It’s Big Game week in Berkeley and Bear backers have never had so much reason to revel in their football team’s success or fear for its future.
As the California Golden Bears head into Saturday’s home game against Stanford, with their first Rose Bowl ap pearance since 1959 potentially in the balance, every pre-game ritual is tempered by concern that if major stadium renovations aren’t hastened the man responsible for revitalizing the program could be pacing another school’s sideline next year.
Since tak ing the reigns of the UC Berkeley squad in 2002, Jeff Tedford, 42, has turned a 1-10 laughing stock into the fourth ranked team in the nation and has become perhaps the most highly sought after coach in college football.
And next month Tedford will essentially become a free agent. His contract includes a trigger: If the university fails to begin a stadium renovation project by Dec. 15, any school in the country can buy out the remainder of his deal for $500,000—a trifling sum in the high stakes world of college football.
UC Berkeley has yet to finalize plans for renovating 81-year old Memorial Stadium. In January, the university announced a $140 million fundraising drive to renovate the dilapidated and seismically unfit facility that sits directly above the Hayward Fault. But fundraising stalled with the resignation announcements of former chancellor Robert Berdahl and former Athletic Director Stephen Gladstone.
So far the university has $15 million on hand for the project, said Dexter Bailey, the exec utive athletic director of external affairs, who is overseeing the effort. He said the final project could well cost more than the projected $140 million because of surging prices for steel. The university, which isn’t counting on public money for the project, won’t reveal the final concept, which could include luxury boxes, new offices and weight room, as well as seismic repairs, until about half of the funding has been dedicated, Bailey said.
That leaves Tedford free to jump ship to a school with deep pockets and first class facilities, a prospect the coach shied away from at a Monday press conference to promote the Big Game. “I’m uncomfortable talking about this,” he said. “This week shouldn’t be about me.”
But at the University of Washington, a traditional football power in the market for a new coach, the Tedford rumor mill keeps swirling. “It would be my guess that Washington would have Tedford on its short list of candidates,” said Dan Riley, who covers the team for the Seattle Post Intelligencer. “The new UW administration has promised to aim high, and there’s no one any better, any closer, than Jeff Tedford.”
While fans at Sunday’s battle of the Cal and Stanford marching bands, a pre-Big Game tradition, were hoping that Tedford would stay, many feared his days in Berkeley are numbered.
“Cal football has two traditions,” said Gerald Vellegas, a Cal alumnus. “Losing football games and losing coaches who win football games.”
Leading up to Saturday’s Big Game, Tedford is 26-12 at Cal.
Since the departure of legendary head coach Lynn “Pappy” Waldorf after the 1956 season, only two coaches other than Tedford have managed to post winning records at Cal: Mike White, who left in 1978 after six seasons to become an NFL assistant coach with the 49ers, and Bruce Snyder, who bolted for Arizona State after five seasons at Cal, which culminated in a 1991 Citrus Bowl victory.
Before that triumph, Cal’s previous New Year’s Day bowl game victory came in 1938, its last Rose Bowl win. The Rose Bowl traditionally pits the champions of the PAC 10 conference and the Big 10 conference, which includes traditional powers from the Midwest, against each other. At 46 years, Cal has the longest Rose Bowl drought of any team in either conference.
Winning football games doesn’t just boost morale around campus, it contributes to the university’s bottom line. Average attendance this season has soared above 64,000, nearly double what the team averaged in 2001, the year before Tedford took charge. When increased merchandising sales, corporate sponsorships and revenue from appearances on national television are included, the football team has generated several million for the athletic department, which still runs a $3 million to $5 million deficit, according to Cal Athletics spokesperson Bob Rose.
“This is why you invest in a coach like Tedford,” Rose said. “Football is the engine that drives the revenue to fund a 27-sport program.” The added revenue generated by the football team this year has protected several of the unive rsity’s lesser grossing teams from possible cuts, Rose said.
Aware that boosters are sure to shell out more money to support a winner than a loser, UC Berkeley is planning to pull out all the stops to keep Tedford in town. New Athletic Director Sandy Bar bour indicated the university would be open to granting Tedford a contract extension that would likely include a hefty raise.
Still, she acknowledged that the university’s facilities would likely be the factor that determines Tedford’s future in Berkele y. “He needs to see progress,” she said.
Built in 1923, Memorial Stadium is among the most outdated facilities in Division 1 college football and a major liability in consistently recruiting top flight talent. Unlike the homes of PAC 10 rivals, the stadi um has no luxury suites or club seating which generate additional revenue. The weight room, built 21 years ago, is too small to accommodate even half of the squad.
Barbour added that the university had not determined if the final renovation plan would to add super-bright television quality lights, which residents who live near the stadium on Panoramic Hill have long opposed.
The city’s power to regulate any future project is unclear, said Planning Director Dan Marks. Generally Berkeley doesn’t have aut hority over university building projects. However the city could argue that a football stadium is not part of the academic mission of UC Berkeley and therefore the project should be subject to city approval, he said.
No matter what the future of Cal foot ball or Memorial Stadium is, for Bear fans, this season will go down as one of the most exciting. If the Bears defeat Stanford, as they are favored to do, and the University of Southern California (USC) defeats UCLA in two weeks, USC would likely go on to play for the National Championship in the Orange Bowl in Miami. That would leave Cal as the second place team in the PAC 10 to play in the Rose Bowl.
Although a trip to the Rose Bowl isn’t assured, Sherie Allen, a season ticket holder who was a freshman when Cal last played on New Year’s Day 1959 in Pasadena already has her ticket and hotel reservation.
“My mother wouldn’t let me go last time,” she said at Sunday’s battle of the bands event. “This year no one is going stop me.”