Watching and listening Jeff Tedford and Mack Brown—the two opposing head coaches at this year’s Holiday Bowl—talk about each other at Tuesday’s press conference sounded more like two friends who haven’t caught up in awhile, not bitter adversaries that are about to play.
It was here 11 years ago that Tedford—as the offensive coordinator for Oregon—and Brown—who was finishing his third year as the head coach at Texas—met for the first time.
Now the two will meet again, this time as Tedford leads Cal against Brown’s Longhorns in the 2011 edition of the Holiday Bowl.
And the memories are a little bit more pleasant for Tedford, whose Ducks beat Brown’s Longhorns 35-30 in 2000.
“What I remember,” Tedford, now Cal’s head coach, told a packed room full of media at the San Diego Omni Hotel, “I don’t know if you could have played a team as talented as Texas that year.”
As Tedford reminisced, he asked Brown to remember who exactly was on that Texas team that Oregon beat that night in San Diego, as if the two have been friends ever since then.
“Who was that big tall receiver you had?” Tedford asked Brown.
“Roy Williams,” Tedford repeated, as if the 2000 Holiday Bowl was yesterday. “They were loaded. We were very fortunate to win that game.”
Brown joked even more during his time at the podium, remembering that Ducks quarterback Joey Harrington snuck out and caught a touchdown pass to help beat him and his Longhorns.
It was the kind of play that made Brown respect Tedford—and loathe Harrington.
“It’s interesting that the Longhorn Network hired Joey Harrington just to make me mad,” Mack said. “I see Joey everyday, have to hear Joey everyday and I see that throw back to the quarterback every time I see his face. It’s not healthy for me.”
Even after the jokes, there is a mutual respect for one another.
After all, these are two of the longest tenured coaches in their respective conferences.
Tedford is about to finish his 10th year as the head coach at Cal. Brown is about to finish his 14th.
Both are the elder statesman of their respective conferences and both have stayed loyal to the institution that brought them the most success, even in an age of where loyalty doesn’t seem to matter much—both from the university and individual’s end.
“Jeff was the best offensive coordinator in the country at the time by my estimation,” Brown said about the first time he met Tedford, “and that’s what led to his job at Cal. He’s had opportunities to take pro jobs, take a lot of different college jobs, but he’s stayed at Cal. He’s been very loyal to them and he’s done a great job for them.”
It’s when Tedford got to Berkeley is when the story should get interesting. It’s as the head coach at Cal where most people—especially Cal fans and alums—say that Tedford and Brown should be bitter enemies.
In 2004, the Bears were ranked No. 4 in the BCS standings heading into the final week of the regular season. In the BCS, the top four are automatically selected to go to a BCS game meaning that Cal would be selected to go to the Rose Bowl for the first time since the 1958 season.
There was one obstacle to hurdle though, and that was Brown and his Longhorns, who were ranked fifth in the BCS rankings heading into that final week.
After some lobbying by Brown, Texas jumped Cal in the final rankings, went to the Rose Bowl and sent Tedford and his team to San Diego for its first Holiday Bowl trip.
Some Bears players from that 2004 team—including Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers—haven’t forgotten. And most fans and alums think that Tedford shouldn’t either. Most Old Blues think that Tedford’s No. 1 enemy should be Mack Brown, for playing politics and stealing Cal’s Rose Bowl bid away from them.
“We both know it’s a long time ago,” Tedford said.
“It was unfortunate what happened at the time, but we’re in a whole new day and a whole new game.…I think some of the fans are still a little bit bitter about that, still remember that. The Rose Bowl is obviously something—when you’re that close and you don’t go, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth for a lot of the fans.”
Even after what happened in 2004, the two coaches still communicate regularly, just like they did when Tedford took over the program in Berkeley in 2002.
Tedford said he looked to Brown for advice as a young head coach. Now—after years of talking football and picking each other minds—they don’t just talk about the game, but other things—like how Brown’s wife, Sally, is a Cal grad.
“When I became a head coach, we would see each other at Nike events and things like that on trips and we became friends,” Tedford said. “Over the years we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well…We talk more about other about things other than just football too.”
If there is an unfortunate aspect to their relationship, it’s that Wednesday’s Holiday Bowl will be the first time since 2000 that Tedford and Brown will coach against each other—and this time as head coaches.
They will see each other again when Cal and Texas play in Austin in 2015 and then again in Berkeley in 2016; so for now, both coaches will have to relish this moment.
“It’s also fun when you are coaching against a guy who you like, you admire,” Brown said. “We all believe in the same things. That’s why I think you will see a great game tomorrow night.”
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