Could the second winningest coach in Cal football history be headed for the Swamp?
Following one of his most disappointing seasons as the Bears' head coach, Jeff Tedford enters an offseason of relative uncertainty—Cal graduates eight senior starters and will likely lose Heisman candidate Jahvid Best to the NFL.
On defense, he loses both the Bears' best player on the line (Tyson Alualu) and in the secondary (Syd'Quan Thompson), while on offense Cal gives up two thirds of the starting receiving corps (Verran Tucker, Nyan Boateng) in addition to the electrifying Best.
Almost as damaging, Kevin Riley returns for his senior season in 2010 having amassed a 19-15 record since costing the program a No. 1 national ranking in the infamous home loss to Oregon State two seasons ago. Prior to Riley's memorable mishap, Tedford was 48-20 at Cal.
After finishing sixth in the Pac-10, USC is also no longer Tedford's biggest worry—Oregon, Oregon State, Arizona, USC and Stanford all appear to have surpassed the Bear.
If there were ever a good time to leave a program Tedford resurrected and achieved national relevance with, this might be it.
And the University might not put up as much of a fight as you might think. Tedford made $2.8 million this season as the UC system raised tuition costs and cut budgets to address a $21 billion shortfall.
Also worth noting: When Cal renegotiated Jeff Tedford's contract in 2007, it added a series of bonuses including a $1.5 million payment if he's still coaching the team through 2011.
There are certainly much cheaper replacements available.
But before we dive in too deeply, would Florida even want Tedford?
After having his name mentioned in dozens of head coaching vacancies in the NFL and college football ranks, there's no doubting Tedford can coach.
In the 21 years before Tedford arrived, Cal had four winning seasons. The Golden Bears were 4-18 in the previous two seasons to his arrival. Since, he's put together seven straight winning seasons, six straight bowl game appearances and moved up to No. 2 on Cal's all-time list for wins by a head coach—tied with legend Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf.
He can also recruit—Tedford was able to nab All-American DeSean Jackson out of USC's backyard and found NFL MVP candidate Aaron Rodgers on a junior college recruiting visit for a tightend. He's produced NFL talent in every recruiting class since coming to Cal on both sides of the ball, and he's been able to go outside of the Bay Area to do it. He was even able to pluck away one of Urban Meyer's own—wideout Nyan Boateng.
His resume is more complete than Meyer when he made his debut at Florida (39-8, two bowl wins at Bowling Green and Utah), and then there's the endorsement Meyer offered up last season when discussing Miami redshirt freshman quarterback Robert Marve:
"Jeff Tedford is a great quarterback coach, and we've kind of learned from him a little bit and he says when you evaluate a quarterback it's not velocity, it's not side-stepping, it's not speed, it's the 'it' factor," Meyer said. "It's the Brett Favre, it's the Joe Montana, it's the Tim Tebow. It's the guy that finds a way to win a game, a competitor, and that's what [Marve] is."
Florida's interest though is only half of the equation. There would certainly be questions for the California-born head coach. The most obvious: why would Tedford, known to dislike overt pressure to compete for a national title, want to join a program so heavily invested in them?
For starters, Tedford can’t love the heat he has taken in the last three seasons, or the sometimes unreal expectations for a program that was 1-10 just eight years ago. He could be tempted to take his reputation and coaching mind elsewhere. What's more, Tedford is 48. If he goes to Florida and succeeds, it could be a program he finishes his coaching career with.
As for the $1 million buyout clause in Tedford's contract?
Brian Kelly had a $1 million exit clause when recently leaving Cincinnati for Notre Dame. He didn't even wait to coach the undefeated Bearcats in the Sugar Bowl. Tedford's buyout is certainly a figure the Gators could cover.
There's a lot of what-ifs in the equation on both sides. But, there's just as many reasons it could happen.
Grant Marek covered the Cal football team from 2003-2005 and has written for Sports Illustrated, the San Francisco Examiner and Daily Californian, among others. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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