The Bay Area has not been known for housing football (NCAA or NFL) power houses over the last ten years. The Stanford Cardinal, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders all have losing records over this stretch. Surprisingly, it is the hardly talked about California Bears who have the most winning seasons (9) since 2002.
Things have been looking up for Bay Area football since Jim Harbaugh became the head coach of Stanford in 2007. He transformed the Cardinals from bottom dwellers to bowl-bound heroes in four short years. He then headed north to San Francisco where he miraculously coached Alex Smith and the San Francisco 49ers to the NFC Championship game in his first year as their head coach.
Harbaugh's time in the Bay Area has proven how valuable a good coach is to its franchise.
Jeff Tedford is the poor man's Harbaugh. Prior to being hired in 2002, Cal had not completed a season with a winning record since 1993. In his time with the Bears, Tedford has revitalized the program with ten winning seasons (eight of which were consecutive).
Tedford has made a name for himself at Cal, earning Pac-10 Coach of the Year in 2002 and 2004. This last season, Tedford wrote himself into history by becoming Cal's all-time leader in victories.
The only knock on Tedford is that he has yet to make an appearance in a BCS bowl, and has never won a Pac-10 (or Pac-12) title, though he did split the honor with USC in 2006.
Despite his success, Tedford's team has always been overshadowed by USC (while Pete Carroll was coaching), Stanford (since Jim Harbaugh took over) and Oregon (after Chip Kelly became head coach in 2009).
Harbaugh is known for his ability to revamp losing teams into winners like he did at University of San Diego, Stanford and now with the San Francisco 49ers.
Chip Kelly has innovated the spread option offense by maximizing the tempo of the game.
Tedford has overachieved for a Cal head coach and has even made a stir in the Pac-10/Pac-12. But he has yet to reach the national stage as Carroll, Harbaugh and Kelly all have.
The argument can be made that Cal does not get the attention from recruits that Oregon, Stanford and USC get, which hurts Tedford's chances of fielding an elite team. But the same was true for Harbaugh when he first got to Stanford.
Tedford, whose contract is up in 2015, is a good coach, but after ten seasons with Cal it is safe to say that he does not have what it takes to coach a team to a Pac-12 title or BCS bowl.
With the additions of Utah and Colorado into the Pacific Division, college football on the west coast is becoming increasingly competitive. To counter this, Washington State and University of Arizona went out and got themselves big name coaches: Mike Leach and Rich Rodriguez respectively.
Both of these guys are known for their high powered offenses. Leach seemed to always have a 5,000 yard passer while he coached at Texas Tech. Rodriguez won two BCS bowl games with West Virginia before coaching Denard "Shoelace" Robinson at the University of Michigan.
If Cal were to fire Tedford, they would not necessarily need to bring in a big name coach like Washington State and University of Arizona did this offseason.
Cal instead should take a lesson from Stanford and Oregon. Both teams looked for coaches at small schools that had earned praise on the national level.
When the Cardinal was searching for their next head coach prior to the 2007 season, they noticed that Jim Harbaugh had accumulated a 29-6 record at the University of San Diego, including two straight 11-1 seasons. His biggest accomplishment was turning quarterback Josh Johnson into one of college football's best passers (his 176.68 career passer efficiency is the highest in NCAA Division-I football history).
Kelly was the offensive coordinator at the University of New Hampshire (1999-2006) before being hired by the University of Oregon in 2007. 2005 was his best season in the Northeast as "the Wildcats finished second nationally in total offense (493.5 ypg), third in scoring (41.7 ppg) and fifth in passing (300.1 ypg)."
Harbaugh and Kelly's success as college football coaches supports the argument that a team is only as good as its coaching staff. Tedford has proven that he is a quality coach but that he does not have what it takes to bring Cal to the next level.
Cal has gone 12-13 in the last two seasons, Tedford's worst back to back seasons since coming to Berkeley. Now is as good a time as any for Cal to head in another direction. With what promises to be an improved Pac-12 in 2012 after the Leach and Rodriguez hirings, Cal can not afford to let itself fall further into mediocrity.
The best way for the Bears to avoid walking down the same old path is to look for a coach that not only wins, but wins their own way. Cal does not just need a leader, but someone who can innovate the program.