Californias new football season, which begins Saturday against the Nevada Fighting Kaepernicks, is yet another referendum on Jeff Tedford. His ability to create a quarterback out of whole cloth, to steal 10 wins out of an eight-win schedule, to reprise his starting point 10 years ago.
What it is likely to be, though, is a celebration of new architecture. Memorial Stadium has been gussied up, even though it hasnt been fully paid for, and while that may mollify the fan base a bit, eventually it will come back to the central frustration in Berkeley.
Namely, that Oregon has overtaken it, Washington is closing fast, Stanfords most recent renaissance is not yet close to being done, and the window of opportunity without USC is closing again.
Tedfords regime has been by any measure a successful one, with the notable exception of the lack of a Rose Bowl appearance. In that way, he has matched the efforts of the previous nine coaches.
And while his true legacy at Cal is that he has been better at developing running backs, offensive and defensive linemen and defensive backs, he has annoyed some segments of the customer base by (a) promising too much too soon, and (b) watching as other conference schools developed new streams of income while his own has not.
Sure, wed like to humor those of you in the Anti-Tedford by saying he isnt a great play-caller, but since the chances of you knowing more about play-calling than him is essentially zero, well dismiss that one out of hand.
Nevertheless, Cals 11th version of TedfordBall is another strange one to comprehend based on such little evidence. There is still no Aaron Rodgers clone, the rest of the talent base is solid but not breathtaking, and there is the pretty new architecture to take into account.
Ultimately, though, Cals greatest challenge comes not by the identity of its coach, though, but as the new world order imposes itself on the Pac-12, the most traditionally hidebound of conferences.
The game hasnt changed, but the business has. All the new money that comes to Cal is the same money that goes to Washington State and Colorado and Arizona, and the same advantages that the schools with the flushest donors have remain the same advantages. The new TV money gets Cals athletic department out of debt, but the laws of supply and demand still are in force, and more stridently than ever.
First, everyone gets the same amount of TV money. Second, profit-making programs will always have an inherent advantage because that money doesnt stop coming in, and as the notions of revenue sharing with smaller schools become more and more objectionable to the financial powers, the pressure on mid-level programs like Cals will become that much greater.
And third, these are just plain volatile times in the business of squeezing money out of free labor.
These are athletic directors problems, true, but athletic directors can be loyal to their employees up to a point. The new money simply makes life more stressful.
As for Tedford, his task is to adjust to a wild new landscape in which coaches leashes are shorter because of the growing money, while waiting for new alums with open wallets come to Berkeley in hopes of keeping up with the heavy hitters elsewhere in the conference.
Even in a cyclical world like sports, the hierarchy in college football is pretty well set in concrete. His years at Cal have made the Bears a solid achiever competitively, but not a perennial power; these are the best times Cal has had in 60 years, but they remain an arms distance behind the ones who are.
Tedford represents surety, and continuity. He ranks 10th of the 124 FBS coaches in time served in one place, and he has watched 204 coaching changes occur in that time, not counting interims. In case youre wondering, those ahead of him remain:
Frank Beamer, Virginia Tech (26 years)
Larry Blakeney, Troy (22 years)
Mack Brown, Texas (15)
Kirk Ferentz, Iowa, and Bob Stoops, Oklahoma (14)
Jim Grobe, Wake Forest (12), Gary Patterson, TCU, Gary Pinkel, Missouri, and Mark Richt, Georgia (12).
And as much as college football is in flux, and the odds against a coaching getting into double digits at one place grow, this year referendum on Tedford will miss the point as much as all the others have. Cal needs to find out where it fits in the new world order well before it decides what to do about its most successful coach in six decades.
In the meantime, wont the stadium look pretty?