Marek Warszawski

Who’s footing the bill for Fresno State football? Uncle Joe and Uncle Jim

Fresno State president Joseph Castro, left, and athletic director Jim Bartko, right, did not cut corners to course correct a football program that went 1-11 this season. They gave Tim DeRuyter $3.1 million to go away and made Jeff Tedford the Mountain West’s highest-paid coach.
Fresno State president Joseph Castro, left, and athletic director Jim Bartko, right, did not cut corners to course correct a football program that went 1-11 this season. They gave Tim DeRuyter $3.1 million to go away and made Jeff Tedford the Mountain West’s highest-paid coach.

Fresno State football fans keeping tabs on all the changes afoot aren’t all that different than siblings who accompany their parents to an expensive restaurant.

Secure in the knowledge someone else is picking up the check.

Except in this case there’s no need to thank Mom and Dad. All thanks should go to Uncle Joe and Uncle Jim.

Again and again, we’ve heard Fresno State President Joseph Castro (“Academics and athletics will rise together”) and athletic director Jim Bartko (“I did not come here to be average”) profess their lofty goals for the Bulldogs.

This is where words meet actual, tangible commitment.

As disastrous as it may sound, Fresno State did not HAVE to part ways with Tim DeRuyter. Castro and Bartko could have decided $3.1 million was too big a nut to swallow and rode out another year, ticket sales and PR atrocities be darned.

Of course, they didn’t do that. They paid DeRuyter to go away and brought in Jeff Tedford, which in itself wasn’t an inexpensive decision.

Fresno State could have followed the tracks of Mountain West division rivals San Jose State, Nevada, UNLV and Hawaii and hire a first-time FBS head coach. If Castro and Bartko did that, they would have paid him between $400,000 to $600,000 per season. That’s the going rate for a Nick Rolovich or a Brian Polian.

Instead, Tedford was Bartko’s No. 1 choice from the get-go. Sure, Tedford is a former Bulldog. But he also was a Pacific-12 Conference head coach for 11 years, with a .590 winning percentage (82-57) at a place where winning is difficult.

A coach with Tedford’s résumé demands a higher salary, which is why Fresno State agreed to a five-year contract worth $7.9 million plus a “healthy” incentive package. (Wish I could give you a yearly breakdown or even report the contract has been finalized, but those facts currently elude me.)

Let’s just divide $7.9 million by five and figure Tedford is making $1.58 million per season in base salary. That figure (very close to DeRuyter’s, incidentally) makes Tedford the MW’s highest-paid coach by a nose over Colorado State’s Mike Bobo, who will earn $1.55 million in 2017.

In total, Tedford’s five-year, $7.9 million deal is a smidgen larger than the five-year, $7.5 million contract Bobo received in 2015. Next highest is Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, who got a five-year, $7.35 million extension.

The point is when it came to choosing a head coach to course-correct this season’s 1-11 disaster, Uncle Joe and Uncle Jim ordered from the entrée side of the menu.

Nor did Fresno State skimp when it came to ushering out the old staff. Both of this year’s coordinators, Eric Kiesau and Lorenzo Ward, have guaranteed contracts through 2017 worth $300,000 apiece.

If Kiesau and Ward manage to land another $300k job in college football next season, Fresno State will be off the hook. If they don’t, their former employer makes up the rest.

(The same is true of DeRuyter, whose contract also contained an “offset” clause, meaning any salary he makes in college football in 2017 and ’18 gets deducted from the $3.1 million.)

Again, if Fresno State wanted to cut corners, Tedford could have been compelled to keep one or both. It was practically assumed Kiesau would stick around in some capacity given that he and Tedford worked together at Cal.But Tedford wanted to clean house – again, the more expensive option – and he was given the leeway to do so.

“We have a job to do here, and I felt it was really important to start over with the message,” Tedford said this week.

Fresno State must continue ponying up if it wants Tedford to have the best staff. Early indications are the salary pool for assistant coaches would stay at around $1.6 million (about $800,000 less than Colorado State).

But if Tedford is eyeing Power 5 conference coaches for his coordinator jobs (rumored names include Tim Skipper for DC and Jim Michalczik for OC), those price tags won’t be cheap. Skipper, the former Bulldogs linebacker and assistant, is making $375,000 to coach Florida’s running backs. Michalczik, a Cal assistant under Tedford from 2002-08, is making $310,000 to coach Arizona’s offensive line.

Anyone who attended a Bulldogs game this season, or tracked the dwindling attendance, has to be wondering where all this money is coming from.

Castro was asked that very question this week by The Bee’s Editorial Board, and his basic reply was “private donations.”

Fresno State had already set aside the money to cover DeRuyter’s contract. The money needed to hire Tedford and cover all the costs of the “transition” (the term Castro used) was raised privately.

In its annual budget for 2016-17, the Fresno State Athletic Corporation projected $34.2 million in operating revenues. Two years before, in 2014-15, that figure was $29.7 million. What accounted for the $4.5 million jump? Much of it came from increases in university support ($10.6 million to $13.6 million) and development ($4 million to $6.7 million).

Those bumps in university support and development helped overcome a $1.5 million drop (from $5.8 million to $4.3 million) in gate receipts.

So at a time when fan interest in Bulldogs sports, in terms of ticket sales, is shrinking, Uncle Joe and Uncle Jim keep throwing money into the pot.

Soon enough, their investment must pay off. Or else the family’s going to be eating at McDonald’s.