After Five Play-Callers In Five Years, Cal Football Hopes Ludwig Lasts

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After Five Play-Callers In Five Years, Cal Football Hopes Ludwig Lasts
(Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

The pressure is on Andy Ludwig.

Not just to rejuvenate the Bears’ offense, but to stick around to see it flourish.

Ludwig, hired in February, will be the Cal football team’s fifth new offensive coordinator in the last five years come Saturday at 7 p.m., when the Bears open their 2009 campaign against visiting Maryland.

He succeeds three one-and-done coordinators—Frank Cignetti, Jim Michalczik and Mike Dunbar—and takes over one of the Bears’ worst offenses in Tedford’s seven-year tenure in the Strawberry Canyon.

Cal’s third down conversion percentage (30), passing yards per game (189.8) and red zone scoring last season were all Tedford Era all-time lows.

The Bears’ passing yardage per game and red zone touchdown percentage both decreased for the third consecutive year and Cal’s points per game average (32.6) was its second lowest since head coach Tom Holmoe resigned at the end of 2001.

The turnover is taking its toll.

Tedford has always been largely responsible for the Bears’ offensive gameplan—including as the primary play-caller as recently as two seasons ago—so some of the onus has to fall on him.

But more so, the yearly tweaks to the Tedford offense, his fluctuating role as the play-caller, and the frequent additions and subtractions to his staff, have been a distraction—for the team and the Bears’ head coach.

During Tedford’s first five years at Cal—four of which featured George Cortez in the booth—the Bears were one of just five teams ranked in the Top 25 in scoring in all five.

Since, the Bears have struggled to establish consistency offensively.

Enter Ludwig.

Considered one of the nation’s top offensive minds, Ludwig has spent much of his 20-year coaching career following Tedford—and his offense. Ludwig replaced Tedford as the Fresno State offensive coordinator when he split for Oregon, then did the same when Tedford left the Ducks to assume the Bears’ head coaching vacancy.

Since, Ludwig spent the past four seasons as Utah's offensive coordinator, last year orchestrating an offense that ranked 15th nationally in scoring. The Utes averaged 37 points per game, more than any Tedford-run team at Cal, completing 45 percent of its third downs and 71 percent of its red zone TD opportunities (both higher than any Tedford team has managed to post).

What’s more, Ludwig’s familiarity with the offense has made for a smooth transition for both coaches.

The only problem the Ludwig hire presents for the Bears it seems is keeping him. Of Cal’s last four offensive coordinators, three of the four left immediately following their first tour in the Bears booth. Michalczik stuck around an extra year—re-assuming his assistant coaching position with the offensive line—before the Washington Huskies, and now Oakland Raiders lured him away from Berkeley.

Cortez left the program in 2004 to pursue a job as an NFL assistant coach. He eventually rejoined the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders. Dunbar took over offensive duties at Minnesota, after resigning in January of this year. And Cignetti left this past offseason for the same position at Pitt.

To some extent, the Bears are to blame. It’s one of the problems with having a highly successful program with a head coach signed through 2015.

But after spurning Kansas State to take the position at Cal—if anything, Ludwig has already shown he wants to be here. What’s more, in his last three stints as an offensive coordinator—with Utah, Oregon and Fresno State—he hasn’t spent fewer than three years with any program.

Saturday, he tackles a season opener Bears fans should hope is the first of many.

Follow Grant Marek on Twitter: @Grant_Marek

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