something he’s done off and on during his career at Cal, the last time coming in 2007. After the team collapsed during the second half of that season, Tedford decided he needed to become more of an overseer of the entire program to shore up some of the intangible things with the program. So he yielded playcalling duties to his offensive coordinator in each of the past three seasons.

With some of his old coaches back in the program — offensive line coach Jim Michalczik and wide receivers coach Eric Kiesau — Tedford feels comfortable enough with the other aspects of the program to dive more into scheming and playcalling again.

“This may sound odd, but I still see  myself as a young head coach,” Tedford said. “I think as you go through time, things go through a progression. As you try things, you learn from them. I think I’ve learned how to kind of go from 100 percent playcalling to backing out and overseeing to balance and manage both. I don’t think you learn those things until you actually try them. I have learned  over the years what I hopefully think is the right combination.”

Tedford said while he will call the majority of the plays, he no longer will have the huge playcard he used to tote around on the sidelines. He said a friend and major Cal donor used to refer to that card as the “pizza box.”

A couple of other notes:

  • Tedford said he is anxiously waiting for incoming freshman tailback Brendan Bigelow to get on campus. Bigelow will arrive in Berkeley in about a month when Summer Bridge begins, and the team’s medical staff will immediately put him through an evaluation to see if he is ready. Bigelow, a highly regarded recruit from Fresno, is coming off two major knee injuries.
  • Tedford said the top two players on the depth chart at running back right now are Isi Sofele and walk-on Mike Manuel. That, however, contradicts the depth chart that Cal released today, which has Covaughn DeBoskie-Johnson as the backup.
  • Tedford said former quarterback Beau Sweeney, who is transferring out of the program, has sent letters to quite a few schools and has had “a lot of response back.” But he said Sweeney has yet to choose a new school.

Jonathan Okanes

Jonathan Okanes is in his fourth year covering Cal's football team. Previously, he covered Cal's men's basketball team for four years. He can also be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/OkanesonCal.