Sports

For all his coaching success, Jeff Tedford is 0-for-Coliseum. That’s going to change Aug. 31

Jeff Tedford walked over to not really answer any questions the other day, dressed in Dry-Fit white like the knight in shining armor he’s become for Fresno State.

Nothing but Central Valley sunshine splashed on the Fresno State football coach’s sunglassed face, all 106 degrees of it. They uprooted The One Tree Standing at the practice field long ago, so there’s no shaded places to hide at this summer sweatshop factory.

Still, if you look real close, deep in the media-guide bio where the impartial story of one Jeffrey Raye Tedford gets yarned, you can see where the last strand of shade remains.

It’s the shadow of The Coliseum, the last stadium standing in the West Coast where Tedford has not head coached a ball team to victory.

Tedford knows the shadow well. He grew up behind it on the Downey end of southeast Los Angeles. He drove by it often as a teenager, headed to Westwood to play pickup games at Pauley Pavilion because this scrawny teenager of a quarterback didn’t bother dreaming of being a football Trojan.

He coached behind it for 11 years at Cal, where none of his school-record 50 conference wins came on the sands of this Coliseum.

On Aug. 31, Tedford gets another chance to outshine the Coliseum sun, and we like his chances now more than ever in this season’s opener.

He’s going to raid USC’s Troy with a Fresno State football team that has all the defense it needs to keep the score down for a newby offense. His charges will face a Trojans outfit that took a roster of five-star recruits and turned into a 5-7 season of mush, and what exactly has changed since winter?

USC wasted its money renovating the Coliseum during the offseason. Those walls are crumbling down, even if Tedford acts like this is just another game at just another place.

“It’s got nothing to do with where I’m from and all that,” Tedford said. “It’s about the kid’s experience and the opportunity to play a traditionally great program, which I’m sure they are right now. It’s a great opportunity to go into a place like that … a great environment to play in. We have a lot of respect for them and that place.”

Close calls at Coliseum

Of course they do. Tedford’s and Fresno State’s greatest losses in the history of ever came in that place.

No Fresno State defeat was as enjoyable as that 50-42 loss to the No. 1 Trojans in 2005. Until the Bulldogs won at Boise State last year, that USC loss may well have been the greatest victory in program history.

Tedford knows that feeling of almost. He took over a woebegone Cal program in 2002, his first head coaching gig. The rookie walked out of the Coliseum with a 30-28 loss to a nationally ranked USC with more talent on the bench than Tedford had at the scrimmage line.

Two years later, it was a 23-17 loss to the No. 1 Trojans. Even in defeat, Tedford showed he had arrived.

It’s just that Tedford arrived at the worst possible time, when the Trojans were busy winning national championships. He beat the Trojans but once, and that on the smoke-hazed hills of Berkeley.

Win at The Coliseum? Only as an Oregon offensive coordinator, and no one gets a Gatorade shower in the coach’s box.

No Pete Carroll magic

This time, there is no Pete Carroll on the opposite sideline standing in destiny’s way. Tedford is done building character while USC builds trophy cases.

“We hit them at a time where they were one of the best teams ever in college football,” Tedford said. “Pete Carroll really had them going. We could never get over that hump.”

That’s going to change. Fresno State is going to beat USC on its home field because the Bulldogs are simply a better program right now, all because of Tedford.

How’s that for some shade?

David White is a former Fresno Bee staff writer and NFL beat writer at the San Francisco Chronicle, now a pastor and Sunday sports columnist for The Bee: bydw@sbcglobal.net, @bydavidwhite

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