Zack Follett remembers being nervous. He remembers being fearful. But he was a Cal Bears senior linebacker and team captain and believed it was his duty to act as a liaison between his teammates and their head coach.
The coach’s name was Jeff Tedford.
Follett set aside his fears, walked into Tedford’s office and closed the door behind him.
“Coach, I’m in the locker room right now,” Follett remembers saying. “We’re dog tired. It would be a great lift if you let us go shorts today.”
“Sounds good. Let’s do it,” came Tedford’s reply.
Eight years later, while relaxing on a leather couch inside Kuppa Joy, one of two coffee houses he owns in Fresno and Clovis, Follett grinned at the memory.
I’ve never been around a man who demanded so much respect.
Zack Follett, on Jeff Tedford
“I’ve never been around a man who demanded so much respect,” Follett said. “He’d walk into the training room and it would be like, ‘Coach is here.’ That’s just the way he carried himself and the discipline he embodied to the team. He was somebody that was well-respected.”
The way Follett sees it, after playing for Clovis High, Cal and two seasons with the Detroit Lions before a neck injury forced him to hang up his cleats, that demeanor is necessary in football – and one reason why Tedford would be an excellent fit as Fresno State’s next head coach.
“You need a coach who demands respect, whom the players respect,” Follett said. “Because if you don’t have order and respect, you have chaos. And that’s kind of where the Bulldogs are now.”
Where the Bulldogs are right now is in need of a new head football coach after Tim DeRuyter was terminated Oct. 23 following a 1-7 start on the heels of last season’s 3-9.
Fresno State Athletic Director Jim Bartko has spent the past two weeks contacting prospective candidates, none of whom want their names public, and soliciting input from friends, colleagues and coaches.
Sources tell me Fresno State AD Jim Bartko will spend the next few days conducting interviews and meeting with agents before potentially naming Tim DeRuyter’s successor at the end of the week.
Sources tell me Bartko will spend the next few days conducting interviews and meeting with agents before potentially naming DeRuyter’s successor at the end of the week.
If that person winds up being Tedford, the 55-year-old former Bulldogs quarterback and offensive coordinator who compiled an 82-57 record in 11 seasons (2002-12) at Cal, no one will be surprised.
Least of all several of Tedford’s former players, including those living in the area and beyond.
“I think it’s a no-brainer,” said Buchanan High football coach Matt Giordano, who played two years under Tedford at Cal. “He would be a huge addition to the community and the Bulldog program.”
“I’d recommend Jeff Tedford to anybody,” said former Oregon quarterback Joey Harrington, who credited Tedford, his Ducks offensive coordinator, with “100 percent” of his development. “Any school would make a good decision if it hired him.”
Before Thursday night’s Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame ceremony, inductee Billy Volek called Tedford a “perfect fit” for Fresno State. And David Carr, who was recruited by Tedford but never played for him, endorsed the expected hire by calling it a “great choice.”
He’s as good a coach as I’ve ever had. I’d put him right up there with Jason Garrett, Sean Payton and Nick Saban.
Joey Harrington, on Jeff Tedford
Follett feels the same way, but not for the reasons you might expect. To him, the reasons go beyond football.
“He puts off the qualities that you need to lead, but at the same time if you’re in his office with the door closed he’s gracious and believes in helping and giving second chances,” Follett said. “There were guys at Cal who messed up all the time. We’re all young and dumb kids. He’s someone who wants to extend grace, to give you a second chance.”
One of those guys who got a second chance was Bernard Hicks, the Edison High product who was charged with marijuana possession following a Berkeley traffic stop during his freshman year in 2005.
Hicks thought he would be kicked off the team. But Tedford gave him a second chance, and Hicks wound up starting three seasons at safety, getting his degree and never needing a third.
“If it wasn’t for the second chance he gave me, I wouldn’t have been able to turn it around,” said Hicks, who manages real estate in the Bay Area. “I really am blessed.”
Bernard Hicks thought he would be kicked off the team. But Tedford gave him a second chance, and Hicks wound up starting three seasons at safety, getting his degree and never needing a third.
In 2015, Hicks sued Cal for medical malpractice, charging the university did not inform players of the long-term effects of multiple concussions and naming Tedford as a defendant. But in a phone interview, he had nothing to positive things to say about his ex-coach.
“I have yet to sit down with Tedford and thank him for everything he’s ever done for me,” Hicks said. “I really am blessed.”
Besides second chances, Follett appreciates how Tedford was always hungry to learn and seek input from others.
In 2007, Follett’s junior year, Cal started 5-0 and rose to No. 2 in the polls before dropping six of seven and finishing 7-6.
How did Tedford react? By assigning a team-wide book report on “Talent Is Never Enough” by author John C. Maxwell and having each position coach responsible for teaching a chapter.
The following season, in 2008, the Bears went 9-4 including victories over Oregon, Stanford and Miami in the Emerald Bowl.
“He was a guy who went back and searched for answers,” Follett said. “I respect leaders and coaches who can self-reflect, starting with themselves first. I love the way he made changes going into my senior year.”
82-57 Jeff Tedford’s overall won-loss record during 11 seasons at Cal from 2002-12
Follett’s respect level for Tedford only grew in 2010, two years after his college career ended, when Tedford and the entire Bears coaching staff drove to Fresno to attend the funeral of Zack’s father, Bob.
Following the ceremony, taken with Follett’s conversion to Christianity, Tedford invited his former player to speak to the current team about “the spiritual man.”
“That meant a lot to me,” Follett said. “That let me know what kind of a man he is. Because in football, once you have almost nothing to offer, you’re almost dead to them in a sense. That showed me that he and the rest of the coaches cared about me as a person.”
Besides his duties as a consultant for No. 4 Washington, Tedford has spent the past four years away from college football.
Follett hasn’t spoken to his former coach in some time but senses Fresno State is the perfect opportunity for a return.
“I’ve been praying for him, just from afar,” Follett said. “He is someone who will carry a heavy weight to be successful. To see that pressure, being a head coach is no joke, and that pressure put him where it put him physically.
“For him to be able to take time off and regroup and refocus and re-energize to where he would be physically and mentally ready to take on another head coaching job, I think it’s the ideal situation.”