The more success Fresno State enjoys under Jeff Tedford, the harder schools with deeper pockets and more resources will try to lure him away.
That’s not just my opinion. It’s one of college football’s inescapable truths.
Last year, when the Bulldogs went from 1-11 to 10-4 in Tedford’s first season as head coach, Oregon State was the primary suitor. This year, with Fresno State proving that turnaround was no one-off, Tedford’s name is reportedly on the “short list” for the opening at Colorado.
Get used to it. With the Bulldogs’ rapid success building upon his track record at Cal, Tedford is a natural name for the annual coaching carousel. Power 5 Conference schools, especially those in the Pac-12, would be foolish not to dial his agent’s number.
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Fresno State can do nothing about that. What recently installed Athletic Director Terry Tumey and President Joseph Castro can do is make this as good a situation for Tedford as possible so there’s little or no temptation to look elsewhere.
And, no, this doesn’t mean paying Tedford more money. In fact, the incentive-laden contract the 57-year-old signed in March 2017, criticized in some places (not this one) for being too generous, turned out to be a blessing for Fresno State.
How come? Because as long as the Bulldogs keep winning, keep getting to Mountain West championship games and bowls, and attendance continues to climb, Tedford will be as well-compensated as many coaches at middle- and lower-tier Power 5 schools.
Tedford’s $1.55 million base salary is the MW’s third-highest behind Colorado State’s Mike Bobo ($1.8M) and Boise State’s Bryan Harsin ($1.65M). However, it’s Tedford who will be taking home the fatter paycheck once all the bonuses are tabulated.
Last season, Tedford earned $1.24 million in bonuses that, when added to his base salary, brought his total compensation to $2.79 million. Which exceeded not just everyone in the MW (Bobo was closest at $1.85M), but also what Cal, Oregon State and even USC paid their head coaches.
This year, with the Bulldogs 10-2 overall and two games left including an MW championship and a bowl, Tedford’s total compensation could reach $3 million.
Forty-four of the 130 Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches have a base salary of at least $3 million, according to USA Today’s database. And only three (Arizona State’s Herm Edwards, Kentucky’s Mike Stoops and Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz) have a fatter bonus package than Tedford’s.
In addition to being well-paid, Tedford’s contract also provides security. By winning at least eight games in his first two seasons, he has already twice triggered a roll-over clause that added extra years to what was originally a five-year deal. That can happen once more.
What this all means is Fresno State, to ensure Tedford sticks around, doesn’t have to pay him more money. Instead, the university can (and must) focus on those areas that make his program better.
Here’s a short list: a higher salary pool for Tedford’s assistants and more money for recruiting and nutrition; more space for strength and conditioning, meetings and academics, possibly in the form of a football-specific building; and a remodeled, rejuvenated Bulldog Stadium. These are the areas where Tumey and Castro need to shore up.
Following Wednesday’s practice, I approached Tedford and asked him which of those program enhancements rank highest on his list of priorities. And to find out if he and administrators share the same vision.
Tedford was happy to entertain my questions. But since they didn’t pertain to Saturday’s game against San Jose State, he wasn’t especially forthcoming.
“As in any program, there are things that need to improve,” Tedford said. “I think we’ve made a lot of progress over the last couple years. Right now I’m busy with the job in hand, so I haven’t even thought about all the stuff. But you know there’s new direction with an athletic director who I think is dedicated to getting things done.”
Are he and Tumey on the same page in that regard?
“I don’t know because we haven’t talked about that stuff – really,” Tedford said. “This is about the season right now. I haven’t gotten into the details about little things here and little things there that we need to do to improve. A football program is pretty broad. There are so many little things involved, so there are always things we can do better.”
Since coming aboard in August, Tumey has been pulled in a hundred directions. (“Drinking from a fire hose” is the phrase Tedford used.) Besides learning the intricacies of his new job, Tumey doesn’t have much continuity to lean on. Carrie Coll, the associate AD for sport services, is the only senior administrator who has been on the job more than a few months.
Tumey is already on record as saying Fresno State’s fundraising efforts, at least for the time being, are “solely” focused on the Bulldog Foundation. Which makes sense, because without athletic scholarships there’s no athletic program.
But at the same time, Tumey cannot afford to neglect his most valuable asset: the football coach who drives his largest economic engine.
Because Tedford’s suitors, flush with television revenues that Fresno State can’t dream of, certainly won’t.
Before parting, I asked Tedford if there’s any chance he’s thinking about other jobs.
“I’m not thinking about anything except watching the film from this practice and getting ready for this game,” Tedford replied. “I have nothing else on my mind.”
It’s up to Fresno State to keep it that way.