Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford opens spring practice Monday, his first leading the Bulldogs, and there is a lot to get done coming off a 1-11 season.
On the field, Tedford and his staff will install offensive and defensive systems, but rebuilding a shaky foundation is paramount in righting a program that won back-to-back Mountain West Conference titles in 2012-13 under former coach Tim DeRuyter before seemingly everything took a nasty turn.
On, and off the field.
Attrition has hurt, not only with the number of scholarship players in the program, but also its Academic Progress Rate score and penalties loom if that is not fixed.
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“We’ve made a lot of progress over the last couple months with what we’re doing in the weight room and bringing some competitiveness on the field, creating some competitive situations just in conditioning and things like that, how to finish and how to compete,” Tedford said.
“When you come off of a 1-11 season, a lot of those things have been compromised and they need to get to know us and we need to get to know them and so it’s just a whole learning process from us to them and them to us, that we’re in it together and we’re communicating properly and we’re building trust and bringing back confidence. That’s critical. You go 1-11, of course your confidence is going to be low.”
The Bulldogs’ coach, who inherited a 1-10 team at Cal in 2002 and went 7-5, 8-6 and 10-2 in his first three seasons, discussed some of what is ahead with The Bee:
Tedford: I’m not even going to say restoring. We’re going to teach the things we’re doing. I’m not going to comment on what has gone in the past. We’re going to teach the things that we want to teach. But everything needs to start with fundamentals.
It needs to start with a foundation. Fundamentals. Techniques. Competitiveness. Standards on which we do things. Besides the evaluation of players and implementing our systems, there are a lot of other things that we want to make sure we’re teaching.
Not that it hasn’t been taught before, but we’re going to start from ground zero and make sure that we’re teaching the right things.
By the end of the spring and going into the summer, with where you will be, you’re going to need some guys to drive that …
They always need to and actually they’ve kind of been doing that through the offseason conditioning program. They have their PRPs (player-run practices) and so they’ve had some of that. But we will take a day in spring and even coach that on how they should approach summer and the tempos that they should play in even teaching tempos.
What kind of tempo are we practicing at, whether it’s tag tempo or whether we’re wrapping up or whether we’re live or whatever it may be. There are a lot of basics to cover. It’s not just about schematics. Foundation and technique are critical.
The Fresno State record for most wins by a coach in a first season is nine, set in 2012 by Tim DeRuyter. Clark Van Gulder won eight in 1952 and Cecil Coleman and Darryl Rogers won seven in 1959 and 1966.
That might be the most important practice of the spring, just thinking about the summer and how important that’s going to be. The summer workouts here the past few years, I don’t know if anyone here has any idea what it used to be like …
That’s the thing. That’s all mindset. Standards. It’s what’s expected. It’s culture. That’s all stuff that we’ll put our stamp on. What the expectations are and how they do things day to day. It’s all a process. It doesn’t happen overnight.
But I can’t wait to be out there and finally be with them and get a chance to work with them that way. It’s an exciting time of year. I love spring ball.
All of those things, they’re probably the first to go when things aren’t going right on Saturday afternoons …
No question. And the discipline it takes to continue to do that, to do things right. It’s habit. Habits are formed from consistent repetition.
It takes consistent repetition to create these habits so it’s second nature when we get in a game and are playing. That’s the goal, to create good habits.
In terms of the program, the roster isn’t the only area that needs some repair. You’re going to inherit a rough APR situation and need to get that fixed right away or it could lead to some NCAA penalties down the line.
Yeah, we’ve inherited a very poor academic situation, actually, with the APR. We’ve been really engaged and they’ve done a good job of making some changes in our academic department as well over there, so we’re all kind of new and we’re all working together. But that’s been really positive. But we’re really engaged with the players. We meet with the players three times a week and go over their academics.
The APR is calculated as follows: Each scholarship student-athlete earns one point for staying in school and one point for being academically eligible. A team’s total points are divided by points possible and multiplied by 1,000 to equal the team’s Academic Progress Rate score. A team’s rolling four-year APR is also used to determine potenial penalties. Teams must earn a four-year APR of 930 to compete in championships.
It’s really important, obviously for the APR, but mainly it’s so we’re there to support the kids. That has been going well. The kids, they’re very receptive to it and I think appreciate it, at least from what I can tell. That has been a major push because we have a lot of work to do to get the APR back on track.
If I’m not mistaken, the number that is going to come out in a couple of months is going to be down and the number after that has a chance to be way down.
It depends. Some of those are still in progress. We’re carrying a 916 from the 2015-16 year and that’s low. You take these things for four years, the average. And then the first semester here was as low as I’ve ever seen it anywhere. In the 800s. So, we really have to have a strong spring semester to bring the single-year score up.
And it’s not even so much for academic issues as it was attrition, because APR is built off retention, eligibility and graduation and so you had some kids that quit the team that quit school, too. That’s 0 for 2 right there. You get two points per kid – eligibility and retention – so when a kid leaves obviously you don’t retain him and when they take off from school and they flunk every class and don’t withdraw, there goes your eligibility. Now you’re 0 for 2. You get four kids that do that, you’ve lost eight points right off the top. Here, as much as anything, it has been retention problems, which explains the lack of scholarships.
It’s a big problem, It’s going to be hard for us to get back to 85 (scholarships). We won’t get back to 85 for three or four years, with the 25 limit (per year). That’s hard to do. That’s a challenge. But the APR is something that is alarming.
The academic program that you’ve put into place is arresting that decline?
I think there are certain things that you can’t do about retention. Kids want to transfer or anything like that – we haven’t had anyone on the team suggest transferring or come in and have a concern about it. Now, after spring ball it may be different because that’s when most kids evaluate where they are on the depth chart – I may want to go here, because I have a better chance to play – whatever it may be. That’s typical in any program. There are so many factors that go into retention, whether kids stay on the team or they don’t, or whether it’s a discipline problem that you get off the team, that all counts against you.
We’ve been really fortunate that way – we have a lot of really good kids here. But after the spring is typically when people re-evaluate where they are and so because they’ve lost so many points in the past it makes every point critical in the spring. The fall score was really low.
You’re just more hands-on with that, the meetings and all?
Oh, yeah. Every day. I mean, our academic books, we meet with the academic people every week. This week our study hall hours, every single guy on the team got their study hall hours, because if they don’t or if they miss a class, then there’s discipline that they have to do … they spend Friday night here studying and nobody likes to do that.
But the kids have been good about it. We check classes every day. We’ve explained APR to them. When I got here I asked how many knew what APR is and I think one guy put his hand up, he had heard about it before.
We’ve made a lot of progress over the last couple months with what we’re doing in the weight room and bringing some competitiveness on the field, creating some competitive situations just in conditioning and things like that, how to finish and how to compete. When you come off of a 1-11 season, a lot of those things have been compromised …
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
We educate them on what it is and what our obligation is, not just to this team, but to teams that come after us because we drag these numbers around for four years and we don’t want to be responsible for anything like that, not to mention that we want to reach our full potential in everything that we do.
The coaches, they have binders that are that big. They have every kid’s class. They know when the tests are coming, when the papers are due. The whole bit. They write notes on what they do every single day. They check in – OK, this is what you have to do tomorrow. It’s not punishment. You know, that’s the thing that I think the kids understand. In the beginning they felt like it kind of was. This is monitoring. ‘This is us taking an active role in your academic success. This is helping you.’ I think they all get that, I really do. I think that’s going well. But it’s a constant job. We have a lot of people involved in it because at the end of May, when finals come, typically the coaches are on the road recruiting so we have an adviser or someone from the academic department along with the coaches.
Getting back to that 85 scholarship number, the spring evaluation period starts April 15, right in the middle of your spring practices. Will you use any of those 168 evaluations during spring ball or wait until May?
We’ll take all May. We’ll be out all May recruiting. But it’s a continual ting. We recruit every day. Every day we have a recruiting meeting. Every day we’re watching some kid of recruiting tape. Recruiting is ongoing every day, through social media, texting, whatever it may be. But actively going out to evaluate, that’s going to be in May.
In using those evaluations, what percentage will be out of state?
Every coach has a piece of the Valley and then from there every coach has a territory where they are, depending on what state they’re in. That will be dependent on how many prospects they have. Each coach, we have coach responsible for Utah, he may set his schedule where he spends two days in Utah, but he also has got some place in Southern California so he may spend a week in Southern California. It depends on the amount of players and the amount of area he needs to cover. But everyone is going to start in the Valley. Instead of just giving one coach the Valley and saying, this is your area. All nine coaches have an area in the Valley that they’re going to hit.
I’m just wondering how broad an area you’re trying to cover?
Quarterback Chason Virgil, who had shoulder surgery after the 2016 season, will be in spring practice but limited when it comes to contact. Virgil last season played in 10 games, completing 51.6 percent of his passes for 2,021 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 intercetpions.
To Utah. Utah is about as far to the east as we’re going. We’re going to stay in the Western United States. Utah, west. That will be our active recruiting area. Now, we will go different places if there are previous existing relationships like a kid who played for me before and his brother are in Louisiana, well, then we may go there. Or, one of these coaches has a great relationship with a cousin who plays in Georgia.
It would only be that type of thing, because we’re not actively going out and spending resources on anything really east of Utah.
Texas used to be a big part of the equation here.
Texas will be a little bit, but not as much as it has probably been. We’ll have a coach go there, but it’s not like he’s just going to spend three weeks in Texas, hitting all of Texas. It will be spot recruiting of people he knows and then he’ll get back here.
I don’t know what it has been – looking at our roster it has been pretty heavy – but it’s not going to be that heavy any more. It will be more California driven. The Valley, California, Nevada, Arizona. I’m not going to say we’re not going to be in Texas, but probably not as much.
Getting back to spring practice, given the numbers in the program, the depth at some positions, how physical can you get? How much tackling?
We’ll hit. We’ll be physical. We’re almost three deep at most positions. We’ll be safe, but we’re going to play football. It will be a physical spring – as physical as we can make it.
I think it’s really important – for spring. In the fall it may be a little different. We’ll be physical in the fall, but we have to be a little more careful in the fall as we’re going into it. But right now just getting to know a team, I think it’s important that we play football and we know where we are. We can run around in shorts and helmets all we want, but we’re not going to get our team evaluated by doing that. I think it’s important that we play football, within the regulations of what the NCAA says we can do.
Just given the late date, any injury could be more of an issue going into the fall …
It is. It’s football. Things happen in football. But what you do leading up to it is important. So our offseason conditioning program, we’ve done a lot of change of direction, we’ve done a lot of strength stuff. We’ve prepared for spring ball. It’s critical that we do a lot of things that are position specific with change of direction, spring, this that and the other thing.
It will be a physical spring – as physical as we can make it. … Right now just getting to know a team, I think it's important that we play football and we know where we are. We can run around in shorts and helmets all we want, but we're not going to get our team evaluated by doing that.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
These guys are ready to play football, that way. They’re in good shape. They’re ready to play. They’re strong. But things happen in football that you can’t control. We are going to be changing out tackling philosophy. We’re going to be shoulder tackling, be a low shoulder tackling team, so we’re going to keep our head out of it.
That’s the rugby-style take down?
Yes. That’s going to be our tackling technique and there are a lot of advantages to that, really. Safety is No. 1. But you’re much better tacklers if you’re a low shoulder-tackling team. You don’t run the risk of penalties for targeting. Some things you can’t control. If I’m a defender and I’m running and I have my head low but then the offensive guy drops his head it turns into targeting.
What it is, the target is on the back hip and that’s where your head goes. Old fashion stuff is head across the bow. I think it’s a safer tackling technique, but it is very effective. I saw it last year at Washington. They implemented it last year. They were a very good tackling team, led the nation in turnover margin, separated a lot of people from the football. I don’t know what their concussion number ended up being, but I don’t remember any. I do believe that it is a safety tackling technique, so that’s one of the fundamentals that obviously we’ll practice, the foundation of what we need to do.
How did you go about implementing that with the staff, and how will you once you’re out on the practice field?
We had a clinic with it. We have some cut-up tape with it, being around it last year at Washington I had a pretty good understanding of it because I sat in meetings on it and I saw it every day in practice and their progression of teaching it. I have a little experience through that – not that I was on the field teaching it, I wasn’t, but I was watching it. The drill work and things like that.
There will be a progression to it that we do. It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s something you have to teach every day – put on the tape and saying, OK, this is a good one. No, this is not a good one. It’s going to take a while because people are so used to doing it a certain way. Like anything else, it’s repetition, making it a habit. A lot of that is going to be critical.
The Bulldogs put up only 17.7 points per game in going 1-11 last season, their lowest mark going back through the 1991 season. They have averaged 30 or more points per game 12 times in those 26 seasons.
The name of the game is get them on the ground and lower tackles get guys on the ground better. It’s just kind of a different mindset. You have to be open to a different mindset. The big collision stuff, the big ooh and ah stuff, it’s not about that. It’s about getting guys on the group. We’ll be teaching that technique and working on that.
The quarterback play, obviously you have a long history there. What will that evaluation come down to this spring? What’s the most important thing?
Well, I have five things that I believe in. Mental and physical toughness I think is critical. Intelligence. Competitiveness. And then four and five would be some kind of natural throwing motion, arm strength, and an escape dimension. Those can go hand in hand, some athletic ability to manufacture plays.
But I think the things about mental and physical toughness play a huge role in the position because it’s a mental game and not everything is controlled and you have to emotionally be stable and you have to be mentally tough enough to take on the things that come at you. And, obviously, physical toughness is big because it’s a physical game for the quarterback. You get hit a lot. And your team feeds off of the quarterback’s toughness I think, both mental and physical toughness.
Then intelligence, I think that’s a huge measuring stick, because it’s the quarterback’s job to do not only his job but to put everybody in a position to be successful. How do they comprehend what they’re doing? How do they communicate – are they clear and concise about what’s going on? Are they a student of the game? Can they manage their time? Can they manage the signals? Can they get the formations down? Can they read the defense? All of the things that go into playing quarterback, intelligence is something that’s key.
Competitiveness, the guy has got to be a ultra-competitor. He wants the ball in his hands when the game is on the line and is just driven to do all that, in all areas, whether it be in the meeting room or whatever it is.
Then the physical tools, the throwing, the running. Those are all things that we’ll look at. Poise … there’s a lot that goes into it. We’ll try to put them in situations so we can evaluate all of those things. Physical toughness, we won’t be, because our quarterbacks are not going to get hit in the spring. But, typically, they’re all here because they’ve had some of that before.
We finally get a chance to get out there and see it out there on the field. It’s a new offense. It’s a new terminology. Everybody is starting from square one. It will be interesting, you know?
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
- Monday, March 27: Spring practice No. 1: 8:10-10:20 a.m.
- Saturday, April 1: Spring practice No. 4: 10:35 a.m.-12:50 p.m., open to Quarterback Club members
- Saturday, April 22: Spring practice No. 11: 10:35 a.m.-12:50 p.m., open to the public
- Saturday, April 29: Spring Preview, 10:30 a.m.
- Saturday, Sept. 2: Home/season opener vs. Incarnate Word, kickoff tbd
- Saturday, Sept. 9: Game at Alabama, kickoff tbd
- Saturday, Sept. 30: Mountain West opener vs. Nevada, kickoff tbd