Though the news broke here on The Bootleg on Sunday, it was Monday November 29 when Stanford University officially announced the termination of Buddy Teevens as head coach of the football program. Athletic Director Ted Leland has been pondering this decision for longer than he would like to publicly admit, but he says the final decision came down Sunday morning. At this point, Cardinalmaniacs™ are interested in learning how Leland approached this process because of how it informs us of his management criteria for this program.
According to Leland, there were two events or moments that ultimately swayed him to the final decision to fire Teevens. The first came a week ago last Sunday, when the team held their annual post-season Football Banquet the day after Big Game. In my 12 years closely watching Stanford Football, I have never seen another group of seniors with more determination and better leadership than this graduating class, and it was a very emotional afternoon for all who attended. Leland was acutely impacted by the images and words by the seniors and about the seniors, and he admits that he was greatly pained by the lack of success they were able to attain these last three years.
"The banquet was full of moral victories. We want real victories," the AD offers. "I don't ever want to go through a banquet like that again."
Six days later, Leland sat watching this past Saturday night the battle between USC and Notre Dame, a closely watched national affair for a number of reasons. Those two are bitter foes, but they are also annual opponents for the Cardinal in charged rivalries. According to Leland, he came to a realization watching those two teams. Stanford lost to both this year, and lost in games that they led late and were imminently winnable.
"During the game, I thought to myself: 'We ought to have a chance to beat those guys - both of them,'" Leland recalls.
There are countless reasons that fans believe Leland made this move. He minimized most of those theories Monday as he spoke to the press.
- When asked if boosters were threatening to hold back donations at an impacting level, he answered that the sum total of the four donors who delivered such ultimatums totaled less than $3,000 in annual giving. That is a drop in the bucket compared to the $20 million that Leland raises for the Department. "This wasn't a hijacking of high-level donors."
- If not the boosters, then how about the deluge of letters, emails and phone calls that poured into Leland's office the last few weeks? While something that mattered to him, he says it was not what pushed him from a decision to retain Teevens into a decision to fire the coach. "I think it played a roll," he comments on the fan sentiment against Teevens of late. "But I don't think it was a tipping point. One thing we want our football coach to do is to unite the community. Bring everyone into the tent. A lot of people were outside the tent lately."
- When asked if the three straight losses in Big Game - three ugly losses in their own unique fashions - made a mark, Leland deflected that impact. He also addressed some of the other popular statistical metrics that have bandied about by Stanford fans on our own message boards. "I don't think there was any particular game or any particular series of games," Leland allows. "I don't think we ever sat down with Coach Teevens when he came here and said that we were going to look at the win-loss record versus Notre Dame or the win-loss record against Cal, and how that's special. Games against top 20 schools or games in November. We have seen all the speculation, and it's understandable. It was my evaluation of the whole program and where we were going, more than any particular happenstance."
- Another contributing factor in all coaching hire/fire decisions is the student-athletes, and Leland did meet with players last week to discuss the future of the program. He denies that they called for Teevens' head, though they wanted better results on the field. "They players were great," Leland discloses. "They have nothing but respect for Coach Teevens, but they want to win ballgames. Excellence is a big part of what Stanford does."
So what then finally made the determination for the Athletic Director that he needed to find new direction for Stanford Football? As a former player and coach of the game, himself, Leland says it was a straight evaluation of what his eyes saw on the field. Boosters, fans and players did not change what he saw, and it went deeper than the 10-23 record that Teevens recorded in his three years on The Farm.
"The ball can bounce a funny way. Wins and losses are not as big a deal for me. It's more important that we are getting better," Leland proclaims. "Do we have individuals getting better? Are we getting better? Do we have a bread and butter, technically, that other people have to stop?"
That last comment best gets to the core of Leland's frustration, and that of the fanbase, with the last three years of Cardinal Football. The history of the program is steeped in offensive wizardry, and fans have enjoyed games through years of wins and years of losses because it is an exciting brand of football. Even in seasons when bowl games have been denied, there have regularly been triumphant upset victories over highly ranked opponents. An imposing offense can do that from time to time, even if there are deficiencies in the defense or flaws within the offensive personnel. These last three years have been bereft of this victories because game after game, the offense has not been able to carry the day. Many times, in each season, we saw spurts of offense or long stretches of competitiveness on the back of an inspiring defense. But you could always look back after the final whistle and point a finger fairly at an offense that ultimately came up short.
"I am comfortable with the process we have gone through. I am comfortable with the decision," Leland says. "There is an old saying: 'The margin was thin, but the responsibility is clear.' My job is to make the best type of environment for our student-athletes, for them to succeed in, for them to gain all of the great things that come from participation in highly competitive college athletics. Given that responsibility, I felt it was best for us, weighing all the trade-offs, that we look for new leadership in football."
It was interesting to note that Ted Leland made several references to the shortcomings at the quarterback position. When asked about the reversal of fortunes at Cal across the Bay, which took place during the same three-year span under Jeff Tedford, Leland was complimentary if not effusive in his praise for that turnaround... but was quick to point out that Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers, plus other JC transfer quick-fix additions, made the job much easier. For the Cardinal program affectionately known as "Quarterback U," the play has not been there at the signal caller position the last three years.
"One undoing here for Buddy may have been the lack of an established quarterback," Leland opines. "It's not all Buddy's fault, though. Some were disaffected, and there were some injuries." The latter descriptor refers to the injuries each of the last two years to Trent Edwards, while the former of course speaks to Chris Lewis, who remained a loyalist to former head coach Tyrone Willingham during his two years under Teevens.
Leland also took this day to bring some of the blame onto himself. Though the statement flies in the face of what fans have come to believe about the intrinsic abilities of Buddy Teevens, the man who hired him defends that hiring decision in January 2002.
"Three years ago we went out and worked hard to find the best person for this job. I believe we did that," Leland charges. "Buddy came here with a great pedigree incredible work habits and shared values, and he gave it his best shot. Things just didn't work, but in my opinion we chose the right guy three years ago, and we'll do the best we can to choose the right guy this time."
It was an odd firing press conference, with Teevens in the room, giving his own statements and listening to his (former) boss and friend describe why he had to be terminated. The man wanted to put his face forward, even during his darkest day, and make himself available to the media for questions. A stand-up man who gave his blessing to the future of the program, who he believes will soon see brighter days even under different leadership, Teevens earned praise even at his professional funeral.
"We are excited about the future, but we do need to spend a few minutes pausing and thinking a little bit about the contributions that Coach Teevens and his family made here at Stanford," the Director asserts. "As I walked across campus - talked to alumni and talked to football players - through this evaluation process there has never been anyone who has attacked Coach Teevens personally. I have never met anyone who wouldn't say he is a great citizen of the Stanford community. He is a fabulous educator. So it is a tough day; this is a tough place we find ourselves in."
One of the criticisms that Leland drew nearly 35 months ago when he hired this man was that he hired a buddy in Buddy Teevens. Cronyism was the charge. The Athletic Director did less due diligence and rested too easily on a personal relationship in measuring the credentials of the hire. While Leland defends the hire resolutely, he does say that the failure that followed likely changes the people he can consider in the future.
"I do think on a personal level it will be hard to hire a friend again," Leland laments. "When we hired Buddy, we did it with a unanimous vote - I wasn't even in the room. But that's not enough to sell him to people."
"I don't think people gave him as much credit as he deserved - because he was my friend."
Five players were brought in to the press conference, and it was no accident that all five are rising seniors. Brian Head, Julian Jenkins, Kevin Schimmelmann, Babatunde Oshinowo and Jon Alston. All three have played three years of football under Teevens. Jenkins was recruited and signed by Teevens, while the other four redshirted and practiced only a few months before Teevens was hired. They drew no pleasure in seeing the man leave, but they also understand that their talents need to yield better results on the field.
"You look at the last few years, and we came really close. As the head coach, you have to take the fall when you don't get there," Oshinowo muses. "When you come close so many times, it wears on you. You lose confidence."
One rising fifth-year senior who publicly gave a vote of confidence for Teevens a week ago after an ugly 41-6 Big Game loss was outside linebacker Jon Alston. He was choked up at Monday's proceedings and made it known that he wished his coach could have remained.
"This has been a sad day to see Coach Teevens leave," Alston offers. "It doesn't get any better than Coach Teevens, as far as I'm concerned. It's a business, judged by wins and losses. People may not see it because of the win-loss record but they will see soon the groundwork that Coach Teevens laid for success on this team."
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