Program’s winningest coach rebuilt program

Jonathan Kuperberg

SAN FRANCISCO — Jeff Tedford has been through a lot in his 10 years as the Cal football team’s head coach, but answering questions in front of reporters on Saturday nearly brought him to tears.

Cal had just routed Presbyterian, 63-12, and the win was Tedford’s 75th, making him the winningest coach in Cal football history.

He had trouble holding it together.

“It’s very nice,” he said, before pausing to sniffle and regain his composure. “It has a lot to do with all the players and coaches over the last nine years and three games. That’s who really deserves the credit, all the players who have played the game.”

Although he might not admit it, Tedford deserves at least a smidgen of credit.

When he replaced Tom Holmoe as head coach in 2002, the Bears were coming off a 1-10 season in which they went winless in conference play.

“It’s gone by quickly,” Tedford said. “I didn’t really think about it until this week.”

Now, as a result of the expectations the squad has established under Tedford, a sub-.500 season like last year’s, is a travesty.

No, he hasn’t led Cal to a Rose Bowl, but without him, would Cal fans even be discussing it?

If you don’t think 75 wins is a lot, consider this. If a team wins six games a year — an average amount — it would take 12 and a half seasons to reach 75. Tedford did it in nine year and three games. And he only had one campaign with fewer than seven victories.

The man rebuilt the program has watched it slip in the past two years, but is still working. Top recruits still want to come to Berkeley to play for coach Tedford. He had a variety of reasons for doing so, but five-star recruit Keenan Allen still turned down an Alabama squad coming off a national championship to become a Bear.

And Tedford is going back to basics this season, spending more time coaching the quarterbacks and doing more of the play-calling.

Besides, it’s hard to keep a program as a championship contender, or perennially in the top-20, for a prolonged period of time these days.

Stanford’s past two years of eliteness is largely based on two superstar players, running back Toby Gerhart and quarterback Andrew Luck, who finished second in the Heisman Trophy voting in 2009 and 2010, respectively.

It seemed like USC’s run of dominance would never end, but the Trojans haven’t made a Rose Bowl since 2008. And with their shaky play thus far — and sanctions — it doesn’t appear that they will make one anytime soon.

UCLA is in much more fertile recruiting ground in Los Angeles, but has really only had one good season since its 1998 Rose Bowl team.

The Cal program has stability under Tedford.

There have been no sanctions. No wins have been vacated.

And in this day and age, that is rarity.

So is a college coach with the tenure of Tedford.

Some coaches go off to seemingly greener pastures (Jim Harbaugh). Some run away from problems (Pete Carrol). Some are run out of town (Karl Dorrell).

Tedford has stayed with Cal because it is his family, figuratively and literally.

“There are so many guys, not just the star players, each and every player over the past 10 years who have been on this football team and helped us prepare,” Tedford said, still deflecting praise.

“Over the years, it’s been a family affair. The support of my wife, my kids has always been there. That makes it extra special.”

So did Quinn Tedford, a wide receiver on the team, making his first career catch on Saturday. The coach’s son had not recorded any statistics other than participation before he caught a five-yard pass in the fourth quarter.

A more perfect scenario might have involved the coach’s son scoring a touchdown. But Quinn was a long way from the end zone.

So, in a sense, is Jeff.