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:
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.