Besides Terry Tumey, the happiest person in the room during Monday's press conference to introduce Fresno State's new athletic director had to be university president Joseph Castro.
Bulldogs athletics aren't Castro's problem … err, responsibility … anymore.
And not a moment, or a month, too soon.
"Academics and athletics will rise together" might be a catchy slogan, but it doesn't in any way accurately reflect the current reality. While academics at Fresno State have soared during Castro's tenure, athletics are floundering.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Fresno Bee
This is not intended as a hit piece. By nearly every measure, Castro has done an excellent job since taking the reins in May 2013. He's affable, engaged, genuinely interested in the welfare of his students and doesn't bow to hysteria.
Unlike his dour, distant predecessor, John Welty, Castro is down to earth and remarkably accessible. Check his Twitter account. Every tweet from a current student or alumnus, be it a compliment or a complaint, gets a quick answer or referral.
I can't stress enough how rare this is for a university president.
Castro's leadership is reflected in Fresno State's rise in university rankings, including 17th nationally last August by Washington Monthly. Graduation rates are up, as are the number of graduate degrees being offered. A new student union recently won approval, and there are plans for additional improvements to campus infrastructure including student housing, classrooms and utilities.
There's even talk of constructing a performing arts center on campus. Not sure where those plans sit at the moment, but what a great idea.
However, the same cannot be said about the state of Bulldogs athletics, which continues to take on water as fan interest declines and fundraising remains tepid.
Castro has been the one manning the bilge pump. Without $19.1 million in subsidies from the university side – approaching half of the athletic department's projected 2018-19 budget of $42 million – the Bulldogs would be slashing scholarships and dropping sports. There's no way around that.
Of course, the argument can also be made that Castro is siphoning money to cover up his own blemishes.
It was Castro's decision to give Tim DeRuyter a contract extension with a guaranteed base salary – practically unheard of in college football. Which is why Fresno State is paying DeRuyter more than $1 million to be Cal's defensive coordinator.
It was Castro's decision, new in town and wanting to please boosters, to bring back wrestling without a complete understanding of the financial ramifications. Although Castro denies this, people under him say he initially didn't realize the addition of a men's sport also meant adding a women's program for Title IX compliance. (And now there's chatter Fresno State may have to add an additional women's team.)
As a result, Fresno State offers more sports (21) than all but two Mountain West rivals and half the Pac-12 Conference. More mouths to feed on a limited budget means someone goes hungry.
I'm not saying Castro made a mistake in bringing back wrestling. I'm saying he made a mistake to bring back wrestling without a spill-proof way of paying for it.
It was Castro's decision to hire Jim Bartko. While no one can fault Castro for not knowing about Bartko's childhood trauma (even Bartko's wife and parents didn't know), the university is now embroiled in a very public and potentially costly lawsuit with its former AD.
Who made the decision to muck around eight months before finding a replacement? Yup, Castro.
That uncertainty, according to multiple sources including men's basketball coaches in the MW and other conferences, is why so many candidates took one look at the Bulldogs opening and passed.
I still think Fresno State made a good hire in Justin Hutson – time will tell, of course – but the pond Castro fished in was much smaller than it should've been.
Then there's the glaring lack of success. Never in recent memory have Bulldogs athletics been so mediocre. Only the women's tennis team saved Fresno State from going two straight years without winning a conference title in any sport.
After which coach Ryan Stotland briskly departed for Arizona.
Castro will bristle at this criticism, even though I think he's done a very good job overall. Just not when it comes to athletics. He needs to allow Tumey to steer this ship.
Unlike Bartko, Tumey does not bowl anyone over with this credentials. UC Davis and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps are a far cry from Oregon and being a bosom buddy of Nike founder Phil Knight.
Despite that lack of pizzazz, Tumey came across as intelligent, sincere and articulate – without being overly polished. During his remarks he constantly needed to look down at his notes. I found that endearing.
Tumey said all the right things and made a positive first impression. Which means Castro can loosen his grip rather than continue to micromanage the one department on campus that has stumbled under his watch.