Despite being billed as an offensive genius who coached reigning NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers, Cal coach Jeff Tedford was fired Tuesday after another awful season.
WHO: No. 6 Florida at No. 10 Florida State.
WHAT: Annual in-state rivalry showdown.
WHEN: 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
WHERE: Tallahassee, Fla.
LINE: Florida State by 7.
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops’ goal is to become the third brother in college football’s famed coaching family to lead his own program.
And as the leader of nation’s top-ranked defense, his resumé may be more sparkling than ever.
“Sure, I have aspirations to be a head coach someday,” Stoops, 45, said before the season back in August. “I’m just always trying to improve myself to be the best coach I can be.”
The opportunity could come sooner than later.
In 2009, before Stoops’ arrival, Florida State gave up 30 points and 434.6 yards a game. This year, it has allowed just 236.3 yards and 13.1 points a game and with some of the same players from that 2009 season.
“I know I’m more prepared right now than when I walked in the door,” said Stoops, who is wrapping up his third season with Fisher.
Whatever the future holds for Stoops, nothing will happen before the end of the season.
Before then, Stoops and the 10th-ranked Seminoles have some unfinished business — starting with Saturday’s showdown with intrastate rival No. 6 Florida. After that is the ACC Championship game on Dec. 1 against Georgia Tech and a bowl game.
The Gators (10-1, 7-1 SEC) have managed a lone touchdown in successive losses to the Seminoles (10-1, 7-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) the past two seasons, losing in a shutout last year in Gainesville only because of a fourth quarter fumble deep in their own territory.
Florida State athletic director Randy Spetman said Stoops’ personality and contacts as a member of college football’s famed coaching family would also be valuable in selling his program and fund-raising for any school that might hire him.
“He’s done an incredible job for us and works very well with coach (Jimbo) Fisher, very loyal,” Spetman said. “We obviously don’t want to lose him.”
Florida State put a quick end to some postseason nibbling by other schools last winter by giving Stoops a six-figure pay increase.
Stoops said he’s perfectly satisfied with his $550,000 coaching role providing Fisher with the nation’s top defense at Florida State and sees no need to rush into just any old coaching position.
“I’m in a great situation here,” Stoops said. “I’m in a situation here where it’s one of the top coordinating jobs in the country, we get great players.”
A bit of a gypsy along the way, Stoops’ coaching resume includes several stops: South Florida, Wyoming, Houston before three seasons at Miami and then onto Arizona as defensive coordinator for brother Mike for six seasons.
Affable and enthusiastic — and somewhat of a fan himself — Stoops grew up in Youngstown, Ohio where his father was a high school coach. Older brother Bob Stoops has won a national title at Oklahoma where brother Mike Stoops is defensive coordinator.
Stoops’ defense at Florida State seems loaded from the guys up front to the secondary and with little, if any, drop off when the backups are in. His players feed off Stoops’ experience and instincts.
“I’ve been around coach Stoops so much, I know what he expects out of us,” middle linebacker Vince Williams said. “When he makes a call, I anticipate what he’s thinking the offense is going to do.”
Although muzzled during the season by Fisher’s policy that prohibits assistants from talking with the media, Stoops said he’s learned a lot from the Florida State coach.
“It’s always great to learn other things,” Stoops said. “There are some things I’ve learned here that I’ll take with me the rest of my life.”
But, that said, Stoops wants to be a head coach and probably isn’t going to have to wait much longer for an attractive opportunity. There are always vacancies in today’s coaching world where seven-figure salaries lead to expectations of instant success in the fan base. Some schools, including a few in the neighboring Southeastern Conference, are already looking.
Fisher, who spent more than two decades as an assistant himself, knows he’ll probably lose Stoops to another program, possibly at the end of this season.
“He’s earned that right,” Fisher said. “He’s a heckuva coach.”
USC STAR BARKELY SAYS NO REGRETS SKIPPING NFL:
LOS ANGELES — Whenever Matt Barkley thought about his final run down the Coliseum tunnel, the Southern California quarterback never imagined doing it with no helmet, no pads — and his throwing arm in a sling.
Instead of facing Notre Dame for a shot at a national championship, the Trojans’ star quarterback is sidelined with a sprained shoulder. Instead of playing for the nation’s No. 1 team, Barkley’s unranked teammates are playing against it.
If this is his storybook ending, Barkley would like to fire the author.
Yet a month of disappointment and discouragement culminating in an injured shoulder still isn’t enough to shake Barkley’s faith in his decision to return for one more season in the only uniform he ever dreamed of wearing.
“I took a chance,” Barkley said Tuesday while a black sling supported his arm. “I don’t think enough guys really go for it enough these days, and I did.”
Barkley will watch the Trojans’ regular-season finale Saturday from the sideline after getting hurt on a sack in last week in USC’s loss to UCLA. He doesn’t know whether he’ll recover in time to play in the Trojans’ bowl game, although coach Lane Kiffin is optimistic.
Optimism still isn’t difficult to find at USC, even after three losses in four games — and that’s mostly due to Barkley’s leadership. The Trojans (7-4, 5-4 Pac-12) plummeted out of the Top 25 after starting the season at No. 1, yet the furor over their performance is mostly confined to their fans and college football pundits.
Barkley and the Trojans thought they had a shot at the Heisman Trophy and the national title. They’ll get neither, yet they’re still having fun.
“It didn’t turn out the way I planned,” Barkley said. “But I think over these last four years, and especially this year, I’ve learned so much. (I’ve) grown, matured a lot since last year I really think, and that will prepare me for the next level and for later in life. I don’t regret it one bit.”
With the perspective of time, Barkley knows he’ll feel even better about his achievements during his four seasons at USC. He rewrote the conference record book during a USC-record 47 starts over four seasons, becoming the Pac-12’s leader in touchdown passes, yards passing, completions and total offense.
And Barkley looms as an important leader in USC’s history, representing his teammates as their spokesman when the program was leveled by NCAA sanctions in 2010. He never wavered in his commitment during a two-year bowl ban, standing up for the school that first captured his imagination as a kid growing up in Orange County.
“I can’t feel worse for a family and for a kid,” Kiffin said. “The fact that he’s not running down that tunnel in his last game, and now two times in a row he doesn’t get to play Notre Dame, it’s very unfortunate. We feel as bad as we can, but he’ll be stronger for it. He’ll come out of this thing, and we’re going to go out and play great for him.”
Kiffin had lobbied Barkley to stay at USC for his senior year since shortly after he took the job in 2010, and the former Oakland Raiders coach has consciously attempted to prepare Barkley for the NFL throughout his final two seasons. Kiffin is taking it a step further this week: While redshirt freshman Max Wittek studies defenses in preparation for his first career start, Barkley is attending game-planning meetings with Kiffin’s coaching staff.
“Matt has been in some of our coaching meetings as far as preparation, how we break down the defense as coordinators and the different personnel, and how we attack everything,” Kiffin said. “(We) just thought that would be good for him in a time that there’s not much for him to do, to help prepare him on how to prepare for the next level.”
Wittek and fellow freshman backup Cody Kessler have praised Barkley’s generosity and instruction. The senior plans to be in Wittek’s ear on the sideline with encouragement and instruction while facing the Irish’s imposing defense.
Barkley should know soon whether he can play in his first postseason game since the 2009 Emerald Bowl in San Francisco. He’s more focused on trying to finish a low season on a high note, even if he has to celebrate on the sideline.
“We’re in a hungry mood right now to get a win, and I think it’ll send us into December feeling great,” Barkley said. “Nothing is always as it’s supposed to be in life. Sometimes things go as planned, but a lot of the times, things go unaccording to plan. So it’s just something you have to deal with, and I’ll handle it and stay positive.”
TEDFORD CANNED AT CAL:
BERKELEY, Calif. — Coach Jeff Tedford was fired on Tuesday after 11 seasons at California that began with great promise and ended with a disappointing run of mediocrity.
Tedford engineered an impressive turnaround for the Golden Bears after taking over a one-win team following the 2001 season. He won a school-record 82 games, churned out numerous NFL prospects and spearheaded a facilities upgrade highlighted by a $321 million stadium renovation.
But he never was able to match early success that included a pair of 10-win seasons in his first five years and a share of the 2006 conference title.
“This was an extraordinarily difficult decision, one that required a thorough and thoughtful analysis of a complex set of factors,” athletic director Sandy Barbour said in a statement. “Ultimately, I believed that we needed a change in direction to get our program back on the right track.”
The program bottomed out this season, losing the final five games to finish 3-9 for Tedford’s worst season at the helm. The Bears lost to rival Stanford for the third straight season and finished 2-5 in the first year back at remodeled Memorial Stadium.
The final two losses were the most lopsided of Tedford’s career, a 59-17 home loss to Oregon followed by a season-ending 62-14 loss at Oregon State.
Tedford released a statement thanking the school for the opportunity to coach there.
“All involved can feel a great sense of pride with their sacrifice, contributions and commitment that have made it possible to have the winningest tenure in Cal football history,” he said. “We all can be very proud of helping to build a renovated Memorial Stadium that will have a positive impact on many athletes, fans and staff members for years to come. I will never forget the most gratifying part of these last 11 years, and that has been the relationships with the players I have had the special opportunity to watch grow academically, physically, socially and spiritually. To watch this process and be a part of their growth and development has been a blessing.”
Tedford is still owed $6.9 million over the final three years of his contract.
Tedford established himself at Cal as a quarterback guru, helping develop Kyle Boller and Aaron Rodgers into first-round picks in his first three seasons after tutoring No. 3 overall pick Joey Harrington as offensive coordinator at Oregon.
But if there was one reason for Tedford’s downfall it was his inability to find another big-time quarterback after Rodgers left following the 2004 season. The Bears ran through a group of pedestrian passers like Joe Ayoob, Nate Longshore, Kevin Riley, Brock Mansion and Zach Maynard.
The inability to pair an elite passer with the top-level talent at the skill positions proved to be Tedford’s undoing. The Bears often put together some of the best recruiting classes on the West Coast and had 40 players drafted into the NFL, including eight first-round picks, under Tedford’s leadership.
Cal had 25 players on NFL rosters at the start of this season, ninth most in the nation. That includes stars like Rodgers, DeSean Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. But those star players were unable to get the Bears back to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1958 season.
The closest Cal came was in Rodgers’ final season in 2004 when the Bears had a 10-1 regular season, losing 23-17 to eventual national champion Southern California. Texas beat out Cal for a Rose Bowl spot much to the dismay of the fan base. The Bears shared the conference title with USC in 2006 but lost the head-to-head matchup and settled for the Holiday Bowl.
Cal’s fortunes turned downward that next season after a 5-0 start. With the Bears poised to move into the No. 1 spot in the polls following a loss by LSU, they blew a game late to Oregon State when Riley took a sack instead of throwing the ball away in the closing seconds with Cal in position for a game-tying field goal.
Starting with that game, Tedford had a 34-37 record over his final 5½ seasons.
Tedford finishes his tenure with the most bowl wins (5), most games coached (139) and most conference victories (50) in school history and is tied with Pappy Waldorf for most Big Game wins (7) against Stanford.
“Coach Tedford deserves credit for the extraordinary effort he undertook to turn this program around and bring us to the heights of a Pac-10 co-championship in 2006,” Barbour said. “He has served his university admirably, and I will forever be indebted for his commitment and expertise, as well as the positive impact he has made in so many young men’s lives over the years.”
The Bears even got passed by Stanford in the Pac-12 hierarchy to the dismay of the alumni, with the Cardinal in position to get that Rose Bowl bid that has eluded Cal over the years despite losing star quarterback Andrew Luck to the NFL.
Adding to negatives for Tedford was news last month that Cal graduated only 48 percent of football players who entered school between 2002 and 2005 — the lowest rate in the Pac-12. Barbour said in a letter to donors that the low graduation rate was a “great concern.”
The one bright spot in Tedford’s final seasons came when Memorial Stadium reopened this fall following the major renovation. The modernized stadium and adjacent $150 million on-campus High Performance Center finally give Cal the facilities to compete with the rest of the conference.
While Tedford’s work rebuilding the program and fundraising for the project were integral in its success, his successor will ultimately reap the benefits.