Fresno State has won back-to-back Mountain West Conference football championships and is in position to win a third with a team that has put 21 first-year players -- including 16 true and redshirt freshmen -- on the field, and coach Tim DeRuyter said Monday he anticipates the staff that has helped meld that group through a challenging season will return intact next year.
There is a bit of hoping in there, as well, knowing several of the assistants have in the past turned down job offers or opportunities, and the coaching carousel again is starting to spin.
"I think we have the best assistant coaching staff in the conference," DeRuyter said. "We had a rough start this year and to get our guys back to where we're competing for the conference championship I think speaks volumes to the kind of coaches they are.
"In college football, it's about recruiting, developing players and retaining coaching staffs if you want to have success and hopefully we can do the things to retain everybody."
DeRuyter received a five-year contract extension worth $7.5 million that more than doubled his base salary after an 11-2 season in 2013, but Fresno State did not bump the salaries of any of its nine assistant coaches.
The salary pool for the Bulldogs' offensive and defensive coordinators and assistant coaches is roughly $1.3 million, which is well behind that of Mountain Division champion Boise State ($2.4 million), and none of the position coaches are ranked in the top third in the conference by salary slot.
Troy, a Sun Belt Conference program with athletic department revenues last year of $19.5 million, well below Fresno State at $33.7 million, just hired a new coach in Neal Brown and FootballScoop reported it will invest $1.2 million in its salary pool for assistants.
The danger for Fresno State as it continues to rebuild the infrastructure of its primary revenue driver is that it starts losing those assistant coaches along with the continuity and stability they represent, which DeRuyter said has been a crucial piece this season bouncing back from two three-game losing streaks.
"Last year, in a lot of ways, it wasn't a very difficult coaching job because we had really talented players and not until we lost to San Jose State did we really have to do some things coaching-wise," he said. "This year, different team, you're developing guys, we had a tough schedule. You bring guys back, get it straight and we hit a wall again. I've had several people tell me, 'You guys are coaching better now than you had at any point,' and I think it's a true axiom that a lot of times you do your best jobs when you're struggling. The fact that our guys kept everyone in the boat -- they didn't have any kind of infighting or point any fingers on the staff -- I think the players noticed that.
"It's like kids when mom and dad are fighting. They know it. Our guys knew that we were all in it together and I think they took our assistant coaches' lead and they stayed in the boat together and didn't point any fingers. That's the only way you work your way out of it, and it has worked out for us."
Given that success, the Bulldogs will have to be more competitive in the marketplace if and when their assistant coaches are presented with opportunities to move to better paying jobs.
"Our guys get calls," DeRuyter said. "We've got an excellent coaching staff and I think we create a great working environment for them, but at the same time they have to take care of their families, too. It's a situation where you want to not just tell them how much you appreciate them but actually show them.
"I'm hoping with the new administration, they'll realize the value that I certainly do. One of the tough things about being at a mid-major is good assistants get picked off. I think that's what hurt Coach (Pat) Hill during his tenure and hopefully we won't have to suffer that same kind of consequence."
Fresno State lost a number of coordinators and top assistants that helped the program reach a peak under Hill including John Baxter, Jim McElwain, Andy Ludwig, Kevin Coyle, J.D. Williams, Trent Miles, Doug Nussmeier and John Settle.
"I'm looking forward to meeting with (new Athletic Director Jim Bartko) about some of the future needs of the football program," DeRuyter said.
"I understand he has about 17 or 18 other people who have their view of what we need to do, but I think he's in tune with today's athletic departments and the importance of having a successful football program. I look forward to having that discussion with him on my views of how we can sustain this success and even build on it and see what his thoughts are."