BERKELEY Sandy Barbour was talking about 2004. I had asked the Cal athletic director about the best times she shared with Jeff Tedford.
She cited two. The first were some fantastic moments that year after defeating Stanford in the Big Game. Barbour and Tedford hugged, laughed and basked in the glow of beating Stanford by 35 points in the next-to-last game of a one-loss regular season.
"We had thoughts that we were headed to the Rose Bowl," she said.
Instead, the perverted BCS system was influenced by intense lobbying from Texas coach Mack Brown and sent Cal to the Holiday Bowl.
Tedford took it stoically and plugged away until he became the Bears' all-time-winningest coach last season in a "home" game at AT&T Park while Memorial Stadium was being remodeled. He was honored before an adoring crowd the other best time Barbour cited with Tedford.
As opposed to the worst time. Tuesday morning, she fired him.
"Excruciating," Barbour said when asked to describe the process that led to the decision.
I still don't know exactly how Tedford lost his grip on the steering wheel at Cal. Barbour might not know entirely how it occurred, either. But you could see the crash waiting to happen.
Tedford, at the beginning of his 11-year term in Berkeley, always seemed like the smartest man in the room. He won his first game 70-22 over Baylor. On the first down of Cal's first possession, Tedford called a trick play that wound up as a long pass to a key freshman recruit I figured at least partially to show the kid he'd made the right choice, as well as to send an example to other recruits.
Man, I recall thinking, this guy gets it.
But over the years, Tedford appeared to gradually lose that intangible "it." He never did reach the Rose Bowl. He churned through assistant coaches and never seemed to grasp the rapidly developing new dynamics of recruiting with the use of social media. He seemed older than his 51 years. After inducing Cal to remodel and upgrade Memorial Stadium, he couldn't leverage it into lifting his own program.
Then came the 2012 season-opening upset loss to Nevada. Tedford made the strange move to bench starting quarterback Zach Maynard for the first quarter as punishment for missing a tutoring session earlier in the summer but not informing Allan Bridgford about that until the day before the game. A nervous Bridgford completed just 2 of 9 passes. Maynard was sloppy when he did enter the game, fumbling once and messing up calls, drawing silly penalties.
Afterward, I asked Tedford how such sloppiness could happen after the team had been practicing for more than a month for this one game. His response was that games are a lot different from practices. Huh? Isn't that why a team practices in the first place? It wasn't a very good answer.
As the weeks brought more losses, Tedford had even fewer good answers. For anything.
It was puzzling, odd and sad. Tedford clearly has a sharp football brain. But his brain suddenly looked like a square peg that was trying to fit into Berkeley's rather unique round hole or maybe, into the entire 2012 college football world.
Barbour was understandably not eager to specifically list the reasons she dismissed Tedford. But you could read between the lines.
"You can certainly get student-athlete input without asking for it," Barbour said, clarifying later she believed the players "loved" Tedford but that "if you spend time around the kids, you know what they're thinking and feeling."
It was no shock, therefore, that Barbour chose to dismiss Tedford after some long discussions the past week. You have to presume Barbour touched base with enough Cal donors to fork over the more than $6 million owed to Tedford for the three years left on his contract.
Tedford also leaves behind a graduation rate that during his tenure sank to 48 percent, worst in the Pacific-12 Conference.
"I certainly share responsibility for that and Jeff shares responsibility for that," Barbour said. "What there is no doubt about is, that's unacceptable here."
Now she must hire Tedford's replacement. Barbour, in her eighth year at Berkeley, knows what's at stake.
"There is no other place on the campus," Barbour said, "where 65,000 people gather on a given afternoon or evening."
Next fall, Tedford just won't be one of them.
NEXT AT CAL
Possible candidates to replace Jeff Tedford at Cal
Sonny Dykes, Louisiana Tech: In his third season as coach, Dykes, 43, is a spread-offense specialist whose Bulldogs (9-2) lead the nation in scoring at 52.3 points per game. He is 22-14 overall at Louisiana Tech. Dykes got a two-year contract extension last season through 2017 and earns about $750,000 per year. He was a finalist for the Houston job a year ago. He coached under Mike Leach at Texas Tech and spent three seasons as offensive coordinator at Arizona. Cal won't be the only school to make a call.
Hue Jackson, Cincinnati Bengals: Jackson, 47, is an intriguing possibility. The Raiders' coach in 2011, Jackson is coaching defensive backs and special teams for the Bengals. But he's an offensive coach. He has coached in the NFL since 2001, serving as an offensive coordinator for Washington and Atlanta. The one-time Pacific quarterback was offensive coordinator at Cal in 1996 and for the next three seasons at USC.
Ron Rivera, Carolina Panthers: A former All-America linebacker at Cal, Rivera, 50, is on the hot seat in his second season as Carolina's coach, posting an 8-18 record. He was defensive coordinator with Chicago and San Diego. The timing could be complicated because the NFL regular season doesn't end until Dec. 30. But Rivera is popular with Cal folks and may see this as a great landing spot if Carolina isn't working out.
Gary Andersen, Utah State: Andersen, 48, has turned things around for the Aggies, posting a 16-8 record the past two seasons, including 9-2 this fall. A year ago, he promised his players he'd get a tattoo of the team's logo if they reached a bowl game. The Aggies made it for the first time in 14 years, and Andersen followed through (it's on the back of his shoulder). He was defensive coordinator for five years at Utah, including on Urban Meyer's unbeaten 2008 team.
Mike MacIntyre, San Jose State: MacIntyre, 47, has engineered an amazing turnaround in just three seasons with the Spartans. San Jose State won one game in his debut season of 2010 and faced massive academic obstacles. But MacIntyre has changed the culture of the program on and off the field, and the Spartans this season are bowl eligible at 9-2. His résumé includes stops at Georgia and Duke and in the NFL with Dallas and the New York Jets. The core question: Does he have enough sizzle to excite Cal fans?
Tim DeRuyter, Fresno State: The first-year coach of the Bulldogs, DeRuyter, 49, has directed them to an 8-3 record, including losses to Oregon and Boise State. He was defensive coordinator at Air Force, Texas A&M and Nevada. But Fresno State also can score, getting at least 42 points six times.
Contra Costa Times