It has been a while, so Homerism's younger set of loyal followers may not remember this. But California head coach Jeff Tedford was once the Next Big Thing.
Tedford first garnered attention for his success in coaching up quarterbacks as offensive coordinator at Fresno State and Oregon. In 2001, Cal brought Tedford in to replace Tom Holmoe--he of the 12-43 record as papa of the Golden Bears. It didn't take long for Tedford to get the program turned in the right direction. Cal improved from 1-10 in Holmoe's final season to 7-5 in 2002. Following five straight losing seasons prior to his arrival, the Bears have yet to finish under .500 since Tedford took over. Cal even finished in the top 10 of the major polls in 2004 after compiling a 10-2 record.
When you have that kind of success in the traditional college football deathtrap that is Berkeley, the football establishment takes notice. (Ask Steve Mariucci.) Aside from being reviled as a cro-magnon conformist by the local intelligentsia, you're going heads up with UCLA and USC for the top talent in your home state. NFL franchises and name schools like Notre Dame began bandying the Cal wünderkind's name about when searching for a new head coach.
Yet, Tedford passed on fame and fortune and opted to keep building at Cal. (Sometimes that's a good idea; ask Steve Mariucci.) Count Homerism among the hordes of observers who expected Tedford to position his cubs as perennial contenders for the Pac-10 crown.
And, yet, Cal hasn't really made the leap. The Bears tied USC for the conference title in 2006, but it wasn't enough to put them in a BCS bowl game. The next year, Cal went 3-8 in Pac-10 play, good for seventh in the final standings. True, the Bears sport a respectable 59-30 overall record under Tedford.
Still, I get the feeling that the window for Tedford and his program is all but closed. They had the misfortune of timing their emergence with the Trojans' re-emergence. Tedford's stock certainly has slipped--when was the last time he was mentioned as a serious candidate for a big-time job?
If there is still hope for the Bears to paw their way to the next level, this would appear to be the time to capitalize. The Trojans sustained major losses to the NFL in the offseason and will be starting but a callow freshman at quarterback in 2009. Cal gets 'SC at home and returns a talented squad that hung with Pete Carroll's bunch last year.
We can't all be champs. (Ask Steve Mariucci.) It could be that Tedford and Cal have maxed out.