California expected to be good on defense last year. It wasn't. The Bears gave up 28 points per game vs. Pac-10 foes, which ranked ninth in the conference.
While the official word is long-time coordinator Bob Gregory voluntarily left for Boise State -- and there's been no indication that coach Jeff Tedford or Gregory himself have been spinning for public consumption a forced separation -- it was clear at season's end that some things had to change. Tedford, in fact, repeatedly said as much, emphasizing a need to better pressure opposing quarterbacks in 2010.
After Gregory bolted, Tedford brought longtime NFL coach Clancy Pendergast, former coordinator for the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs, aboard to rejuvenate a crew that often seemed to underachieve in 2009.
With the Bears well into spring practices, it seemed like a good time to check in and see how the defense had responded to their new coach.
So, you're a long-time NFL coach: Why jump to the college ranks now?
Clancy Pendergast: It was an opportunity to be a coordinator again. That was very intriguing to me. And to get an opportunity to work in the Pac-10. There's a lot of NFL influence in the Pac-10 with some of the schemes and coaches coming from NFL backgrounds. I looked at is as a challenge.
You're most of the way through spring practices, what's your first impression of what the differences are between coaching in college and the NFL?
CP: There needs to be teaching done at every level of football. I find myself teaching here just as much as I did in the NFL. The players are very receptive and have been real attentive. The more you give them the more they sort of thrive on it. It's been great.
What about recruiting, that's got to be a new skill set.
CP: It's just a matter of evaluating talent and how they are going to fit into the system that you run and really just building relationships. In football in general you have to have relationships with your players. You create that relationship early on in the process. In the NFL, we spend a lot of time preparing for the draft and combines, visiting with players at schools. You end up drafting some guys and some guys you don't draft but you build a relationship through that process that leads up into the draft before you actually get them into your building. I look at that as very similar to recruiting, trying to build relationship and finding guys who not only have the skill set to play at the level of competition you play in but also the type of person they are and how they fit into your program. It's a lot of the same things we do in the NFL in terms of identifying players that fit within your organization.
When you watched Cal's defense from 2009 on film, what seemed to go wrong?
CP: To be honest with you, I didn't watch a whole lot to see what they were doing. There were a few players that I wanted to look at from a skill set standpoint and wanted to see what they were asked to do and how they responded in certain schemes. That's all I really looked at. I didn't look at what they did or how they did it or what the score was or what their record was. We're starting out with a clean slate in a brand new system. I didn't pay any attention to what they did scheme-wise [last year].
Tell me about your defensive philosophies, your schemes and what you emphasize as a coordinator.
CP: No. 1 we're going to play with good technique at every level of our defense. We're going to be a communication-oriented defense where guys are all on the same page. I think if you do those two things, it's going to allow you to have an opportunity to play very fast so you don't have to think out there. The more you understand, not only what you're doing but what the whole defense is doing, the faster you are going to be able to play. That's going to be our main objective.
Just so I don't get any more mail about it: You're a 3-4 guy, correct?
CP: Yes. That's been most of my background, a 3-4 front with multiple looks. But we're not going to be pigeonholed. We're going to use the skill guys we have and what fits their ability the best. We're not going to be pigeonholed in one thing or the other. We're going to have our base defense but we're going to utilize the guys here to give them the best opportunity to make plays that fits their skill set.
Is there an area that concerns you where the production hasn't been consistent this spring?
CP: Not really. We've just spent a lot of time putting in the system and trying to make guys as comfortable as they can be so they have the opportunity to play fast. There's been a lot of communication going on but this is a foreign language to these players. From a terminology standpoint, it's been completely different than what they've done before. Our main focus is getting down what we're going to do defensively and being comfortable with that. From there, we'll see we'll see how good we can be.
Which players have made an impression on you so far? Who's played well?
CP: I haven't really looked at individuals and how they have been playing. It's been the overall scheme and how we've been installing it and getting pieces in. That's been my main focus so far.
Let me ask you about one guy: Defensive end Cameron Jordan has been a guy who's flashed a lot of potential but not made the step toward stardom. How has he performed thus far?
CP: He's been very receptive. He pays attention to detail. He's very interested. When you have a guy like that, with his potential skill set, he can have an opportunity to make plays. So he's bought into the system and he's doing the different things that we are asking him to do within the scheme. So far so good.
How are you liking Berkeley: It's not much like Phoenix or Kansas City, eh?
CP: I'm enjoying it. I'm kind of trying to find my way around. I don't get too far from campus without my GPS. But it's been a fun experience so far getting settled in here.
Obviously, it's way early, but do you feel like a move to Cal and to college football is a long-term one or are you anticipating heading back to the NFL anytime soon?
CP: I haven't looked further ahead than the next day to be honest with you. We're just trying to coach as hard as I can every day and try to prepare these players the best I can every day and take it one day at a time. I don't ever look too far ahead. I just take care of the things that I can control that are in front of me.