Football practice is over, and aside from a few stragglers everyone else has already walked up and out the Bulldog Stadium ramp.
Among them are senior Aaron Mitchell, Fresno State’s presumed starting center this fall, who is getting extra work on shotgun snaps. Offensive line coach Ryan Grubb knelt a few feet in front of Mitchell. Five yards behind, where the quarterback would be, stood Jeff Tedford.
For several minutes the new Bulldogs head coach caught Mitchell’s snaps. Snap after snap after snap. Each time, Tedford exaggeratedly froze his hands in place so that Mitchell, peering between his legs, could see where the football ended up.
“Perfect tempo. Perfect placement,” Tedford said after one.
Whenever Mitchell twirled a snap low, off to the side or without enough zip, Tedford stopped to give instruction. He offered tips on hand position and grip, leading to the proper rotation, speed and arc.
Details are critical with everything that we do.
Watching from 20 yards away, it seemed like many of Mitchell’s snaps were aimed at Tedford’s right hip. And Tedford seemed pleased at this, as if it were a particular coaching point. It was interesting to me, like maybe there’s some advantage to that for a right-handed quarterback, so afterward I asked him.
“Not necessarily,” Tedford replied. “Where you don’t want it to be is fast and on the ground. That’s what we were working on.”
Tedford grinned while saying that, drawing laughter from everyone listening, but he could tell by my follow-up (“Where do you want it?”) that I was honestly curious.
“If it’s somewhere manageable for the quarterback to where he can catch the ball and do something with it, then that’s what we need,” he said.
“It doesn’t have to be at the hip. Preferable is to be right here (holds hands directly in front of him) so I can catch it like this (raises his elbows slightly). So I can bring it to a passing position or I can hand the ball off and I’m not having to turn my hands over.
“Because the run game out of shotgun, (placement) is really important. If I’m going to hand the ball to a back going this way (feints left) and the snaps way over here (points right), it’s going to throw our timing off.”
Tedford went on to describe the “target area” as “anywhere from the sternum to the hips, and if it’s on the right hip, great.”
Good habits are formed by consistent repetition.
It was a thorough and detailed response, not to mention a perfect lead-in for the question I really wanted to ask.
Do you consider yourself a details guy?
“I think so,” Tedford said, looking at me from behind rimless sunglasses. “It’s a game of inches, and details are critical. I’ve seen us lose games (at Cal) by stepping out of bounds by half an inch. If we would’ve taken one more step on the route, we would’ve been top three in the country.
“I’ve seen a tackle only take one kick step instead of two and the defensive end come down and Aaron Rodgers having to eat the ball instead of shoveling it for a touchdown to beat (USC). There’s a lot of things in the details and the footwork. As the timing of everything goes on, details are critical with everything that we do.”
If the head coach is hands-on and obsessed with details, that mentality trickles down to the the assistant coaches, staff and players to become part of the program’s DNA.
The adage about any team being a reflection of its leadership fits college football teams like Salma Hayek in a cocktail dress. If the head coach is hands-on and obsessed with details, that mentality trickles down to the assistant coaches, staff and players to become part of the program’s DNA.
My early impression of Tedford is that he’s one of those types. You can tell from the way he constantly jots down notes during practice and how he corrects mistakes in a voice that’s firm but not overly loud.
That trait is also evident in how Tedford addresses off-the-field issues. As explained in the recent Q&A he did with the esteemed Robert Kuwada, Fresno State is dealing with a pretty lousy APR situation that could result in a bowl ban – just as the Bulldogs are rebuilding.
Not only does Tedford possess a thorough understanding of APR (read his answer), he also overhauled the team’s academic structure. Regular attendance checks are being performed, and each position coach has a binder filled with his players’ syllabuses and exam schedules.
The biggest change Tedford instituted, according to Deputy Athletic Director Steve Robertello, is that academic advisers are now present during thrice-per-week meetings between players and their position coach.
“Just as an example, a student-athlete could say, ‘I did this, this and this and told my academic adviser.’ This way, the academic adviser is there to hopefully confirm what was said,” Robertello said. “It just makes sure everybody is on the same page and show the student-athletes that the coaches and academic staff are working together.”
I asked Robertello how involved Tedford has been with the academic side.
“He’s exceptionally involved in it,” said Robertello, who had previous stops at Washington State, Arizona State, Villanova and West Virginia, “as hands-on and detailed as any coach I’ve been around.”
Tedford has been on the job only since November, and this is merely the first week of spring football. We still have plenty to learn about him as a head coach. But what’s clearly evident is his thoroughness and attention to detail, and that’s more than a snap judgment.