A Cal friend of mine once let me in on the secret unofficial slogan of Golden Bear football: “Every year is a rebuilding year.” In the nearly two decades since being let in on the secret, I have determined this is true. Everybody shows super potential … their final year with the team. No matter if it’s coaches (one-year-wonder Steve Mariucci), quarterbacks (Aaron Rodgers left after his junior year), or running backs (Justin Forsett was Marshawn Lynch’s backup, and only got to start his senior year after Lynch went to the NFL as a junior), it seems to happen all the time.
(The 1996 Aloha Bowl team is the best example: Mariucci was the coach, Tony Gonzalez was a junior and left, record-setting QB Pat Barnes was a one-year senior starter after backing up Dave Barr, and so on.)
This issue probably caused Jeff Tedford to get fired after the 2012 season, but I still didn’t like it. All Tedford did in 11 years was break most of Pappy Waldorf’s coaching records, including career wins (82), conference wins, (50) bowl wins (five), and wins in the Big Game against that school with a tree mascot (seven). He didn’t go to a Rose Bowl, but no Cal head man has since Waldorf, and no Cal coach has won it since Stub Allison in 1938 (seven months after the Golden Gate Bridge opened). Sure, they played nine games a year in 1950 (Waldorf) and 12 games in 2010 (Tedford). But since it took 60 years for those records to be broken, you have to figure Jeffy would have been given some slack. So he was, kind of. And his reward, in 2012, was the knowledge that he was screwed. In Tedford’s last year, the question was when he would get fired, not if. He ended up getting axed days after his final game, when the Bears lost 62-14 to Oregon State.
I think Tedford got fired for the same reason that people remodel their kitchen even though there is nothing wrong with the orange countertops that have been there since 1969, and the refrigerator is avocado green and works fine, and the stovetop is rust red and has zero maintenance problems. Considering how bad Cal had been overall since the Waldorf era, Jeffy was clearly a major upgrade. But people get bored of their football programs — and their kitchens — being decent. They want them to be awesome. Jeffy couldn’t do that. seven or eight wins a year, absolutely. Ten? Maybe every now and again. Conference title? If everything goes right. Under .500? Distinctly possible. But overall, avocado green boring. So Jeffy got fired and the hot coach of the moment, Sonny Dykes, got hired. In kitchen terms, Sonny was sleek, gunmetal grey countertops. Totally different from the orange ones, but are countertops really the reason the meatloaf gets burned?
And in his first season as head coach, Sonny Dykes was not just worse than Jeffy Boy, he was worse than Tom freaking Holmoe. For the first time since the program began in 1886 (BTW, in 1886 the state of California was 36 years old, and it was before cars, before bridges crossed The Bay, before airplanes, before television, before radio, before the American League existed, before the oldest Marx brother was born [Chico], and Hawaii was still a sovereign nation, for Pete’s sake) the California Golden Bears played a season that lasted longer than five games and did not win a game against a single D-1 opponent. The Bears beat Portland State in Week 2, and that was it. I happened to watch most of that game, and thought they would lose.
Now it is year two of the Sonny Dykes “Bear Raid” era, and he has a rifle-armed sophomore quarterback from Marin leading the way. Jared Goff is Jerry Goff’s son, and if you’re from around here I need say nothing else. In the ‘80s, Jerry Goff and Buddy Biancalana were Marin County’s MLB stars. Both were absolute studs in high school, both made the majors, and as a kid in that era I couldn’t go anywhere without hearing about them. Jerry Goff made the paper every day (and I wondered why a paper in Marin cared about a guy playing for the Montreal Expos) and Buddy got picked up by David Letterman as a joke, touted as “the guy to break Pete Rose’s hits record,” while he scuffled along with the Kansas City Royals. Jared, meanwhile, looked equal parts awesome and awful chucking the ball around the gridiron as a college freshman last year. The whole “not beating a D-1 team” didn’t help matters. But Sonny stuck with him for the most part last year, and there is no quarterback controversy entering the season.
In the second year for both in Berkeley, Jerry’s kid needs to show he did more than smoke weed on the slopes of Mount Tam in the offseason (pure speculation on my part, but it’s based on what I did when I was 19, and I certainly don’t own first-year Golden Bear passing records), and Sonny needs to avoid losing nearly every game on the schedule. If they finish third in the Pac-12 North behind Oregon and Stanford, they’ll have done pretty gosh-danged well. But what do you expect from Cal? After all, it is a rebuilding year.