This article originally appeared in the Sept. 11, 2010 issue of Cal Kickoff Game Day Magazine
By Kyle McRae
Last Saturday, Jeff Tedford broke Cal's modern-era win record with his 68th career victory for the Bears with a triumph over UC Davis, moving past legendary coach Pappy Waldorf and within six wins of all-time school leader Andy Smith.
Tedford has led Cal to a school-record-tying eight consecutive winning seasons, a school-record seven straight bowl appearances and the second-most victories in the last eight years among Pac-10 teams, having won more conference games than any other coach in Cal history. He is one of only eight current FBS coaches to have posted at least eight straight winning seasons, with only six doing it at the same school. Today, he will surpass Waldorf for the most games coached at Cal.
The numbers say a lot, but there's so much more to the story of Jeff Tedford. There's so much more he wants to do.
"I have a burning desire to get to the Rose Bowl as much for everyone else as for the players and coaches," he said. "It's something that we all stand for as a university. We're all in this together. I have really come to appreciate and value my role in trying to do the best job I can to get there and do something that everybody wants so badly. We've been a part of the conference championship, we've beaten every team in the conference, we've won bowl games, we've done a lot of things, but we haven't been to the Rose Bowl and that's the light at the end of the tunnel."
But the way he has gained success and the way he is going about his desire to do more - with passion, compassion and lots of hard work - is really the true story behind the man.
"Everything he has accomplished, he's earned through hard work and has kept strong values along the way," said his wife, Donna, who Tedford quickly pointed out that without her support and that of sons Taylor and Quinn that "this job would be impossible for me to do."
"Success is a formula," added Tedford. "It starts with interest, which equals hard work, which equals results, which equals confidence, which equals success."
His interest in football began early in his childhood when his older brother, Dennis, introduced him to the game at the age of six in the front yard of their childhood home in the Southern California town of Downey.
It grew when he attended Warren High School, especially one summer day in 1976. Having just completed his freshman year of high school, a 15-year-old Tedford was wandering around outside the locker room when the school's then-varsity head coach Frank Mazzotta took notice and called him into his office. Both men remember the conversation well.
"I just brought him into my office, talked to him and asked him what he had going on," said Mazzotta, now in his 34th year as the head coach at Cerritos, a job he took shortly after the conversation. "He was a kid who always overachieved because he wasn't going to be bigger or faster than anyone else, but I don't know if there was anyone who worked any harder, especially at the game."
"He's like a son to me," he added.
"He took the time to talk to me about what I wanted to do with my life," remembered Tedford. "He had no reason to because I was just a scrawny little freshman."
The scrawny little freshman said "that incredibly positive experience" got him thinking about coaching at a young age.
"I think that probably put the coaching bug in me right there," confirmed Tedford fondly. "I had so much respect for him and the rest of the coaching staff at my high school. My coaches really did a great job of instilling values and character."
Tedford has been doing just that in his profession for more than 20 years since he began coaching in 1989 as an offensive assistant with the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League.
After three years on the job in Calgary, he moved back to his alma mater Fresno State in 1992 and immediately made a huge impact as the quarterbacks coach for a team that upset USC in the Freedom Bowl, was WAC tri-champions and led the nation in scoring. He was promoted to offensive coordinator the following year and remained in that job until taking the same position at Oregon in 1998, where he was an integral part of a coaching staff that led the Ducks to a 38-10 record during his four years with the program.
His success at Oregon granted him the opportunity of a lifetime when Tedford was hired for his first head coaching job in December of 2001 at Cal. Little did he know just how much work was in store, but he was certainly up for the challenge.
"I really didn't have any reservations about taking the Cal job. I think it may have been because I was more naïve than anything," laughed Tedford. "I had no idea what I was getting into."
What he was getting into was a program that was in shambles, having won just one game the previous season and eight years removed from a winning campaign.
"The main thing was to change the mindset in everything that happened around here, because I think a lot of people had lost the sense of pride and dignity," he said. "It wasn't just football; it was a lot of things. It was a battle on all fronts to change the mindset of what was going on. I probably made a lot of enemies along the way, but if all the surrounding things didn't change it was going to be impossible to change the mindset of the team."
Not only did he change the mindset of the team, but he did it in a hurry. Tedford's first club in 2002 was 7-5, posting six more wins than the previous season to tie for the biggest one-year turnaround in the nation that year and record the second-biggest turnabout in school history.
"I will be forever grateful to that first team and the first group of seniors with guys like Nnamdi Asomugha, Tully Banta-Cain and Kyle Boller," said Tedford. "They really welcomed us with open arms and bought in to what we were trying to get done. They are the ones who really made the difference."
In Tedford's mind, those guys may have made the difference in 2002, but they soon moved on to the professional ranks and he has led the charge to make a difference ever since by giving his student-athletes the opportunity and encouragement to reach their potential and become successful, not just as football players, but as people.
"Success is doing your best to reach your full potential," said Tedford. "If you know at the end of the day that you did everything you can then in my mind you can be deemed successful. It's not always going to work out right and there's going to be mistakes along the way, but if you know you did your best in everything you did, you treated people fairly, you have high character and good values, and you work your hardest to not only try to put yourself in a better position but to put others in a better position as well, then I would deem that successful."
Tedford hopes the environment he has been instrumental in creating has helped create that success athletically, academically, socially and spiritually.
"To create an environment of character, discipline, understanding and compassion is very important because at the end of the day they're going to leave here with experiences hopefully to make them a better person in life," he said. "Football just happens to be a part of what we're doing as far as having meaningful experiences and creating relationships through meaningful experiences. Meaningful experiences can be on the football field, in the locker room, in the classroom or just about anywhere. They can be good and bad, but they are always lessons. If we can do our part, they leave here more developed than when they got here."
Most of the student-athletes in the football program have certainly developed both on and off the field since Tedford arrived in 2002, with 144 of 163 seniors that have played for him having either graduated from college or moved on to a career in the NFL.
Tedford says his most gratifying feeling as a coach is to see his players succeed, whatever area it's in, especially when it comes from hard work, dedication and sacrifice that has allowed them to overcome adversity.
"To see hard work, dedication and sacrifice pay off for the kids in all areas of their lives is one of the best feelings you get as a coach," said Tedford.
"There's nothing like being in the locker room after a big win and seeing how the kids feel," continued Tedford. "There's nothing better than seeing somebody overcome adversity in the classroom, gain confidence from it and feel good about themselves. There's nothing better than seeing a kid who starts out very young and then to see them develop and grow, build character and move on to become successful. Those are things that really make you feel good as a coach."
He has every reason to feel awfully good right now.