Cal’s Tedford dilemma

CAMPUS ISSUES: UC Berkeley’s football team needs to perform better academically and athletically, which may necessitate a change in head coach.

Since he became head coach of the Cal football team about a decade ago, Jeff Tedford’s legacy has gone steeply downhill. His team’s performance has slipped in recent years — both on the field and in the classroom — calling into question whether the team justifies the campus’s sizable investment. If Tedford cannot turn the program around, he needs to leave.

Fans and commentators have speculated for a while about Tedford’s job prospects due to the team’s consistently subpar performance. Now, according to the San Jose Mercury News, Tedford and UC Berkeley Athletic Director Sandy Barbour intend to meet after the last game of the season to discuss Tedford’s future. In that conversation and any others that might entail a review of his employment, Barbour must ask herself: Is he up to the task of remaking the Cal football program?

Tedford’s litany of recent failures makes a strong case for why he should step down. He coached his first season in 2002, quickly rising to prominence after he was able to transform a losing team into a winning one. In Tedford’s first season alone, the team earned a 7-5 record — its first winning season in almost 10 years. But more recently, the football program has struggled to even remain competitive, turning Tedford into the embodiment of mediocrity.

He could have used the re-opening of Memorial Stadium this season to turn the program around again. The highly anticipated, multimillion-dollar renovations energized Cal’s fan base, and it seemed like the fresh start the team needed to return to its former glory. Instead, Cal football sloppily lost a vast majority of its games this season, exacerbating Tedford’s fall from grace.

Even more embarrassing is the football team’s academic performance. Recent rankings show that the team has the lowest graduation rate of any school in the Pac-12 conference. Between 2002 and 2005, only 47 percent of football players graduated within six years — an inexcusable performance. UC Berkeley is one of the most competitive academic institutions in the league; it is unacceptable for football players to be graduating at such low rates, regardless of how the team plays. Tedford’s inability to field a good team and ensure that his players are completing their education is deeply troubling.

Yet firing Tedford would be extremely pricey. According to his contract, which expires in 2015, the university would need to pay at least $5.4 million to terminate his employment early, not to mention other costs that might be associated with transitioning a new coaching staff.

Clearly, the cost of dismissing Tedford is extreme, and the decision to spend that money — which would not come from student tuition — should not be made lightly. And given the size and scope of the football program’s shortcomings, the benefits of a new coach could significantly outweigh the price tag of expunging the current one.

UC Berkeley spends a tremendous amount of money on its athletic programs, which has led to criticism in the past. Renovating Memorial Stadium alone is projected to cost more than $300 million; the campus should have a team that deserves to play there. The only apparent avenue to improve the situation is for Tedford to either drastically alter his coaching strategies or be replaced entirely.

This is not to say, however, that athletics should be the campus’s top priority. UC Berkeley is and always will be an institution that places its academic endeavors above all else. But at the same time, Cal football is a major Pac-12 team and should be competing at the same level as schools like Stanford and UCLA, even in academics. Considering the current team’s apparent inability to meet minimal standards, Barbour and other campus officials must carefully consider whether Tedford can be the change the program deserves.