The phone call came about 8 a.m. Sunday – the type of call assistant coaches often work and wait to receive for years, if not an entire career, and sometimes never comes.
Eric Kiesau hadn’t received much sleep the night before, with Fresno State’s flight from Logan, Utah, arriving back in town around 4 in the morning.
Kiesau, however, knew this call was important.
On the line was Fresno State Athletic Director Jim Bartko, who was about to deliver a mix of news: Coach Tim DeRuyter has been dismissed. Are you willing to take over as interim head coach for the remainder of the season?
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As we move forward, I’m very excited about this opportunity.
Fresno State interim coach Eric Kiesau
“It is a crazy business. It’s never a fun time when you lose a coach,” Kiesau said Monday upon addressing the media for the first time as the Bulldogs’ interim coach. “I’ve got a ton of respect for Coach DeRuyter. He’s a great friend, great coach.
“But as we move forward, I’m very excited about this opportunity. The players and staff have done a great job obviously respecting Coach DeRuyter’s departure, but also embracing the new future and kind of where we’re going.”
Fresno State (1-7, 0-4 Mountain West), assured of a third straight losing season, has four games remaining, including three home games starting with Air Force (4-3, 1-3) at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Hired this past offseason as the offensive coordinator after serving as an offensive analyst at Alabama last season, Kiesau will continue to call the offensive plays but will now pay some attention to Fresno State’s defense.
This is the first head-coaching job of his career and he expressed desire to remain a head coach.
Fresno State interim coach Eric Kiesau had been through a similar situation. In 2014 at Kansas, Kiesau was elevated from receivers coach to co-offensive coordinator and play caller for the final four games.
Kiesau had been through a similar situation. Two seasons ago as a receivers coach at Kansas, Jayhawks head coach Charlie Weis was fired four games into the season, and four games later, Kiesau was elevated to co-offensive coordinator and play caller for the final four games.
With Kiesau calling the plays, Kansas boosted its scoring some to 21 points per game, including back-to-back 30-plus point performances, after averaging 16.3 points through the first eight contests.
“There’s a lot of similarities,” said Kiesau, comparing his situations at Kansas and Fresno State. “When you do flip it quick and when you do have success, you kind of know, kind of have a proven product of what you can do. Hopefully, it translates here at Fresno State.”
Fresno State’s players, meanwhile, still were dealing with mixed emotions Monday.
Though Monday’s practice – the Bulldogs’ first without DeRuyter since he took over in 2012 – seemed upbeat with players and coaches sprinting from drill to drill and yelling spiritedly, some players still couldn’t help but feel responsible for the coaching change.
It’s a confusing time for our team right now. A man lost his job because of us. It got real.
Fresno State senior linebacker Jeff Camilli
“It’s a confusing time for our team right now,” senior linebacker Jeff Camilli said. “A man lost his job because of us. It got real.
“But I’m still confident we can still win some games with Coach Kiesau coming in. He’s got a good plan.”
DeRuyter informed the players of his dismissal as a group late Sunday morning, encouraging them to still play hard and expressing his love for them just before exiting the room.
“It just kind of put us in shock,” redshirt freshman quarterback Chason Virgil said. “We were just real quiet, looking around, really not knowing what to do, and what the direction of the team was going to be.”
Kiesau later addressed the players, asking if they remained 100 percent committed to the season. And if they weren’t, they could leave freely.
No players quit, the coach said.
Kiseau’s main points to the players were to play with a “relentless effort,” with discipline, to a high standard and being “all in.”
“We’ve got a lot to do in a short amount of time,” Kiesau said, “and turn a negative situation into a positive.”