It's probably just as well that most of the biggest news in 2011 was elsewhere.
Tornadoes in Alabama and Missouri. Drought in Texas.
Revolutions and crackdowns across the Middle East. Earthquakes, tsunamis and nuclear meltdowns in Japan.
This year, the biggest news in the San Joaquin Valley was earthshaking only in a metaphorical sense, and even then, only in the tailgate lot at Bulldog Stadium.
That's the verdict of fresnobee.com readers who participated in a nonscientific survey about the top local stories of 2011. They voted Pat Hill's departure as Fresno State's football coach as the year's biggest story.
As the year began, one of our largest ethnic groups lost the leader who personified its struggles on both sides of the globe.
As it ended, one of the biggest infrastructure projects in California's history drew a line on a map through the heart of Fresno. Its opponents drew lines in the dirt.
From start to finish, public officials cut their budgets and staff, then cut them again. Then they took aim at medical marijuana dispensaries and protesters camping in Courthouse Park.
Here are the Valley's top stories of 2011, as determined by fresnobee.com readers.
1. Over with Hill
The news: The end came swiftly for Pat Hill after 15 seasons as Fresno State's football coach.
On Dec. 3, the Bulldogs blew a 21-point lead in a 35-28 loss at San Diego State to finish a 4-9 season. The next evening, at a Save Mart Center news conference, Athletic Director Thomas Boeh announced Hill's firing.
Hill took the Bulldogs to 11 bowl games, coached 24 NFL draft picks and finished with a 112-80 (.583) record. He also helped Fresno State establish a brand with dozens of national TV appearances.
But his teams won just one conference title -- in 1999, when Fresno State tied with Hawaii and Texas Christian for first place in the Western Athletic Conference.
In 2011, average attendance at Bulldog Stadium fell to 29,299 -- a 27-year low. Days after Hill's firing, school officials revealed a $730,000 athletic budget gap blamed mainly on slumping football ticket sales.
Hill was let go with two years left on a three-year contract extension signed after the 2009 season. He is owed about $512,000.
What's next: Fresno State hired its new coach, Texas A&M defensive coordinator and interim coach Tim DeRuyter, after a 10-day search. Saturday, he led the Aggies to a 33-22 win over Northwestern in the Meineke Car Care Bowl. Now he faces a heavy schedule of recruiting visits at Fresno State before national letter-of-intent signing day Feb. 1.
-- Marek Warszawski
2. A leader passes
The news: Gen. Vang Pao, 81, who was called the George Washington of the Hmong people, died of pneumonia Jan. 6 at Clovis Community Medical Center.
In Vietnam, Vang led a secret CIA-trained army of Hmong soldiers against Laotian Communists. In America, he became the patriarch of Hmong refugees. His six-day traditional funeral at the Fresno Convention Center was attended by thousands.
What's next: Finding a new leader for the worldwide Hmong community is proving difficult, said Pao Fang, executive director of Lao Family Community of Fresno, an organization founded by Vang in the 1970s.
"At the moment -- almost a year after he passed away -- we still don't have anyone we feel strongly can replace him," said Fang, an organizer of the Hmong New Year celebration at the Fresno Fairgrounds.
The fact that there are two competing New Year celebrations -- the other at the Fresno Regional Sports Complex -- underscores the challenges in finding a new leader, Fang said.