Jeff Tedford should be Jim Bartko’s first call when Fresno State’s athletic director begins the search to find the Bulldogs’ next head football coach.
Tedford just can’t be the only call. The university deserves better. The program deserves better. Fans deserve better.
Certainly I’m not saying Tedford would be a poor choice to replace Tim DeRuyter, who was jettisoned Sunday after the Bulldogs stooped to 1-7. I’m not saying that at all. That’s why the former Fresno State quarterback and offensive coordinator was No. 2 on my list from last Friday (how prescient) of potential candidates.
But Tedford better not be the only candidate. That would be wrong for all sorts of reasons.
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Lane Kiffin, Tedford and Steve Sarkisian were 1, 2 and 3 on my list because they best fit the criteria I was looking for: experience as as head coach; an offensive background with play-calling experience; and someone with California ties who would make in-state recruiting the top priority.
Of those three obvious names, Tedford is the only one who has a close association with the person making this hire. At Oregon, Tedford (as offensive coordinator) and Bartko (as associate AD) worked together from 1998 to 2001, the years when Ducks first emerged as a national power. After Tedford left to be head coach at Cal, Bartko joined him in Berkeley for a year (2006-07) as senior associate AD in charge of fundraising before being lured back to Eugene.
Which is why when Bartko landed the Fresno State AD job in November 2014, the second testimonial (below that of Nike honcho Phil Knight) on the official university press release came from Tedford himself.
“I think it is a great choice for Fresno State,” Tedford is quoted as saying. “I’ve known Jim for a long time and had the pleasure to work with him. He is a great administrator and he’s a trustworthy person who works tirelessly to get the job done. … I’m just really happy for him.”
The relationship between Bartko and Tedford is why it has been practically assumed Tedford was the leading candidate to succeed DeRuyter, whenever that time came. And why I and other reliable sources in the Fresno media are hearing (and reporting) this whole thing is practically a fait accompli.
I certainly hope not, because that would set a terrible precedent. Not to mention an exceedingly lazy one.
It’s my understanding Bartko has no intention of even calling Lane Kiffin. If so, that would go against all pretext of a thorough search.
It’s my understanding Bartko has no intention of even calling Kiffin, the Fresno State alum who is in his third year as Alabama’s offensive coordinator. If so, that would go against all pretext of a thorough search.
Kiffin may not be Bartko’s ideal candidate, and he may even personally dislike the guy, but he needs to at least pick up the phone. Perhaps Kiffin (or his agent) won’t even take the call, knowing full well Fresno State isn’t a $3-million-per-year Power-5 conference job. But maybe Kiffin has a soft spot for his alma mater, the place that helped launch his coaching career, and believes reviving the Bulldogs while helping Bartko renovate Bulldog Stadium would be a great way to rehab his image. You don’t know unless you reach out.
There’s no more splashy hire out there, and last time I checked Fresno State is in the business of selling tickets.
So, yes, Bartko needs to call Kiffin. He needs to check in with Sarkisian, another talented coach in need of an image rehab whom I’ve heard has strong interest in the position. Bartko needs to interview hot offensive coordinators like Michigan’s Tim Drevno and Cal’s Jake Spatival – maybe he comes away convinced one is the next Urban Meyer – while not neglecting bright defensive minds like Wisconsin’s Justin Wilcox and Washington’s Pete Kwiatkowski. He needs to put feelers out to Tim McDonald and Tim Skipper, coaches with deep Fresno roots who may not quite be ready for the big chair but could fit somewhere.
He ’s going without a search firm (which ought to tell you something), so Bartko needs to scour his contacts and interview several candidates, a few more than once. That’s how a coaching search is conducted. Not by just anointing your friend.
We’ll have a search process. Once that is done, we’ll find the best candidate for the job. But there have been no discussions.
Fresno State AD Jim Bartko
Tedford has several excellent qualifications, but he also has a couple warts. The 54-year-old left his job as Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator partially due to concerns about his heart. In addition, his 11-year Cal tenure ended with him getting blamed for the team’s wobbly academics. You can bet Fresno State President Joseph Castro, a Cal graduate, will raise those questions. Someone needs to.
Fresno State best not acquire the reputation of a place where nepotism blooms because the AD only gives jobs to his buddies. That would be disastrous for any future opening.
Fresno State best not acquire the reputation of a place where nepotism blooms because the athletic director only gives jobs to his buddies.
This is the first major hire for Bartko. Since he’s a first-time AD, that means this is also his first major hire as The Boss. But it won’t be the last. If the men’s basketball team continues on its parabolic curve, I’d fully expect Rodney Terry to be lured away to larger and greener pastures, perhaps as soon as spring.
When that happens – yes, I’m preparing you now – do the best candidates even bother applying? Or will they assume they have no shot because they’re not tight with the AD, and take a pass? In the world of college athletics, that kind of word travels fast.
It’s a slippery slope, and Bartko can’t be caught wearing loafers. He needs to dig in and do the required due diligence.
If Tedford winds up with the big office on the second floor of the Duncan Building, it should be because he emerges as the best choice following a proper, thorough search. (Or because he’s the best who will take the gig.)
Not because Bartko already has him on speed dial.
The job of head football coach at Fresno State is too important to be gift-wrapped for anyone, even a Teddy.