clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Jeff Tedford And LeBron James: More Similar Than You Think

New, 8 comments

Jeff Tedford's journey as Cal's head coach is remarkably similar to LeBron James' tale as Cleveland's leader. Both were elevated on a pedestal when they succeeded and torn down when they failed--the only big difference is the end.

Early in the decade, he arrived.

The fans of his team were despondent. The team he had to lead was in terrible shape. They had suffered decades of heartbreak, strife, and finally irrelevance. They were a blip on the radar for their opponents, a mosquito that only needed a little swat to be dealt with.

Almost immediately he began to work his magic. In his first game he left a distinctive impression, giving fans reason to hope that better times were on the horizon. Subsequent performances seemed to validate that optimism. Soon the upsets came, and he began generating excitement not seen around his team for the past two decades.

His immediate flirtation with success provided him exalted status with plenty of people who hadn't seen winning for quite some time. Fans began to dub him the Chosen One, God, Lord...all of the lofty exalted terms that come with instant accomplishment. His message was clear: Bring the team to the Promised Land. He knew immortality in his kingdom would follow.

The cult of personality began to follow him around; some of it was of his own making, but much of it coming from the fanbase's need to feel relevant again. Deifying him created confidence that he could not leave, that he would leave an indelible hole on his legacy if he deserted them. His own cult following seemed to support him more than the team, refusing to see his faults (a little conservative, didn't adapt to the times, missed the bigger flaws in his team) while glorifying his victories as confirmations of his greatness.

Indeed, deification seemed to appear on the horizon almost instantly. He brought his team to the brink in the blink of an eye, only to come up bitterly short of the goal. Still, things looked promising as time went by.

The years began to pass, and the exultation transitioned for some into frustration. People began to wonder if he really was worth of all the adulation--despite his ability to produce wins, his teams had yet to deliver on the final prize, whether by circumstance, by matchups, or by mentality. Thoughts began to ferment in the minds of the team's fans: Their esteemed leader might've been exalted too early, crowned prematurely. When the team stopped upsetting opponents and started being the one getting shocked on gameday, the grumblings grew louder.

It didn't help that he soon began to restrict himself and his team from the public eye. He started to control access, making some question whether he was dedicated to the team or his image.

The two camps of followers and detractors began to divide. The former thought that as long as the team won, it didn't matter what he did--they remembered the bottom and didn't want to experience it anytime soon and were willing to placate him in order to keep him where he was. The latter started to feel he was isolating himself from criticism and from the fans and playing power games--although they didn't want him to go, they didn't like the direction the team was heading.

You could've written the same copy above about either LeBron James and Jeff Tedford. Both have fallen through similar patterns of love and hate. Both have been hyped up to an unbearable degree that it was impossible for them to meet those expectations. Both have closed themselves away from the public to try and shelter themselves from the criticism and reevaluate their decisions privately. And all of us are unsure of how great they'll ever be.

However, there's one huge difference, and that's the end. LeBron made his fateful decision to take his talents away from the team he led for seven years, deserting them before the prize had been claimed. I imagine it wasn't an easy decision for him, but it was the easy road, and while the respect for him as an athlete might be the same, it's tougher to say whether the love will come back.

Tedford took the tougher road. He made his decision a long time ago to be a True Blue, and with each passing year it's looking like Cal head coach will be the last job he ever needs. He knows that the four decades of the Pasadena drought have turned into five, and has made pretty stark changes, opening up more with his team and promising a more aggressive mindset, changing coordinators and letting go of the playcalling duties he relished. He has said that he won't leave until he brings Cal a Rose Bowl. From everything we know of the man, it's hard to believe he'd sell us short on that promise.

Tedford might never be the force of personality LeBron is and might not win bundles of titles. But one Pac-10 Championship could very well elevate him as the true ruler of his sporting kingdom in a way the King might never receive in basketball.