When Kendrick Payne was informed of a 10 a.m. meeting on Tuesday, he had no idea what was about to unfold.
It was a surprise meeting, but it never occurred to the senior defensive lineman that his coach would be fired — not Tuesday, not this season.
“It’s a lot to deal with, being blindsided by it,” Payne said by phone Tuesday. “It definitely kind of caught me off guard.”
It was only after he saw Jeff Tedford at the team meeting, noticed his expression and heard him mention something about “not being too emotional” that Payne came to the cold, hard reality: Tedford had been fired.
Tedford told the team that a decision had been made that morning. He told the players that he cared about them, that despite everything, he knew the caliber of talent in the room. He said he wanted to see the players succeed in the future and assured them that there would always be a part of him with the program.
When he was done speaking, the players gave him a standing ovation.
“Everyone really respects Coach a lot — we all love Coach a lot,” said freshman offensive lineman Jordan Rigsbee on Tuesday. “It really meant a lot to us to get to send him off in that way, so that was nice.”
Nick Forbes called the meeting emotional. The sophomore linebacker said that the players could tell that Tedford was being genuine and speaking from the heart.
Like Payne, Forbes was not expecting to see his coach fired.
“It was a little bit surreal at first,” Forbes said. “Kind of one of those things, like, big storm coming, can’t really know how it’s gonna be until it hits. It’s been tough.”
Forbes remembers Tedford’s home visit during recruiting as if it were yesterday. He recalls Tedford sitting down with Forbes, his mother and his two sisters.
Payne recounted the nights he would see Tedford in his office, knowing he was either leaving late or not going home.
“Over the course of the season, we see he hurts just as much as us,” Payne said. “It hurt me personally to see him like that — he’s my leader, he’s my coach.”
After Tedford finished talking Tuesday morning, Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour addressed the team. She urged the players to talk to her if there was anything they needed.
“They need time to figure out their emotions,” she said at Tuesday’s afternoon press conference. “I would expect nothing less than them being disappointed.”
Rigsbee said there are no hard feelings. He said the squad understands that it is a business.
Still, the team is losing more than a coach. The players lose a monumental figure in their lives, their leader and friend.
“Life goes on,” Payne said. “Coach Tedford, he’ll be all right. He knows he’s loved. He says he’ll be rooting for us, wherever he goes, and we’ll be rooting for him.”
Jonathan Kuperberg covers football. Contact him at [email protected]