There is usually more to a coach's firing than what the public is led to believe, and such was the case with Jeff Tedford's downfall as University of California football coach.
The first sign that Tedford's successful 11-year run in Strawberry Canyon was on a short leash was academically, not athletically, related. The graduation rate among his players had nose-dived to 48 percent, dead last in the Pacific-12 Conference.
At Cal, that's clearly grounds for dismissal. Cal isn't ranked annually as the nation's No. 1 public university because it values athletics above academics. The classroom at Berkeley takes precedent over the football field, that alone making Tedford a scapegoat.
Tedford believed strongly in player study sessions when I met him nine years ago. But university sources told me this week that former Cal assistant Tosh Lupoi, now at Washington, recruited players who couldn't cut the mustard academically, and this brought down the graduation numbers.
The public was informed that Tedford's second losing season in three years was the scissor that severed his short leash. Tedford's health, however, was another factor. Too many years of watching film until midnight, then sleeping in his office, wore him down.
He worked so hard at one point that he was diagnosed with walking pneumonia. He took medication and pushed onward, but his sideline demeanor had changed. He aged beyond his 51 years. He became weary and overweight, he lacked expression, and athletic director Sandy Barbour actually did him a favor by unshackling his heavy burden.
The stress and pressure of coaching, even though Tedford was making $3.2 million a year, still takes its toll. Remember who he is, a son who didn't really know his father, and who was raised by family members, and who lived by himself in a warehouse for awhile, and who was determined to succeed, to the point of becoming obsessed.
He loaded up the Cal playbook with so many schemes and formations that his players had difficulty memorizing them all. But the more he added, the more conservative he became on offense. Every opponent knew that same ol' inside screen pass was coming, but Tedford kept calling it without success. Meanwhile, no fake punts or fake field goals.
Speaking of field goals, when Tedford looked at 4th-and-1 at Ohio State in September, and with every Cal assistant upstairs begging him to go for it, he, instead, sent in the same field goal kicker who had already missed twice, and then missed again. Angry alumni became angrier, and Cal's recruiting was kicked in the teeth.
Perhaps that's why Tedford's $5-million hilltop home in Contra Costa was listed early in the season; he sensed his days at Cal were dwindling down to a precious few.
Something else the public may be unaware of in terms of Tedford's ouster: Stanford. What Jim Harbaugh started on The Farm and what David Shaw has built upon, culminating last Saturday in Stanford defeat of #1 Oregon in Eugene, directly impacted Tedford's tenure in Berkeley. Don't ever underestimate the rivalry between these two prestigious think tanks.
So what went wrong with Tedford, when everything at first seemed so right? The truth: His insecurity got the best of him. He changed offensive coordinators every year or two. Sometimes, he became the offensive coordinator. He switched practice from afternoon to morning, he permitted the players to call him "Teddy," he let them pick out those ugly uniform combinations, and continuity slowly disappeared. The kid in the warehouse had become unsure of himself.
Bill Walsh said that after 10 years of coaching in one place, San Francisco, the 49er players began to drown him out. Tedford lasted an unprecedented 11 years at Cal, one more year than Andy Smith, Stub Allison and Pappy Waldorf, but enough time for the Cal alumni to become tired of him.
One might have thought that after Tedford's worst season at Cal, 3-9 this fall, he would have been granted a "mulligan." Oregon State did the same for Mike Riley after a 3-9 season last year, and the Beavers are now bowl-bound.
After all, Memorial Stadium is, indeed, The House that Tedford Rebuilt. The renovation and the new Athletic Performance Center wouldn't have been possible without this decent man, who never bad-mouthed Cal, even now when he has been shown the door.
Character-wise, they don't come any better than Jeff Tedford. He is a wonderful family man with a great wife and two nice sons, both Cal men. Their father cried in my presence one day over seldom getting to see his boys play high school football. Their father also never embarrassed Cal off the field. The school never had a more dedicated employee.
He sent as many players into the NFL as any school in the country. But he couldn't identify another Aaron Rodgers, and Cal's ensuing quarterback malaise hurried his demise. Old Blues were so eager to see him leave that they will pony up the nearly $7 million required to buy out his lucrative contract.
Tedford should take a year off for health purposes, then seek another job. His new employer will, then, ease the payout that Cal owes him.
The spotlight now shines on Barbour. This is her first landmark move in eight years as athletic director. Getting Mike Montgomery was huge, but he was just sitting there, unemployed, which made him the easiest basketball hire. But make no mistake, the football coach is top banana. Tedford's replacement will prove Barbour's mettle.
Gary Anderson, the miracle worker at Utah State, should be a prime candidate. But for my money, Barbour should pick up the phone and call Jon Gruden. He loves this area from his days with the Oakland Raiders, he's a dynamic presence with a national image, which would lift recruiting, and he just might be interested. So phone and find out, Sandy.
But, right now, I'm recalling my relationship with Tedford, which was forged between 2003 and 2006, with both high and low points. I wrote a number of positive stories in the Oakland Tribune about Tedford, including his player motivational tools and his challenged childhood. And I was the only journalist who wrote that he would remain at Cal, with a new contract, when other universities attempted to lure him from Berkeley.
There were also rough spots in our relationship. Tedford didn't like it when Rodgers told me, exclusively, that he was contemplating turning pro after his junior year. Tedford asked me to hold the story. I refused, telling him that I got it on the record.
Tedford also told me after the 2004 opener against the Air Force Academy that the Falcons, on several occasions, committed personal fouls away from the play. I called the academy for a quote from their coach, Fisher DeBerry, who then phoned Tedford the next day to complain. Tedford then turned his ire on me.
But, all in all, I enjoyed those years with Tedford. He's an upstanding individual, albeit a slave onto himself. So I told him about an inn on the Mendocino coast, with a fireplace, plenty of stacked wood, and a gorgeous view of the ocean from every room. So off he went with his lovely wife, Donna, to get some needed rest.
After he returned, he complained about having no television set in the room. When I, ahem, mentioned romance, he laughed and said, "Well, that's 30 minutes, then what do you do?" For sure, there aren't football players to recruit in the town of Mendocino, and Tedford isn't one to pick wild flowers along the cliffs.
Tedford will have time now to smell the flowers. He should make that effort instead of fretting over missed Rose Bowls and missed national championships -- his first two goals at Cal back in 2002. He has lots of money to play with, so why not visit Europe and have a glass of wine on the Champs Elysees in Paris or pasta on the Via Veneto in Rome?
Take the time to exhale, coach. You need it, and it will make you stronger for your next coaching stop. You've earned it.
(Dave Newhouse writes occasionally for bearinsider.com. Read his two e-books, "Before Boxing Lost Its Punch" and the Cal-related novel "White Lightning", on amazon.com.)