Coaching hires up the stakes for Tedford

Excitement of new hires around the Pac-12 will add to the pressure on coach Jeff Tedford to return Cal to conference's upper echelon next season.

Jeff Tedford is the same coach he was 48 hours ago.

He still has 79 career wins at Cal, a conference championship to his name, and is preparing for eighth bowl game in nine years.

So why does his seat seem that much hotter?

Blame the pirate ship that just ran aground on the Palouse. Mike Leach, the enigmatic offensive genius who turned Texas Tech into a legitimate player on the Big 12 and national stage, will replace Paul Wulff at Washington State.

And thanks to Wulff, an alum given the impossible task of turning around a program dealing with arrests, academic struggles that resulted in a loss of scholarships and a general lack of talent, Leach now inherits two quarterbacks in Jeff Tuel and Connor Halliday capable of directing his Air Raid spread passing offense and college football's most underrated receiver in Marquess Wilson.

If Leach could succeed in Lubbock, Texas, generally regarded as the loneliest outpost in that conference, what can he do in Pullman for the Cougars, with a Rose Bowl appearance to their credit within the last 10 years?

There is also now Rich Rodriguez at Arizona, an equally gifted offensive mind doomed to failure at Michigan. He too inherits personnel, notably dual threat quarterback Matt Scott, which should result in a smooth transition to his system.

Arizona State is putting the full-court press on Houston coach Kevin Sumlin, while UCLA is aiming to land Chris Petersen of Boise State.

The Pac-12 got a lot tougher, a lot more competitive, a lot more exciting.

And that's bad news for Tedford.

After 10 remarkable years in Berkeley, he has established himself as a lion for the Bears. He has made the program relevant, even engineering the long needed overhaul of its stadium, weight room and other facilities. He has recruited and developed All-America players, gone toe-to-toe with heavyweights USC and Oregon.

Cal was a laughingstock when Tedford arrived, but it is no longer.

But with familiarity comes fatigue, the frustration of missed opportunities to make the Rose Bowl and perhaps reach even greater heights, the frustration of the lack of a real successor to quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the frustration of a team that seems to have its plateau and then taken a step back.

If WSU and Arizona can hire coaches not long ago regarded among the top dozen or so in college football, largely on the backs on the gigantic new television contract for the conference, what could Cal do?

It will be back in Memorial Stadium next season with amenities second to none in the conference. It has a better natural recruiting base. It has a richer history.

Who could it land with those selling points and resources at its disposal?

That one question makes 2012 the most important year of Tedford's tenure.

He returns his core skill players from an offense that found its groove as the season went along, especially true of quarterback Zach Maynard.

The schedule flips, meaning the toughest tests from the North division will all be at home.

And outside of Oregon and USC, which will be legitimate contenders for the BCS title, the rest of the conference is completely wide open.

That sets up for, nay demands, improvement and a return to the upper echelon in the Pac-12.

If not, Tedford might not be the coach he was 48 hours ago.

He might not be the coach at all.


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