The X’s and O’s of classroom success
New football coach wants to see his players march smartly downfield — toward their diplomas

By D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs



Coach Jeff Tedford: “It’s not just about football.”
John Dunbar photo

30 September 2002 | With three wins already under his belt (against a pair of losses), it’s clear Cal football coach Jeff Tedford is transforming Berkeley’s once-anemic team — which last year scrawled just one lonely hatchmark in the win column — into an effective gridiron machine.

Eager to extend that success into the classroom, Tedford has developed an “academic game plan” to ensure that his players are hitting the books as hard as they tackle their opponents on the field.

“We have individual coaches monitoring each one of our players’ academic progress using scorecards,” Tedford explains. “They check the athletes’ class notes, get daily updates on their school-related activities, and track their grades.”

Enforcement is based on a tri-color system: players in the red zone (meaning they’re not meeting their academic requirements) must meet with coaches four times a week; yellow-zone players are doing a bit better, so meet twice a week; those in the green zone are on target with their schoolwork, so meet with “their” coach only once a week. Tedford says he and his staff are trying to create an environment where the athletes understand “it’s not just about football.”

If things aren’t going right academically, he adds, the athletes are hooked up with campus support services to get things turned around. The coaches work closely with Derek Van Rheenen and his staff at the Athletic Study Center, which offers tutoring, advising, and computing services for Cal’s more than 900 student-athletes.

His ultimate goal is to improve the graduation rate for football players, which, in recent years, has hovered just below 50 percent.

“While it’s great for us to promote academics, it doesn’t mean anything if we’re not graduating our players in more significant numbers,” he says. “We want to be able to boast about our graduation rate as well as our success on the football field.”

Tedford is dedicated to developing not only premier student athletes but quality young men as well — which means his influence doesn’t stop at the campus gates. As a coach, he feels, he is “an extension of the parental arm,” with an obligation to the players’ families to make sure their sons succeed in all aspects of their lives.

“This is a time when they’re experiencing a lot of new things,” he says about his charges. “We want to be proactive in educating them about all the pitfalls they may come in contact with, be they drugs, drinking, violence, or whatever.”

Players are told the team is like a family, and that they all must look out for each other. But with 120 young men ages 17 to 22, all of them with different backgrounds and experiences, tricky and challenging situations are inevitably going to arise.

“If something comes up, we’ll be there to counsel them,” Tedford says. “The coaches are here to try and build character and help the players understand what’s right and wrong, the consequences of their actions, and how they are perceived by others.”

Tedford expends a lot of energy ensuring Cal’s football program is successful both on and off the field. But at a campus known for its focus on high academic standards, these efforts aren’t always fully appreciated.

“I’m aware that some think there isn’t a place for football at Cal,” he says. “That’s fine; they’re entitled to their opinion. But I think sports is an important part of the university experience: not just for the players, but for the other students and faculty as well. When our teams are winning, it brings the morale of the whole campus up.”

Tedford himself doesn’t think athletics and academics are mutually exclusive. In fact, he says, Berkeley’s reputation is actually a valuable recruiting tool. There are plenty of high-caliber athletes out there for whom getting a quality education is just as important as being involved in a top-shelf football program.

Stadium amenities?
What isn’t helping to attract the nation’s top student athletes to Berkeley are the run-down facilities at Memorial Stadium. While architecturally beautiful, the 80-year-old stadium lags behind facilities at other universities when it comes to amenities for athletes.

“If we want to be competitive in recruiting, we desperately need to make some facility changes,” says Tedford. “It’s become an arms race, with other universities pumping so much money into their facilities. And we’ve done very little. It’s almost inconceivable how far we’re behind.”

Tedford would like to see a comprehensive suite of services available for players at the stadium, including meeting rooms, a study area with computers, and a state-of-the-art strength-training facility.

Tedford and other administrators are looking to Berkeley alumni and friends to donate the millions needed for upgrades and seismic renovations to Memorial Stadium. But, he admits, some potential donors are hesitant, based on the dismal performance of the football program over the last several years.

“I think there are plenty of folks who support this effort, but they want to see some more evidence of success before making any commitments,” Tedford surmises. “Which is fair enough. Hopefully, the team can make enough progress to show the alumni and other backers that we’re moving in the right direction — but we’ll need some help if we want to take the next step.”


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