If you watched the Armed Forces Bowl, you probably saw that DeSean Jackson, Robert Jordan, and Thomas DeCoud were all notably absent from the starting lineups (though you may not have, given how poorly Jason Kidd read through them before the game). You certainly saw their impact when they finally got on the field in the second quarter. Jackson and Jordan both had touchdown catches (Jackson’s being particularly acrobatic), and DeCoud was flying around the secondary, hitting Air Force ball carriers with authority.
Why the absence? Well, as many of you know, all three were suspended for the first quarter of the game for violating unspecified team rules. As first reported by Jonathan Okanes on December 30th, the infractions were not major, but nothing more was elaborated on. I know I assumed they missed a team meeting or a practice or something — given the timing of the announcement, it wasn’t unreasonable to assume they might have gotten into a bit of trouble in Ft. Worth (is that even possible?).
Today, however, I heard through the grapevine (a source I consider reliable, if rather indirect) that the suspensions were decided on weeks ago, and related not to missing a single meeting, but rather because all 3 players were missing team meetings all the time. If true, it’s another clear indicator that discipline on this team had been breaking down for a while, and it was about time Tedford starting kicking some ass (or, as the ESPN sideline correspondent called it, "handing out a bit of ‘Tedford Love’").
Why did it take so long for something like this to happen? These three weren’t some freshman punks who still thought they were BMOC like they were back in high school. Jackson is the highest-profile player on the team, a flashy receiver/punt returner who has his own Heisman website, DeCoud is the team’s leading tackler and was a team captain for every game this season (except, understandably, the bowl game), and Jordan is a four-year starter and a standout receiver in his own right. Even if these players aren’t specifically the types of leaders mentioned by HydroTech last month, they are in prominent positions on the team; I can’t imagine other players seeing that they were skipping meetings and not start letting things slide themselves.
Well, when you’re a star player, you do get special treatment, but it seems it was long past time for Tedford to step in and send a message, essentially saying that no player is so good that the team can’t do without them. Judging by their performance in the bowl game, the players clearly responded to Tedford shaking things up; not only did all three suspended players make a big difference in the Bears’ victory, but team in general came out fired up and excited.
Of course, much of that shot in the arm seemed to come from Kevin Riley’s performance, another of Tedford’s shakeups. Honestly, given Longshore’s struggles this year, I think it was long past time Riley at least got a chance to show what he could do. It’s one thing to be loyal to your players, protecting them and building them up during adversity; it’s quite another to ignore obvious problems, hoping they’ll fix themselves. Hindsight is, of course, 20/20, but it’s pretty obvious from the post-game celebration that this team is ready to follow Riley, and I’m glad that Tedford finally gave the team what they wanted.
Clearly, this year was Tedford’s toughest as a coach at Cal. The Bears have had two 3-game losing streaks under Tedford, and both have occured since October 13. More than losing games, however, Tedford appeared to lose the team. The team we saw defeat Air Force on Monday would have destroyed Stanford and would have beaten Washington handily. What happened to these guys? Why did Tedford take so long to make the changes that he did? I applaud the changes, but wonder what might have been if they had come sooner.
It is often when facing adversity that people learn and grow. I can, of course, only speculate, but I would hope that in dealing with his team’s freefall, Tedford has grown as a football coach and as a leader. If so, I’m confident Cal will be in good hands in the future.
As for my part, I’m excited about Cal football again. August 30 can’t come soon enough!