There's a crack in the bow, and water is spilling over the transom. If someone doesn't plug the leaks and start bailing, the good ship SS Bulldog will go down with all hands.
That someone should be Pat Hill.
Fresno State's search for a permanent athletic director, still in the embryonic stage, needs to start and end with its former football coach. The old face of the Bulldogs needs to become the present one. Even if that means growing back the Fu Manchu mustache.
Hill is clearly the best person for the job. He may be the only person who can pull off this salvage operation.
Yes, I realize Hill has zero experience in the administrative wing of the Duncan Building. During normal times, that would be a concern. Except these are not normal times. They're desperate ones.
Does it matter that Hill may not be an expert in NCAA bylaws, budgeting and gender equity compliance? Does he really want to spend his afternoons sitting through endless meetings? No and no. That's what people like interim athletic director Steve Robertello are for.
Hill brings qualities that can't be typed out on a resume. Mostly, it's the ability to light up a room of boosters and everyday fans with an infectious personality. Inspire them to buy tickets, contribute to the scholarship fund and donate toward other special projects (i.e. Bulldog Stadium renovations and the student-athlete village). Boost the morale of coaches who are starting to groan about the lack of leadership. Make everyone excited about what it means to be a Bulldog.
Because right now, none of those things are happening. Right now, the athletic department is in total disarray.
But that was only the beginning of the housecleaning. Two key Bartko hires and lieutenants, Franklin Alegria and Terry Donovan, also vacated their offices. Alegria, who served as associate AD for development, was forced to resign in January. (The university deleted Alegria's name from its website without comment.) Donovan, meanwhile, saw the writing on the wall and landed the AD job at Stanislaus State.
Which leaves Fresno State athletics with vacancies in three absolutely critical positions at a time when donations are tepid and fan interest continues to languish.
The Bulldogs have suffered competitively as well. Unless the softball or men's tennis teams maintain their current hot streaks, Fresno State will go consecutive years without winning a conference title in any sport. That hasn't happened — even once — since at least 1992.
Is that sort of mediocrity now acceptable?
In interviews and other correspondence, university president Joseph Castro says the delay has given the university necessary time to get its house in order. Perhaps. There's also a financial component — a report indicated the athletic department is facing a $2 million budget deficit — and the desire to give Robertello an extended test drive.
Let's face it, though: Robertello is a competent administrator and pleasant enough guy, but this mess is too big for him.
The cleanup requires a larger-than-life personality like Hill's.
Sources indicate Fresno State has started sending out feelers to prospective AD candidates with the intention of making a hire by early to mid-summer. Hill absolutely, positively should top the list.
Try to name someone with more passion for the San Joaquin Valley and its largest university. Go ahead. I'll wait.
Nearly two decades after Hill placed the Green V on the back of every Bulldogs football helmet, signifying agriculture in the Valley, the decals remain Fresno State's best and most recognizable marketing brand.
Some of you reading this might be resistant to the idea because they recall the way Hill's 15-year tenure as Bulldogs coach ended in 2011. Tired of working for people who didn't want to win as badly as he did and who kept whittling away resources, he became grumpy and defensive. No doubt.
However, the Hill we see today and hear doing color commentary on radio broadcasts is nothing like that guy. He's back to being the charismatic, energetic figure most everyone around here adores. The guy who kept a tank of piranhas in his office and enjoyed showing beat writers what they do to goldfish, on the condition it was kept quiet. (Having piranhas is illegal in California without a permit.)
Castro may need to do a sell job to coax Hill out of semi-retirement. At 66, Hill probably prefers to spend the day on the golf course than doing performance reviews or pouring over line items in some budget. It'll be up to Castro to convince him how badly his former school needs him.
My hunch is Hill wants to feel needed. Perhaps he's not a long-term solution. But for the next two or three years, or however long it takes to lift the Red Wave out of the doldrums, he's the best option.
Sometimes the best way forward requires reaching back into the past. For its next AD, Fresno State should go swimming with the guy who has a Bulldog logo at the bottom of his pool.