Now that the worst season in the 95-year history of Fresno State football has finally, mercifully ended, the real work begins.
Here ya go, Jeff Tedford. The baton is yours.
The Bulldogs’ new head coach has kept a fairly low profile in the 17 days since his introductory press conference. Tedford has been a presence, both at practice and around the Duncan Building, but not an overwhelming one. Except for a lengthy sitdown with the indomitable Robert Kuwada, Tedford has largely shunned media requests. He hasn’t even been seen wearing Fresno State apparel.
When I met Tedford in his new office early last week for a get-to-know you chat, he came across as personable and perceptive.
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When I met Tedford in his new office early last week for a get-to-know you chat, he came across as personable and perceptive. While speaking with him, you get the sense he’s actually interested in what you have to say – a quality that surely serves him well in meetings and living rooms.
The other impression I left with was that Tedford comes into this situation with eyes wide open. He is under no illusions about the state of the program, both the lack of talent and dwindling fan support, and the extensive rebuilding job ahead.
When Tedford sees a roster of 69 scholarship players (16 shy of the NCAA minimum), then subtracts 13 seniors and others who will surely transfer, which is typically what happens whenever there’s a coaching transition, it must “kind of look like a team that has been on probation for four or five years.”
When I look at the numbers, I’m like, ‘What happened here?’ It kind of looks like a team that has been on probation for four or five years or something.
Jeff Tedford, on his 69 scholarship players (minus 13 seniors)
Regarding the current state of affairs, there can be no more withering a comment.
Tedford’s first weeks on the job were spent observing and evaluating players and coaches, recruiting, watching film and networking.
Soon it’ll be time for hiring. I wouldn’t expect Tedford to name his entire coaching staff soon after the Cal State University-mandated 14-day hiring window closes late this week, but soon enough to hit the recruiting trail.
During his Nov. 11 introduction, Tedford said he wants assistants who are great talent evaluators but also are “poised, confident and demanding.” He told me he also values California and Fresno State ties.
My expectation is for the Bulldogs to have an entirely new defensive coaching staff starting with coordinator Lorenzo Ward, who is under contract through next season and responsible for many of the early out-of-state-commits. Tim Skipper, the former Fresno State linebacker who coaches Florida’s running backs, is believed to be a top candidate.
On offense, the biggest question is whether interim head coach Eric Kiesau will be retained as coordinator. There are reports Marcus Arroyo, the former San Jose State quarterback who worked under Tedford at Cal, has been targeted for that position. I have also been told Ron Gould, the longtime Cal running backs coach who was recently fired by UC Davis, will have a spot on Tedford’s new staff.
It’s really important to surround yourself with great evaluators, guys who can connect with players, who are masters in their fields, who are positive.
Jeff Tedford, on assistant coaches
The team’s talent deficiencies will take much longer to sort out – at least two strong recruiting classes.
The first question Tedford has to ask himself is, “Is my quarterback on this roster?” If not Chason Virgil, who completed just 51.3 percent of his passes and didn’t play a snap in the final two games, then is it Quentin Davis or Christian Rossi? That’s something that will be sorted out in the spring.
The first question Tedford has to ask himself is, ‘Is my quarterback even on this roster?’
For building blocks, the Bulldogs have a pair of young receivers (KeeSean Johnson and Jamire Jordan) who are extremely talented but inconsistent, and a left tackle (Christian Cronk) who should continue to improve. On defense, linebacker Nela Otukolo and defensive backs Juju Hughes and Mike Bell have bright futures. Other young players such as James Bailey, Justin Rice and Josh Hokit probably need a position switch to realize their potentials.
Notice I only named one lineman (Cronk) and zero pass rushers. That’s what this roster lacks the most.
Another area where Fresno State comes up short these days is fan support. Tedford watched the Nov. 19 loss to Hawaii from the stands behind the Fresno State bench. You can be assured he noticed all the empty rows and nearly deserted sections.
Besides the 1-11 final record, the other pitiful reality about the 2016 season is how Fresno State fans, for the most part, gave up on this team.
12,000 approximate actual turnstile count for Fresno State’s Nov. 19 game against Hawaii
Back on Sept. 10, 31,817 fans turned out for the home opener against Sacramento State. That turned out to be the biggest crowd of the season.
When it comes to attendance, Fresno State announces total tickets distributed instead of the actual butts in seats.
According to multiple athletic department sources, the actual turnstile count for the Hawaii game was just over 12,000 – well below the announced figure of 26,951. That means nearly 15,000 people had tickets but didn’t bother showing up.
“No reason for them to,” said Darryl Rogers, the former Fresno State and San Jose State coach who lives in Friant and was honored on the field Saturday.
Rogers is right. By winning four games over the past two seasons, the Bulldogs have given fans little reason, or incentive, to lend their support. Many opted to stay home.
Thus ends the worst season in Fresno State football history. It’s Tedford’s job not to make it a recurring nightmare.