The new defensive coordinator, after spending all but one season of his 22-year coaching career in the South, chose Fresno State over a Southeastern Conference school that wanted him for the same job.
The new offensive coordinator will install a more physical version of the no-huddle spread and sought position coaches with Bulldogs ties.
Those are some initial takeaways from spending a few minutes with Lorenzo Ward and Eric Kiesau, who answered questions from the local media during halftime of Saturday’s basketball game at Save Mart Center.
No two individuals – not even fifth-year coach Tim DeRuyter – will be more responsible for making sure last season’s 3-9 wipeout doesn’t get put on repeat. Even USA Today, which gave Fresno State a D-minus in its final grades of all 128 Football Bowl Subdivision teams, called the decline “troubling.”
“Obviously, if they were good I wouldn’t be here,” Ward said about inheriting a defense that surrendered 38.1 points and 446.2 yards per game last fall. “But we’ll try to change that.”
Ward definitely brings a different tone to the Bulldogs’ defense, and by that I mean the timbre of the Alabama native’s voice.
He is going to get (the players’) attention. It’s the kind of guy he is.
Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, on Lorenzo Ward
South Carolina’s defensive coordinator since 1999 (he shared the title some of those years) had multiple job offers after he was let go by incoming coach Will Muschamp. Mississippi State wanted him as its defensive coordinator.
So why come all the way across the country to Fresno State?
“The (SEC) team that actually reached out to me had six defensive coordinators in eight years since he’s been the head coach,” Ward said when he and I spoke one on one. “That’s all you need to know.”
It helped that Ward and DeRuyter are friends. When DeRuyter was an assistant at Air Force, he made offseason visits to South Carolina to clinic with the Gamecocks’ coaches.
Ward, who has sent 16 defensive backs to the NFL including first-rounders DeAngelo Hall and Stephon Gilmore, said he immediately felt comfortable after visiting Fresno State and talking shop with DeRuyter.
“When the Power 5 schools are firing position coaches in the middle of the season, they’re not thinking about those kids that you’ve told the parents you’re going to be their mentor for the next three, four, five years,” Ward said.
“Now it’s become a money game, just like the NFL. I don’t care to be in that situation anymore. I want it to be about the kids. The good Lord has blessed me. I’ve done well and made a lot of money doing this. I want to be able to give back, and I want these guys to know me for the rest of their lives.”
A number of teams reached out, but I wanted it to be a situation where it wasn’t about the money.
New Bulldogs defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward
The Bulldogs will continue to use the 3-4 as a base defense. However, DeRuyter told me the coaches are adjusting the scheme to make things simpler for the players to understand.
“He’s going to have the advantage of having a bunch of young guys who have played, and he’s going to get them going hard and fast,” DeRuyter said. “He’s going to get their attention. It’s the kind of guy he is.”
Ward has a strong reputation as a recruiter, one Fresno State is putting to use right away by sending him to Atlanta (Monday and Tuesday), Dallas (Wednesday) and Houston (Thursday). But not before he visited Bakersfield during his first official week on the job.
“I do have great relationships, and we’ll reach into Atlanta,” Ward said. “But I think when you recruit you recruit everywhere.”
While Ward took the job knowing position coaches Pete Germano (defensive line), Jordan Peterson (outside linebackers) and Nick Toth (inside linebackers) were already in place, Kiesau had “a big hand” in assembling his staff.
Thus far, those efforts have resulted in bringing back Mark Weber, a Pat Hill assistant in 2004-05, to coach the offensive line and ex-Bulldog center Joe Bernardi to coach tight ends. Two staff positions on offense remain open.
“I wanted guys that have Fresno State ties, that love this place and want to be here,” Kiesau said. “(Weber and Bernardi) have been here, they’ve won and they know the right type of kid to recruit here.”
Unlike Ward, Kiesau and DeRuyter did not know each other before the interview process. The Pasadena native said a couple “friends” recommended him for the job.
“It’s a good match,” Kiesau said. “I’m fired up.”
We’re going to get that blue-collar edge back to Fresno.
New Bulldogs offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau
Kiesau’s version of the no-huddle spread is similar to the one the Bulldogs have run since 2012 but not a carbon copy. Fresno State will utilize the Pistol formation more often and even once in awhile (gasp) line up the quarterback under center.
“Mostly shotgun with a good percentage of Pistol and very little under center,” Kiesau said. “I still want to have the ability to do that because it’s good for play action and in the run game when you’re under center.
“That’s what makes my system different. … I want to be able to go uptempo but also run the ball.”
The Bulldogs have struggled in short-yardage and goal-line situations the last two seasons, something Kiesau pledged to change.
“We’re going to get that blue-collar edge back to Fresno,” he said. “When it’s third-and-1 and we know we’re going to run the ball and they know we’re going to run the ball, who’s going to win? It’s going to be us. … That’s a mentality we’re going to breed.”
Whether the reconfigured coaching staff can assemble enough talent to reverse the program’s recent skid remains to be seen. But after a season that bred mostly lopsided losses and fan discontent, it’s a start.