California started spring practices last week looking to put a disappointing 2009 season behind it.
The Bears, you might recall, jumped to a 3-0 start and rose to No. 6 in the country before being humiliated in back-to-back games against Oregon and USC. Combined score: 72-6.
Then they rallied to win five of six, including an upset win at Stanford in the Big Game. Redemption and recovery? Not really.
Two weeks later, the Bears got bombed 42-10 in a surprising season-finale at Washington and looked flat in a loss to Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Suffice it to say, the Bears were hard to figure, other than they were consistently unpredictable.
So we decided to check in with coach Jeff Tedford and see what his plan was as he enters his eighth season in Berkeley.
Before we look forward to spring practices, let's look back. Every coach reflects on the season that's past. I'm guessing 2009 was frustrating for you. What went wrong?
Jeff Tedford: Obviously, we hit a tough stretch with two tough teams, Oregon and USC, early. That was hard. I felt like we bounced back pretty well and beat Arizona and Stanford. But then we just didn't finish up. We were pretty banged up down the stretch but didn't finish up as strong as we needed to. We had a chance to win 10 games and came away with only eight wins. Consistency is a key -- to make sure we're more consistent. Depth is also something we need to build so that when the injury bug does hit us that we are able to still compete.
Did we overrate your 2009 team? Were there shortcomings that preseason analysis missed?
JT: Yeah. I think people should wait for rankings until mid-season or so to see where we're going. You can never figure it out. I don't know if you missed something. We didn't have the playmakers -- we needed to be a little bit better at receiver. But with Jahvid [Best] and Shane [Vereen] at running back and you had your quarterback [Kevin Riley] coming back, you felt pretty good about that. We had a veteran secondary coming back that really, quite honestly, didn't play up to their capabilities, so we need to improve there. I think when the injury thing started hitting us, we didn't have the depth to snap out of that.
You've been pretty honest about self-analysis in the past: Anything you wish you'd done differently? And any changes in the way you do things going forward?
JT: I don't look back at last season and think there was anything we could have done differently. I do take responsibility for us not finishing as strong as we should have. But I'm not one to make a lot of excuses. I'd just rather give the other team credit and put it on my shoulders for not getting it done. We're always going to look at things, though. At how we practice -- maybe we could be fresher for the games. Things like that you always have to take a look at. If there is anything I can do differently, I definitely want to do it. As I look back on it, there's nothing that's glaring that sticks out. It's about making plays. As for preparation, everybody has a big thing about us playing on the road and our struggles on the road. We were 4-2 last year, and they said, 'Did you do anything differently on the road?' We didn't. We did the exact same thing. We were just able to win the games. We have two new coordinators [defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast and special-teams coordinator Jeff Genyk]. Special teams was a key last year -- a lack of success with special teams and with field position. That I think was a major factor for us. We need to improve that. We were 111th in pass defense, so that hurt as well. Those are the two obvious things that stick out where we need to improve.
I talked to quarterback Kevin Riley the other day and he told me that he sensed that some guys were a little content early in the season with how good they were, thinking they'd arrived. He said that you seemed to be emphasizing competition everywhere during the offseason to confront that. Fair to say?
JT: Yeah, it is. That's where I have to take a good strong look at myself, making sure that we continue to keep everything very competitive and make sure we're always grinding on what we're doing. I may have given us a little too much credit last year for things. But I'm going to make sure that everybody knows that we're going to play tougher. We're going to compete harder. A couple of things happened for the first time in [seven] years. There were a couple of games when we got blown out. So you have to look in the mirror and say, 'Why did that happen?' I don't think anybody gave up but we didn't compete hard enough, for whatever reason. We've got to change our mindset, obviously, because those games were not good. And then this is the first time in [four] years that we've ended the season with a loss. We'd won, I think, [four] bowl games in a row. The feeling going into this offseason was quite a bit different. Say we would have beaten Utah and ended up 9-4. Would it have put a little Band-Aid on the Washington game? Well, maybe it's a blessing in disguise and forces our mindset to be a little bit different.
Let's talk present. So here we go again: Where does Riley stand and how safe is he as your starting quarterback?
JT: He stands as the guy taking the first reps right now but he's not safe at all, just like other positions. He's got to compete and be more consistent. The games that Kevin played well, we were successful. The games that we didn't play well, it was not just him. Everybody wants to point at the quarterback, but he's got to have things around him be successful as well. But you go back and look at it, some of those games we missed critical plays. I expect Kevin to be better this year, given the experience. But also we're going to take a very strong look at Beau Sweeney and Brock Mansion in the competition part of it.
Tomorrow: Talking defense, young players who need to step up and flying under the radar.