Here is the full transcription of my Thursday morning interview with former Cal coach Jeff Tedford:
— It’s been nearly 3 months since you left Cal. Are you feeling relaxed or do you have the itch to coach again?
“I do feel relaxed, and yes I do have the itch. Got a chance to take a deep breath and kind of step back a little. You get on that treadmill and there’s never really a minute where you’re not thinking about some phase of it. That was very difficult in the beginning because you just become so accustomed to every second of the day is used for some thought of the program, where it be coaches or players or recruiting or discipline or academics — all the things that go into it. It’s a non-stop thing. There was a transition there that was a little difficult. It’s almost like detox.
“I got through that after probably a month, then to be able to spend some time with my kids and my wife. I feel like I’m much more at ease now., I’m not as tense. It’s been good. This whole thing is going to give me a chance to reflect on things I can do better and differently. I do have the itch, no question, to start the next chapter.”
— Let’s go back to the day after the Oregon State season finale. How did your meeting with athletic director Sandy Barbour unfold? What was the tone? What did you say on behalf of yourself and your program?
“We had conversations before that game, a week or so leading up to that game. Then afterwards it wasn’t really a long conversation. Her decision had been made and there wasn’t really anything I could say.”
— Did you have an answer when you left the meeting?
“They said they would get back to me the next day. She was going to convene with whoever she was talking to. Then we had a conference call with the chancellor and the vice-chancellor. Then the next day we had another meeting and that’s when she said they were going a different direction.”
— How close were you to remaining the Cal coach?
“I didn’t know which way it was going to go. After it was all said and done, I think their minds were made up a couple weeks before.”
— Ultimately, did she give you a reason for the firing?
“No. Once it came down, it was, `We’re going a different direction.’ It was very cut and dried. No explanations. The week before we talked about some things we felt like needed to improve. I kind of told her how we could improve and how I could improve. It was a tough season. I’d never seen anything like the injury piece. Mainly (we talked) about how we could improve academically, which I thought we had. There needed to be some pieces in place for that as far as support. I suggested there were some things I felt could make us more successful in a lot of different areas.
“Going in it kind of felt like her and I were talking as a team. Afterward, I didn’t think we were really acting as a team. Once it was my turn to tell the chancellor what we could do and I was excited about the future and wanted the opportunity to put us back to where we could be — and I was very confident we could do that — I was kind of on my own at that point. That’s why I believe the decision had already been made.”
— Do you believe Sandy made the decision on her own, or was she forced into it?
“It’s hard to say. I think the chancellor had a lot to say about it. I don’t really know what her opinion was about it. I think the decision was made by her and the chancellor.”
— Do you feel there was excessive pressure on you to succeed this year because of stadium funding?
“I didn’t feel any pressure. It’s always the same feeling. You’re driven to be successful for the kids, for the university, not so much by a financial piece. I understand people need to be in the seats, but I’m not going to do anything differently today than I did yesterday because of the financial piece. It’s really driven to be successful for the university, for our program, for the student-athletes. That’s what drove me every day to try to be our best.”
— What was it like for you, after 11 seasons, to have to tell your players and assistant coaches that you were out? What was their reaction?
“It was very tough. They gave me about an hour to get it all done, then collected my keys. I told the staff initially. I think the staff already knew because they’d sent an email out to all the senior people on campus. On one of the emails was (to strength) coach (Mike) Blasquez. He knew before I knew probably. I left from that meeting straight to my coaches, and they already knew.
“(The meeting was) pretty somber. It was a pretty emotional time, as you can imagine. I was overwhelmed. I told the players at some point I want to have a chance to hug every one of you. When the meeting was over, they all lined up on their own and I got a chance to give them all a hug.”
— There has been speculation that many Cal boosters supported you and wanted you retained for at least one more year. How much of that kind if feedback did you get?
“There’s two sides to every coin, there’s people on both sides of it I’m sure. I thought it was great. It was comforting to know there were a lot of people who valued the work that we had done and had trust and confidence that we could make the transition and come back, and felt like we deserved a chance to do that. I got cards and letters and emails after it happened. I never looked at the media, but I didn’t have my head buried in the sand, either.”
— Do you think you would still be coach if you had been able to keep Tosh Lupoi on your staff? You would have had a top-10 recruiting class in 2012. Coupled with all the injuries, things just sort of unraveled.
“It was a trying year, there’s no doubt about it. Starting with the impression that the recruiting class fell apart. We had a very good recruiting class. We probably could have had two more players. It’s always hard when you have coaching changes at that point. It just had a real eerie feeling. We had just played in the Holiday Bowl, lost to Texas. Didn’t play well, that’s for sure. Then all of a sudden, everything turned negative for whatever reason.
“I think the ultimate thing was the injury piece . . . it was devastating to us. It was something I’d never seen before. That was hard to overcome. You never want to make excuses. When you have 27 players hurt who missed a total of 142 games, it’s a lot. It had a cumulative effect as we went through the season. It was just a really weird year that way.”
— Did the salaries of your assistant coaches need to be higher to keep them from other schools?
“It wasn’t just the (dollar) numbers. There are things with the coaches’ contracts that could definitely be improved. Their contracts are structured where there is only so much (money) guaranteed. People can use that as a recruiting tool against Cal. That’s what I was told at the time — I’m going to have a hard time keeping coaches because of the structure of their contracts.”
— You talked to the administration about it?
“It really wasn’t going to change. It’s just the way it’s done there. It was evident to me it was a problem.”
— Talk about the low graduation rate revealed by the NCAA’s academic progress report (APR). How did it get so bad and how much do you think it played into Sandy’s decision?
“The problem with averages is if you have a couple bad numbers then it’s going to bring the average down until you can get that off the books. That’s the thing that bothered me the most, that we didn’t care or invest in the academic piece. We spent a lot of time with that.”
— What had you done previously to try to remedy that? Did you seek help from the administration? What was their response?
“I always asked for more resources and support. Felt like we were doing a lot of good things. But a couple years there were bad numbers.”
— How much did that affect your status?
“I think a lot. Which is fair enough. I was as troubled by it as anyone. When it came out in the summertime, then all of a sudden there was a red flag there. We really put a lot of emphasis on academics, more so than ever about the value of getting things done on time. We didn’t have guys ineligible . . . very rarely. The thing that hurt us is people would go all the way through the be one semester short and take off to try out for the NFL and then not come back and finish the one or two classes they had to finish. That was one of the big problems — people not finishing.
“Over this last year, I made a big push to get someone to get these people to come back, to reach out to them. I hired somebody around midseason to do that. Because that’s where a lot of the numbers were lagging.”
— Is there a lack of support from the adminstration in terms of getting tutoring so athletes can compete in the classroom and graduate?
“There seemed to always be a stumbling block financially. You had to give and take with things. If you’re going to hire this person, you need to take away from that. I think they were trying to be supportive, but we thought we needed more people. The people who are there are overwhelmed and easily burned out. They had too many people they were trying to juggle. The people we had worked really, really hard to try to make it successful.”
— You accomplished a lot in Berkeley — what are you most proud of?
“It’s really unfortunate that the last season left such a bad taste in my mouth. When I’ve sat back over these last couple months, I’ve had to reflect back on the good times — and there were a lot of good times. A lot of great wins. It’s almost like that was a different life because this last season was so difficult that it really left a bad taste in my mouth.
“The thing I appreciate the most is the relationship I have with the players. You become so close to the players and so attached to the players, and now that you’re not the representative of that team anymore, when I go coach somewhere else, those players we’re still attached.
“There’s a lot to be proud of. We won a lot of games, won a lot of bowl games. The stadium would have to go up there somewhere. The relationships we had with some great people here.”
— Biggest disappointment?
“Probably not being able to overcome this last year with a stadium that we worked so hard to build. A lot of sacrifice, a lot of time I put into helping have that stadium built. Recruiting to that since Day 1 when I got here and then when it happened, not to be able to settle in and overcome that adversity.”
— You were there 11 seasons — a long time. Did you ever feel burnout?
“I didn’t feel burnout. I guess in any workplace, nothing’s perfect. There’s a level of frustration at times because you’re there so long and you see things you want to improve. When things don’t, on certain levels there’s frustration. That only comes with time.”
— Why do you think the program lost its momentum? Can you pinpoint what caused downturn the past few seasons?
“A year ago we were in the Holiday Bowl playing Texas and had a winning season. The year before that we missed out (on a bowl) and had a lot of close games. I think the pieces were still in place to overcome and get back to where we needed to be. It wasn’t year after year of poor seasons.
“Then again, when the bar gets set high — which it should be. No one’s satisfied just to have a winning season. It’s not as bad as people seem to make it out to be. In my mind, we had one really bad season — that was last year. I can’t pinpoint. I think it’s just circumstantial — different things.
“Part of it where I could have done a better job is when I do this over again, I’m probably going to stop always looking . . . I think there can be a formula and stick to it. Continuity is really important. We tried different things, like the no-huddle. I think it took us a half a year this year to really grasp that with the speed and efficiency that needs to work.
“I’ve learned a lot. One of the things I’m going to take the time to do is make sure I reflect on what I would do differently in every phase of a program. There’s thing I could do better to make sure we’re successful.”
— You came to Cal with the reputation of being a quarterback guru and immediately had great success with Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers. In eight seasons after that, you did not develop another elite-level quarterback. What happened?
“I was a little bit more hands-off — I’m not saying that was the reason. And, when you have an Aaron Rodgers, that’s what the guy looks like. Come to find out, he’s the best in the game and you get spoiled with him. I think our guys played well at times, but we were consistent enough to really pull away. The inconsistency — I don’t want to put it all on the quarterback — is the difference between a seven-win season or a 10-win season.”
— Have you second-guessed yourself about your handling of Zach Maynard’s situation in the opener vs. Nevada, not announcing it until almost the last minute?
“Inside the team, I don’t know that it was a deal. It was an ongoing process. Zach knew for a long time. I thought the team was fine. There was an incentive there for him (to get eligible). I had told him he was going to miss the whole game, but he would have a chance to work himself back if he did everything he was supposed to do throughout the summer. And he earned three quarters back. He knew that the whole summer. He worked very hard at that throughout the summer.
“He’s not the only one. There’s a lot of kids when they feel like it is just overwhelming, that the hill is so high and sometimes they get discouraged, there needs to be motivation, encouragement, discipline. Through the summer that’s exactly how it was handled. He could have (earned it all back). He earned some of it back and he stumbled and I kept a hard line.
“When I set down the standard for what he needed to do and he stumbled on one of them, then that’s that. That was a piece of discipline. It’s funny how people want discipline, but when you discipline it’s not the right thing.
“Now when I made the announcement could have been different for (fans). I think our team understood that Zach gave us the best chance to win. I kept the team council informed. Going into the game, practice reps really reflected what was going to happen in the game. We gave Allan (Bridgford) a lot of reps. What I didn’t want to happen was a lot of distraction.”
— What’s next for you? Do you want to still coach in college? The NFL?
“Either one. I think college is a great fit. I’m really looking forward to the next chapter of that.”
— Did Colorado contact you about its job?
— Did anyone reach out to you?
“Not for head-coaching positions . . . nothing major. Some coordinator positions. What I’m anxious to do this year is travel around, go see other practices, take that opportunity to learn and grow. College or NFL practices.”
— Do you envision a benefit from perhaps sitting out a season?
“I’ve had a lot of advice from people who have been through this to recharge the batteries and you’ll have a much different perspective going into the next. I’m starting to feel like that’s good advice. I can see a lot of difference. When you’re so inventested in something and you get let go, it can be a devastating thing. You either jump back into something or give it time to reflect on things, then go forward.
“I think reflection for me is the best thing. Just to take a deep breath, write a lot of notes, stay on top of things and be ready for the next chapter.”
— Would your wife like you to do that?
“Not very often have I ever been around this much. She’s ready to boot me out. I think it’s been good because I can see a difference in myself with patience, being able to take a deep breath.”
— Do you think a year from now when you get a job somewhere else, having gone through all of this, do you feel confident there’s a lot of good coaching left in you?
“I’ve been on the treadmill a long time. Didn’t do everything right. Made some mistakes. But always with great intentions and always very dedicated to the program and the kids. I think if I use this year properly, I’m looking forward to it. I have to learn from the good and the bad and go forward. I’m not perfect. I can learn from my mistakes. I’m very very encouraged and very eager for the next chapter.”
— As you put a little distance between yourself and this experience, how do you think you’ll remember your 11 seasons in Berkeley?
“Great. I’m so indebted to a lot of people. It was such a great experience. It’s hard to see that if you have tunnel vision of just last year. It’s really important I take that as a piece but I don’t completely consume myself with that. I’m driven that that’s not my last coaching experience. But I can take a lot of great times before that all the way back to the first game.
“There were so many good experiences. The great games, the great players, the great achievements we’ve had. Going through the process of building the stadium, thinking about the days of the tree people and all the things that have gone into it since Day One. We were able to be a part of changing an environment.”