David White

David White: Coach Jeff Tedford's future linked to past?

Jeff Tedford walked down the ramp to remember what once was, back when he was Fresno State's star quarterback in the '80s and later an offensive coordinator in the '90s.

Left unsaid was the potential for what may still be.

"It's a special thing to go down that ramp, and the electricity that you can feel down there," Tedford said Saturday, before he hustled down the concrete entranceway to Bulldog Stadium as an honorary team captain.

"It's been (16 years) since I took a walk down that ramp."

It was Nov. 22, 1997. He had just coached his last game as Pat Hill's offensive coordinator. Tedford hadn't been back to a Bulldog Stadium game since, namely because he's always had a college coaching job elsewhere — as the Oregon offensive coordinator from 1998-2001, and as Cal's head coach from 2002-12.

Tedford was back Saturday not just because Fresno State invited him but because he finally could. Cal fired him after last year's 3-9 campaign. He's taking the year off, living in Reno with his wife and a bunch of unpacked boxes. Don't confuse that for retirement, because the 51-year-old is anything but.

"Oh yeah, I'm really excited to get back into it," Tedford said. "Just really anxious for the next stop and fired up and excited for it."

But, what if Tedford had never left in the first place? What could have been if Fresno State had stayed in-house and hired Tedford to replace longtime coach Jim Sweeney before the 1997 season?

And, more to today's point, what if a second chance comes his way?

Tedford wasn't considered ready for the job when he was bypassed by Hill and Brian Billick on the list of finalists. That won't be the case if the opportunity comes again — and if current chief Tim DeRuyter keeps the No. 17 Bulldogs undefeated all the way to the Fiesta Bowl, you'd better believe a BCS school could come and body-snatch DeRuyter away.

The Fresno State job is certainly better than it was 16 years ago. The facilities are vastly improved. The turf is artificially greener on this side of the fence. Fresno State still means something special to Tedford, even after all these years away.

Tedford proved he is better, too, turning Cal's galactic disaster of a football program into a winner during the bulk of his stay. If he did anything wrong, he overstayed his welcome — not much different than Hill did here. Cal fans who called for his headset forgot how bad the Bears were before he arrived (see Holmoe, Tom).

If nothing else, Tedford can appreciate all that's happened at Fresno State since he left, from Hill's BCS-or-Bust runs to DeRuyter's instant rebuilding job.

"These upgrades, they don't happen by accident," Tedford said. "It happens because of support and people doing a great job. Coach Hill did a great job here. Coach DeRuyter is doing a phenomenal job. The tradition keeps growing.

"I'll always have fond memories of Fresno."

Tedford also remembered this Saturday: running down the ramp at Bulldog Stadium never gets old.