Look at California football. It is your Rorschach test. How you view it -- the 2012 recruiting class as well as coach Jeff Tedford -- measures your sense of perspective.
To some, California's 2012 recruiting class is a disappointment. To others, it's a top-25 class. Both assessments are fair. And true.
To some, Tedford has built a consistent winner in Berkeley, and that has earned him some patience as the Bears try to regain their footing after going 12-13 over the past two seasons. To others, Tedford has plateaued and he faces a win-or-else campaign in 2012. Both assessment are fair. And true.
Everyone knew Tedford would face some tough questions during his signing day news conference Wednesday. Not necessarily tough in a sense of probing his feelings on his job security, but tough in the sense of being distracting from what he wanted to talk about: Another top-25 recruiting class.
"I don't want this to be a big Tosh thing," he said. "I understand where you guys are coming from, but this is about the recruits that are here."
A "Tosh thing" was unavoidable. Tosh Lupoi, Cal's celebrated ace recruiter, had bolted for Washington with two weeks left in the recruiting season. He got a big raise. Folks didn't begrudge him that. The timing, however bad, and the money move, however big, didn't bother Cal fans. It was the process, and the perception of behind-the-scenes double-dealing.
Much of this has been overblown by folks who don't understand how dirty this business sometimes -- mostly by necessity -- gets. Still, there was a disconnect between Tedford and Lupoi over a home visit with top safety prospect Shaq Thompson (Sacramento, Calif./Grant). There is some residual suspicion about which program Lupoi was representing. No, Lupoi wasn't forthcoming with Tedford about what he was doing that night. (We don't know Lupoi's perspective here because Washington decided not to make Lupoi available for interviews until next week. Feel free to judge the wisdom of that media strategy.)
Thereafter, Tedford and Cal asked the Pac-12 to void the evening as a home visit.
"I'm not going to get into mudslinging or anything like that," Tedford said. "The recruiting process went the way that it went. Really, the only thought was that we asked the conference about having a home visit that was kind of used and we wanted to have another home visit to get in and really represent our school. That was really the only thing we asked. Can we go into the home during the week? They said no."
And, yes, Thompson flipped to Washington.
But, really, the big payoff for Lupoi leaving didn't go to Washington. It went to UCLA, which signed defensive end Ellis McCarthy (Monrovia, Calif.), receiver Jordan Payton (Westlake Village, Calif./Oaks Christian) -- who decommitted from Cal, committed to Washington and then signed with the Bruins -- and athlete Kenneth Walker (Richmond, Calif./Kennedy). Oregon ended up with lineman Arik Armstead, who had Cal among his finalists.
Yes, that's a lot of quality beef. Still, the general feeling coming out of the Cal football office is this is life in the big city. You might have noticed this week, and signing day in particular, featured flips across the conference and the nation. Flips are part of recruiting. Fan perspective on them is almost exclusively based on which side of a flip said fan is on.
And, by the way, a prospect has a perfect right to decommit whenever he wants. If he needs to do it 20 times, fine. The only time the athlete is empowered during the process is before he puts pen to paper. Thereafter, he yields power to the program and draconian NCAA rules.
Let's, however, switch gears with a humble question: Did anyone notice that Cal signed ESPNU 150 receiver Darius Powe (Lakewood, Calif./Lakewood) and four-star receiver Bryce Treggs (Bellflower, Calif./St. John's Bosco)? Or the nation's No. 2 QB in Zach Kline? Seven of 17 signees were rated four stars.
Fact: Tedford and the Bears signed a good class. Yes, it could have been a great one. But you could say that about a lot of programs that finished second or third with elite prospects. Just imagine, for example, if USC had signed offensive linemen Andrus Peat and Kyle Murphy? Or Armstead, who originally committed to USC?
There should be no illusions about where Tedford and Cal stands. There is substantial and reasonable frustration over the recent trajectory of the program. It's based on wins and losses. It's based on the sense that Cal got big-timed by Washington with the loss of two assistant coaches. And it's based on a "what could have been" around the recruiting class.
Some see trouble. Tedford knows this. Naturally, he rejects it.
"The perception that we are in trouble is wrong because we aren't in trouble," Tedford said.
Not to go all Simon & Garfunkel in conclusion, but Tedford's task is simple: Build a bridge over these troubled waters. And start winning again in 2012.