The Tedford Mystery

It has been a recent college football truism that Jeff Tedford produces great quarterbacks.

If you go back and look at it, the line of signal callers tutored or developed by the Cal head coach has been impressive:

Trent Dilfer, Fresno State, 6th overall pick in the NFL draft

David Carr, Fresno State, 1st overall pick in the NFL draft

Akili Smith, Oregon, 3rd overall pick in the NFL draft

Joey Harrington, Oregon, 3rd overall pick in the NFL draft

Kyle Boller, California, 19th overall pick in the NFL draft

Aaron Rodgers, California, 24th overall pick in the NFL draft

That’s six NFL first rounders right there.  Pretty amazing.  Not many coaches can match that.

Now, before I continue, let’s not get caught up over the level of success these guys have or haven’t had in the pros.  This is a blog on college football and I couldn’t care less about the NFL.  The point is that these were very productive players who competed for Heismans and All-American honors and, as a result, were considered attractive prospects for the next level once their college careers were over.

So, it’s easy to see how the notion of “Jeff Tedford, Quarterback Guru” came about.

But something has happened in the last seven years to change that perception–at least in my mind.  As usual, if you look below the surface of it all, a different picture emerges.

Namely, Tedford hasn’t coached a star college quarterback since Aaron Rodgers, who left Cal after the 2004 season.  When you consider that he found Rodgers purely by accident after happening upon the future Packer while recruiting teammate Garrett Cross at Butte Junior College and that he inherited Kyle Boller from Tom Holmoe and that he arrived at Oregon with Joey Harrington and Akili Smith already on the roster, the fact emerges that he hasn’t signed a high-level quarterback out of high school since David Carr in 1997.  (Note: Carr wasn’t highly rated nationally, but he was a physical talent so I’ll give Tedford credit).

It seems counter-intuitive, but for all his reputation as a guru, Tedford has never signed a high school quarterback and turned him into a college football star (he only coached Carr as a frosh).

Where he has been brilliantly successful in is taking guys already on a roster–Dilfer, Harrington, Smith, Boller–and turning them into stars.  Many of his guys were, at one time, residents of the Island of Misfit Quarterbacks before he turned them around.  For that, he deserves full credit and I certainly don’t mean to take anything away from Tedford in this regard.  I just think his status as quarterback guru needs to be fleshed out a bit to get the whole story.

To wit, it appears that he can coach quarterbacks once he has them.  Unfortunately, it also appears that someone else has to find or recruit them for him first.  And this has become a real problem for his current job. 

You have to wonder why this is.  He’s been a good head coach at Cal.  The Bears are experiencing sustained success at a level not seen since the 1920s.   You would think that a personal coaching tradition dating back to Dilfer and culminating in Rodgers would mean that, every year, a bunch of high school stars are clamoring to play quarterback for Tedford.

But since stumbling upon Rodgers that one day at Butte, here are the quarterbacks he has signed for the Bears: 

Cary Dove

Nate Longshore

Joe Ayoob

Kyle Reed

Kevin Riley

Brock Mansion

Beau Sweeney

Allan Bridgford

Not exactly a who’s who of college football quarterbacking, is it?  I will grant that a couple of these quarterbacks have some years left to play, but there’s a very good chance that Tedford will end up striking out on all eight of these guys. 

This begs the question:  Is the issue that Tedford can’t identify talent, or is it that he just can’t recruit talent?  Even Holmoe–whose record was nowhere near Tedford’s as a head coach–got Boller (a top three national recruit at quarterback) to come play for the Bears.  Yet, with nine recruiting classes in the books, Tedford has yet to sign a single nationally-regarded quarterback.  I don’t mean the No. 3 guy in California.  I mean the guy who everyone wants, that can’t-miss prospect.

It’s not that the Bears can’t get talent on offense.  DeSean Jackson could’ve gone anywhere he wanted.  Marshawn Lynch was highly touted, as was Jahvid Best

But for some reason, the quarterback position–of all positions!–remains elusive to Tedford.

Why is this?

If I had to manage a guess, I don’t think it’s because Tedford can’t identify talent.  He may not be perfect at it, but he has that ability.  I think it’s more because he may lack the killer instinct needed as a recruiter to land a top-flight quarterback.  When you couple this lack of recruiting skill with an extreme self-confidence in his ability to develop overlooked players–a mentality most likely derived from coaching at places where he was forced to do more with less–it’s no wonder he has been prone to signing sleepers at the one position where he should be cleaning up.

This failure by Tedford has had a profound effect on the balance of power in the Pac-10 conference.  Since 2006, the Bears have often appeared on the verge of challenging USC for West Coast hegemony.  The inability of Cal to get over this hump can be blamed almost solely on the lack of a real difference maker at quarterback.  Cal started each of the last three seasons in the top 12 of the AP poll and ended each of them outside the top 25.  That doesn’t happen if Cal had the kind of talent over center that Tedford used to churn out with regularity.   

Perhaps Kevin Riley will turn things around for Tedford’s track record this year, but I doubt it.  Personally, I’d like to see what Tedford can do with another top talent at his disposal, as few offenses in college football are as fun to watch as his is when being run properly.

But unless another Rodgers falls from the sky, I don’t see how Tedford is going to make that happen.

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16 Responses to The Tedford Mystery

  1. Jude May 9, 2010 at 12:15 pm #

    Ok….but the reason to my thinking is because of success and the fact that he’s been going to the media till ( ie scout, espn, rivals) for recognizing the top qb.

    Big mistake because although you get national attention about sporting a top ranked class with an elite 11 qb, what your stuck with is a pre-chosen player, rather than a unknown who is hungry and has something special that he’s identified.

    Case in point, was the QB’s at Cals 2004 Bear Camp, there was a guy who clearly was the best….but they made REED the camp mvp.
    (Because Reed was already riding a bear offer since sophomore year of HS…….so they had to).

    After going to another college, this player came back to Cal just to find out about some of Tedfords thinking on some throwing motion issues. As a freshman Tedford called this guy a “highly developed qb for a college player”…………

    Tedford should forget all the recruiting rankings and just look for that guy on his own. He should also settle with the NFL pundits about holding the ball high….something that the NFL has trouble understanding.

    Thanks for the article.

  2. slippy May 11, 2010 at 12:44 am #

    What if it is beccause most of his guys have never had real NFL success?

    Think about it. If you’re a top 5 QB recruit – college is just your stepping stone to the NFL. I would be hard pressed to find a kid that highly rated that didn’t want to play in the NFL. So why would I want to go play for a coach with a track record of NFL flops?

  3. HP May 11, 2010 at 1:38 pm #

    Tedford’s guys have made millions of dollars thanks to being high draft picks. Whatever the case, I think it’s clear that he only made a real imprint on four guys: Smith, Harrington, Boller and Rodgers. Of that group, all made a ton of money and Rodgers is an emerging star. Really, not too shabby.

  4. AUman76 May 11, 2010 at 11:10 pm #

    Since wehn does a player have to be any good to make tons of $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$? Maybe Tedford’s good at making an average QB look good against very poor college defenses on the west coast? Then once they have to compete against top tallent they are exposes? Let’s face it rookies are more than overpaid. No matter the position, to give an unproven player millions before they even earn a roster spot is insane.
    Maybe Tedford himself is overrated and it’s his reputation that keeps gettin these kids a job in the NFL not his or their talent? How many Pac1 rings does his QB’s have? How many crystal balls do he and his QB’s have? Hummm……0 + 0 = 0! Then again Mel Kipper still believes Jimbo Clausen is the next JoMo from ND. Just think had Clausen went to Cal instead of ND he wouldn’t made Kipper sooooooooo happy by being drafted in round one. And why? Cause he would’ve been another of Ted’s Excellent Adventures. lol

  5. TorBear May 12, 2010 at 5:19 pm #

    I think you’re overlooking an explanation that is at least as plausible as the one’s you’ve offered. Tedford’s reputation as a QB guru was mostly formed in his days as a QB coach and OC. He served as de facto OC during his first couple of years at Cal, but he’s gradually had to relinquish control of the offense since then, which means that he cannot give his QB’s the kind of attention he did in the past.

  6. Heismanpundit May 12, 2010 at 11:52 pm #

    TorBear, that’s probably a valid point. But to me it still doesn’t explain why he hasn’t been able to recruit a top guy given his reputation.

  7. TorBear May 13, 2010 at 1:27 pm #

    He’s been able to recruit four-star players, but no five-star guys—unless you count Ayoob, who was a JC recruit. I don’t know that recruiting is really the issue, though. Other than Boller, none of the Tedford QB draftees were especially highly-regarded coming out of high school, to the best of my knowledge. If he has (had?) the magic touch with QB’s , his talent seems to have more to do with development than recruiting. The QB’s he HAS recruited at Cal probably have a higher average star-ranking than than the ones he earlier sent to the pros. I could see blaming him for having picked one or two “lemons”, but it doesn’t make sense that a guy with his past wouldn’t be able to make lemonade from ANY of them. That’s why I suspect Cal’s QB woes of late have more to do with a lack of involvement on JT’s part than with him having lost his touch.

  8. Heismanpundit May 13, 2010 at 4:25 pm #

    Well, if that’s the case, perhaps he needs to stick his fingers into the QB pie again….

  9. MoreNCsarecoming May 14, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    The picture of him holding those hundreds and hundreds of plays reveals a thousand words. Tedford gets into the minds of his QBs and that ends both their confidence and their decision making ability. The Riley kid is simply a headcase. Just look at him. He drops back to throw and then there is this slight hesitation. Why? Because Tedford is in his head. Is he holding the ball high enough? Is his release point right? Before that Ayoob was a 5* recruit and after Tedford attempted to change everything about the kid he couldn’t win a starting QB job at half of the highs schools in the Bay Area. The only reason why Boller succeeded is because Tedford shrunk the field in half which made for simple reads. Frankly Rodgers looked mediocre the second half of his last year. Just ask Texas Tech.

    Pete Carroll was the real QB guru. Palmer, Leinart, Sanchez…

  10. Oski88 May 17, 2010 at 5:30 pm #

    Well, another thing to look at is the fact that Tedford essentially had Nate Longshore after Rodgers – as a four year starter. Nate would have been another top draft pick were he not injured against Oregon in 2007. Cal was 5-0, and Longshore was a consistent, 60%+ passer with big numbers, throwing to DeSean Jackson, etc. With the injury, and Kevin Riley’s subsequent mind cramp at Oregon State the next week, the Bears fell into a spin, and from that point to today, the QB position has been a soap opera of Riley and Longshore recriminations. So, yes, he probably mishandled that. Confidence is also a big part of why players are good at QB, and both of those players confidence have been destroyed.

    Cal has recruited top 10 QBs over the years. Top 3 in California generally does turn out to be top 10 in the country. And frankly, most of the QBs on the team do have the talent. But there are only one or two or three each year that actually make it.

    The other part of the equation is that Cal has only had two QBs graduate since Aaron Rodgers. Nate Longshore and Ayoob. Longshore at one point was heralded by some as the best Junior QB in the country, before his injury. Ayoob was a disaster, but clearly not ready after he got to campus, and only played because there really was no one else on the roster. He was taken out and replaced by a fullback for the last two games of his season. So your sample size is small, to say the least. Longshore, who was a pro prospect until his injury, and Riley – who is still playing, and for all we know could develop in his fifth year into Jesus in cleats. This is, after all, the first season he will have the same offensive coordinator two years in a row. For the other guys, they are all on the bench. Let’s give them time.

  11. Nate May 17, 2010 at 8:14 pm #

    A few have time left to play?
    Only 3 of those you listed ever started a game for us.
    And don’t get me wrong I agree with you on the fact that tedford hasn’t produced a quality quarterback but I think he will with Bridgford.
    Bridgford will be a star (mark my words).
    He outperformed the much glorified Matt Barkley at elite 11 a year ago and had better stats in high school.
    I think Bridgford will reverse this trend.

  12. Heismanpundit May 20, 2010 at 4:15 pm #

    Nate: The point is that none of the 8 have shown signs of being great, and some were awful, which is why they didn’t end up starting.

    As for Bridgford: No. I actually saw him play in person in HS. He’s not going to get it done. If he were any good, he’d be challenging a much-maligned Riley for playing time.

  13. Pappy's Boy June 10, 2010 at 11:02 am #

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned here is that since Mesean Jackson, Lavelle Hawkins and Robert Jordan left, the team hasn’t had a high caliber wide receiver that can break open or stretch the field. This has also affected the quality of play from the quarterbacks at Cal.

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