Fresno State is attempting to take a step deeper into the real world of college football at the FBS level in hiring new offensive and defensive coordinators, upgrading the classification of the positions to make it possible to offer multiyear contracts.
Those were viewed as nonstarters under previous university and athletic administrations, but have gained steam during athletic director Jim Bartko’s first year-plus on the job.
Most coordinators in our conference have two-year deals and we’re very confident that it will happen (here). They deserve it.
Fresno State athletic director Jim Bartko on the university’s efforts to be more competitive in its hiring of football assistant coaches
“We’ve never had two-year contracts, but we’re working with campus to do it the right way,” Bartko said. “Most coordinators in our conference have two-year deals and we’re very confident that it will happen. They deserve it. I wouldn’t want to be a coordinator coming across the country and have a one-year deal.”
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The switch would be significant for a program that has been well behind, but closing, on many of its Mountain West Conference rivals in a number of areas. That includes recruiting budgets, the salary pool for assistants and a training table for student-athletes. It likely has made the jobs more attractive, with coach Tim DeRuyter mining Power Five conferences to replace former offensive coordinator Dave Schramm and defensive coordinator Nick Toth.
The Bulldogs on Dec. 31 replaced Schramm with Eric Kiesau, an offensive analyst at Alabama who has been a coordinator at Washington and Colorado and also directed the offense and called plays at the end of the 2014 season at Kansas after starting the season as receivers coach.
They are close to a deal with Lorenzo Ward to be the defensive coordinator, which would be another high-impact hire for a program that has been more likely to lose assistants to Power Five conferences than hire them away.
2009-15 Lorenzo Ward’s run on the defensive staff at SEC school South Carolina
Ward for the past seven seasons has been defensive coordinator at South Carolina, where he led a number of highly ranked defenses and tutored 15 players drafted into the NFL, including 2014 No. 1 overall pick Jadeveon Clowney and two other first-round picks in defensive back Stephon Gilmore and linebacker Melvin Ingram. Ward spent seven seasons as the defensive backs coach at Virginia Tech under Frank Beamer, working on a staff that produced six all-conference selections at those positions including 2004 first-rounder DeAngelo Hall.
In 2005, Virginia Tech had the top-ranked defense in the nation while allowing 247.6 yards per game.
And, this season, he was paid $750,000, which is more than the combined salaries of Schramm, Toth and any one of the Bulldogs’ seven position coaches.
Bartko declined to comment on negotiations and candidates. But the university, by putting together a multiyear offer for Ward, could get its defensive coordinator and do it at a savings.
Ward, who was not retained by new South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, has one year remaining on a three-year contract. The Gamecocks must pay Ward his full salary, minus what he would make were he to take a position at another school.
$750,000 Ward’s annual salary with the Gamecocks, more than the combined salaries this past season of Fresno State’s offensive and defensive coordinators and any one of the Bulldogs’ seven position coaches
The less of that $750,000 that comes from Fresno State, the more the Bulldogs will have to put forward and into a multiyear contract.
Toth, the defensive coordinator the past four seasons, could remain as a position coach. This season, he was paid $228,000.
The highest paid coordinator in the Mountain West is Will Friend, in charge of the offense at Colorado State. He was paid $500,000 this season.
Boise State defensive coordinator Marcel Yates and offensive coordinator Eliah Drinkwitz are next at $333,013 and $305,020, followed by San Diego State offensive coordinator and associate head coach Jeff Horton at $300,012 and Colorado State defensive coordinator Tyson Summers at $300,000.
Ward, 48, had held the defensive coordinator title at South Carolina since 2009, working this season as a co-coordinator with Jon Hoke – Ward was responsible for the front seven and the run defense, and Hoke had the secondary and the pass defense.
Under Ward’s direction, the Gamecocks in 2013 ranked second in the SEC and 12th in the nation in scoring defense at 20.3 points per game and fifth in the SEC and 19th in the nation in total defense, allowing just 350 yards per game. They held 11 of 13 opponents under their season scoring averages that season.
In 2012, South Carolina was ranked in the Top 25 nationally in four statistical categories – 11th in total defense, 13th in scoring defense, 17th in rushing defense and 21st in passing defense. That defense was led by Clowney, who was an All-American, won the Hendricks Award as the top defensive end in the nation and had a school-record 13 of a school-record 43 sacks.
And in 2011, the first season Ward had more control of the defense after working with assistant head coach-defense Ellis Johnson for two years, South Carolina finished third in the nation in total defense (267.7 yards per game) and 10th in scoring defense (18.4 points).
The Gamecocks in 2014 lost Clowney and four other starters, all of whom ended up on NFL rosters, and the production fell off playing in the Southeastern Conference, which had seven teams in the Top 50 in the nation in scoring. Eight of the top 11 tacklers on that team were sophomores; 18 freshmen and sophomores played in at least 10 games.
Ward was the defensive backs coach at Arkansas in 2008 under coach Bobby Petrino, an assistant coach with the Oakland Raiders in 2006 under coach Art Shell and spent seven years at Virginia Tech from 1999 to 2005.
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada