I thought I recognized the reactions and the emotion behind it.
It wasn’t good. And it was the enduring image of a weekend that hadn’t even started yet.
Normally, Sunday mornings in the Fall, such as yesterday morning, involve trying to recap the events over the college football Saturday, and generally reflect on how the week ahead will play out against next week’s opponent. In this, I’m no different than any other college football fan. As a Cal fan however, reflections on this topic most recently have generally been as welcome as a case of acid reflux: Cal’s 3rd straight loss, yet with each loss marked by more successively and more disastrous results and consequences for the football program both this season and beyond.
Not surprisingly, Cal lost to U$c on Thursday evening, continuing an annual set of frustration that had begun in 2004. But the manner in which Thursday night played out, the team’s turnovers, the poor decision-making of its quarterback, Zach Maynard, as well as its best players, and how the team looked like a rudderless boat. All of which played out in front of a national television audience on ESPN, wrecking homecoming, throwing the fan base into chaos, and, after a long while of repressing the thoughts, unlocking the first real signs of alumni dissatisfaction with head coach Jeff Tedford.
What stayed with me however, was Tedford’s open frustration. As I noted above though, I could recognize the frustration he must of felt. 3 events stood out: first, yelling at wide reciever Bryce McGovern, when he came into the game for a play, and, then, once in, missing a key assignment that the play needed to succeed. Then, the look of utter disbelief that Tedford gave to special teams coach Jeff Genyk, when a fake punt was called on 4th and 7 in the Cal side of the field. The fake failed when punter Bryan Anger was tackled a few yards short of the first down marker, but even more so, the television camera did miss Coach Tedford’s turn towards his ST coach with a bewildered look and a mouthed expletive that I could definitely make out as “What……………..that?” But lastly, and most pointedly, was the final television outburst. As the 4th quarter was under way, with Cal finally showing signs of a pulse despite being down 23-9, the Bears forced the Trojans to punt. As the punt neared the Cal goal line, Marvin Jones, the senior wide receiver who shares punt return duties, settled under the ball, signaling for a fair catch. This is a common move, but being so near to the goal line, usually the returner lets the ball bounce into the end zone, giving the team a touchback on their own 20-yard-line, provided no one from U$c gets to the ball before it reaches the end zone first. It is not advisable to field the ball so close to the goal line, nor is it suggested you fair catch the ball, simply because of how disadvantaged the team would be, trapped so deep within its own territory.
But that’s exactly what Marvin Jones did. Apparently, he lost track of where he was on the field. First and ten, Cal football, on its own 4-yard-line. As the offense run on to the field, Tedford followed them out, directing his invective at Jones for his error. Jones turned and walked away from his head coach. Clearly, the frustration had boiled over on both sides. Even worse, 8 plays and only 32 yards later, U$c had the ball back, and eventually, after still another Cal turnover, they clinched the 30-9 win.
This post could easily be about the state of the Cal football program, in exile for the year in San Francisco, as the team’s home in Memorial Stadium is refurbished to reflect 21st Century realities. Or it could be about how it wasn’t necessarily a case of a U$c win, but more of a Cal loss for last Thursday’s televised mess. Again though, I recognized something in Jeff Tedford’s frustration.
The frustration itself.
As coach of the team, Tedford undoubtedly feels compelled to take the blame for his charges’ performance in a game, but as much as it could be understood as growing pains, there are times when the amount of frustration boils over when faced with a truly bad turn of events. I’ve felt it myself. Not to the extent that my own frustration boils over on a national television broadcast, but I have to be honest about those times when working with youngsters can reach a critical mass wherein you keep seeing the same errors again and again, and there’s no apparent movement up the learning curve. But just like Tedford’s struggles are reflected in his won-loss record, particularly most recently (5-7 in the 2010 season), test scores have also most recently begun to be seen by some as a touchstone of my teaching effectiveness. So the margin of error in a pressure situation such as that can amp up the anxiety level beyond normal. My school district has also begun to add benchmark assessments to the mix as well, with the nominal idea that it might provide some insight into the expected performance on the state tests; given the 15-20% disparity in scores though, such a competition easily lends itself to a comparison of a team with an easy non-conference schedule suddenly running into problems when real conference play begins. (And, not surprisingly, Cal went 3-0 in its nonconference schedule, with one win coming at the expense of a program in Division 1-AA)
It also begs the question: I taught it, why aren’t the students getting it?
My wife would suggest that if the kids didn’t learn it, maybe I didn’t teach it, I just showed it.
Some times players don’t develop and it is nobody’s fault but their own. It is such a cliche to blame the coaches for when a player doesn’t develop, and even the coaches will blame themselves. But the dirty truth is that some times it is not the coach’s fault. Fans don’t like to believe it could be the players’ fault because they prefer the cleaner belief that the head coach is ultimately responsible for anything and players are never at fault. But at some point players have to take responsibility for their own self. This is reality, believing [pl]ayers are never at fault and coaches are always at fault isn’t reality. Some players don’t develop because they don’t have the work ethic and determination. That’s the most common answer. I’ve seen it myself working with the team. Some guys slack. Some guys give 100% all the time. The guys that give 100% all the time are those who more likely to start and go to the NFL. I’m not sure if my explanation is the case for all of Cal’s QBs who haven’t developed but it’s a possibility. Even (former Cal QB Kevin) Riley himself admitted he wasn’t giving things his all until his junior year or so. — Commenter, California Golden Blogs
While not an exact match for what I see in my classroom on a daily basis, I can vouch for those kids who were “100 percenters”, who, by their own efforts, improved beyond what I could have hoped to see. One child, in particular, finished Below Basic on her first benchmark last Fall, moved up to Proficient by the 2nd benchmark, Advanced by the third, and wound up scoring Advanced on the California Standard Test in May. I can’t take credit for that. It wouldn’t be right.
I’ve also seen students do less with more. I know I’ve possibly got at least one potential student who might fit that profile in my current class, but I hope that’s one prophecy that’s unfilled. Because it’s still early. But, I also know that I might be sharing Jeff Tedford’s expressions come report card time–even if I am going to be internalizing it. Either way, there’s work to be done, both on my part, and with Cal’s coach. The season ain’t over. If both of us are back at our respective positions next year, the work will begin anew.