Let me be clear about this: before Saturday night, I had nothing against California head coach Jeff Tedford. Nothing. I had nothing against his personality, his coaching, his demeanor. Nothing. So if you think I’m just biased against him or Cal for any reason, you’re wrong.
But after last night, after the press conference in which he called out his kicker, I do have something against coach Tedford, and this will be the last time I refer to Tedford as a coach. Because after Saturday, I don’t see any way anyone could possibly call his actions those of a coach.
At the start of the fourth quarter, with California trailing the top-ranked Oregon Ducks by two points, junior kicker Giorgio Tavecchio lined up for a 24-yard field goal attempt to give the Bears their first lead of the second half. Although Tavecchio made the kick, he took a stutter step towards the line before the snap and was flagged for illegal motion.
On the next play, Tavecchio shanked his kick right from 29 yards.
There would be no further scoring as Cal fell, 15-13.
Tedford felt the blame was obvious.
“There’s no excuse for it,” Tedford said in the press conference. “We kick field goals every day. It’s poise under pressure. We didn’t have it right there. There’s no excuse for it.”
Tedford threw his kicker under the bus and hit the accelerator, and no man who would call himself a coach would do that. Not to an amateur athlete, not for an illegal motion penalty.
What Tedford did, what Tedford said in public about the game crossed just about every line in the book.
It’s one thing if a player commits a personal foul, unsportsmanlike penalty or something stupid that he should know better about. I wouldn’t call out a college student for that, but I can understand it. Stealing a dead girl’s credit card? That’s another matter entirely, and I fully endorse calling the boy out for that.
But an illegal motion penalty? One the guy feels terrible for? That’s deplorable.
“I’m obviously very, very disappointed,” Tavecchio said. “What you have to do, as a kicker, is have a short-term memory. Don’t let one kick get to you. But I’ll let this linger into tomorrow, because I wanted it really bad.”
Kicker is probably the least rewarding position, the guy easiest to blame when something goes wrong and the savior only when the offense can’t find the end zone in the first place.
“It’s very, very disappointing,” Tavecchio added. “A lot of players came over to try to console me. I can’t thank them enough.”
But judging by his postgame comments, Tedford was not one of those to console Tavecchio. At least not publicly.
Now, before I lose you, I have no problem with Tedford calling out Tavecchio. If he feels it necessary, he can tell Tavecchio whatever he wants. He can do it in front of the team. He can get a speaker horn and blast the kicker. I wouldn’t suggest it, but a coach can do that. Call out whoever you want.
But do it in the locker room.
Calling out the kicker for an illegal motion penalty? In a press conference? In front of the entire country?
That’s not coaching. That’s bullying. And that has no business anywhere near collegiate athletics.
To steal Tedford’s words, there’s no excuse for it.
It makes me wonder what the Bears have seen in him to allow him to last nine years there.
Win or lose, the game was destined to be the highlight of a bipolar season for the Bears.
They held the nation’s top-ranked team to season lows in just about every offensive category.
The most staggering? They held the Ducks to just 15 points, or 27 less than their previous season low.
They also held them to 250 yards below their season average in total offense.
But that great performance has sadly been overshadowed. Not by Tavecchio’s mistake, as supposedly inexcusable as it was, but by Tedford’s comments.
The game, instead of being the shining moment even in defeat, was the culmination of three months of frustration.
It showed what can happen when 100 young men and adults have their hearts ripped out by an unfortunate series of events.
Suddenly, that glimmer is gone, and all that is left is a bully with a seven-figure salary beating up on a young man who made a mistake that, at least physically, hurt no one.
That’s not coaching; that’s abuse. And the level of abuse is a lot worse than anything Mike Leach or Jim Leavitt were accused of doing.
You don’t call out a college kid, not like that. If he made a mistake, if his performance was sub-par, you can mention that and that whatever the problem was you’re working on fixing.
But to say there’s no excuse? To emphasize that there was no excuse by saying it twice? There’s absolutely no excuse for that.
Tedford might as well have punched Tavecchio. He might as well have punched him right in the gut. That would have sounded a lot less cruel. At least that pain would cease after a few moments.
But the pain of costing your team victory? That can take years to heal, if it ever does, and throwing that player under the bus accomplishes absolutely nothing.
Tavecchio knows his mistake ended up costing the Bears the game; the fact that he wants to feel that pain shows just how strong he is. He doesn’t want to forget this feeling because he wants to use it to make him better. That’s tremendous maturity for a young man.
Tedford, on the other hand, showed none. All he proved was that given the correct level of frustration and disappointment, he is not a coach. Not at all. He is a bully and nothing more.
What Tedford said could only hurt, and that’s not the job of a coach. When there’s no excuse for something, there’s no way to build from it. You just have to take that experience and learn that you cannot do that. Generally, you also have to pay a price.
When you murder someone, you go to prison; you might even have your own life taken from you. Assuming there are no mitigating circumstances, there’s no excuse for murder.
But for an illegal motion penalty? And a missed field goal? There’s an excuse for that. Nerves. And no amount of bullying will help Tavecchio get over a nervous mistake.
If I were the Athletic Director at Cal, I would look twice at those comments by both Tedford and Tavecchio. I’d ask myself which comments sound more like those from someone who holds the title of “coach.”
I know which one I’d pick.
So excuse me if I never call Jeff Tedford “coach” again. He is a bully and nothing more.
And in collegiate athletics, that is disgusting.
There’s really no excuse for people like that.