Marek Warszawski

Warszawski: Bulldogs boss Jim Bartko can’t afford new football coach; nor can he afford to do nothing

Fresno State athletic director Jim Bartko, right, has his hands full with welcome gifts from President Joseph Castro on the day of his official hiring in November 2014. Now Bartko’s hands are full with what to do about the football team’s 1-5 start.
Fresno State athletic director Jim Bartko, right, has his hands full with welcome gifts from President Joseph Castro on the day of his official hiring in November 2014. Now Bartko’s hands are full with what to do about the football team’s 1-5 start. ezamora@fresnobee.com

Since Bulldog Stadium was built in 1980, the luxury box reserved for Fresno State’s athletic director was located inside the squat brown building on the bowl’s west rim.

Russ Sloan, Jack Lengyel, Gary Cunningham, Al Bohl, Scott Johnson and Thomas Boeh.

But not Jim Bartko.

For his first football season as AD, Bartko moved his digs to the stadium’s eastside suites. Why? Because that’s where the well-heeled boosters sit, and he wanted to be closer to them.

That should tell you something about Bartko, but it also makes you wonder.

It’s probably quite enjoyable for an AD to sit among boosters and fans when the Bulldogs are winning games or actually competitive in them. Not so much when they’re losing by 42 points on homecoming.

“Our top key donors understand – they’ve been great,” Bartko said this week. “You get other fans that are very upset and aren’t shy about telling you what they think. ...

“We’re 1-5 and they’re frustrated. They have every right to be. But we have the right to turn it around, too.”

If things need to be tweaked, we’ll look at it. Fans need to be patient, but they’re also paying money to come to games. So they have the right to complain.

Fresno State athletic director Jim Bartko

If Bartko is broiling mad over the disheveled state of his football program, which accounts for 80 percent of his department’s revenue, he didn’t show it during our 45-minute talk in his office.

Concerned? Yes.

Ready to hit the eject button on coach Tim DeRuyter, maybe during the bye week? Not one bit.

“Nothing good comes out of midseason changes,” Bartko said. “We have a young team. We’re injury riddled. At the end of the year, we’ll sit down and evaluate where we are.

“If things need to be tweaked, we’ll look at it. Fans need to be patient, to a degree, but they’re also paying money to come to games. So they have the right to complain.”

Fans will only complain for so long. After that, they stop showing up. School officials were expecting a 25,000 turnout Friday night against UNLV. If so, it would be the smallest crowd since 2011, which turned out to be Pat Hill’s final season.

School officials were expecting a 25,000 turnout Friday night against UNLV. If so it would be the smallest crowd since 2011.

Four years later, is DeRuyter’s job in similar jeopardy? Considering his current 27-19 career record would remain above .500 even if Fresno State drops its final six games, should it be?

Bartko says no.

“It’s critical for us to finish strong and end the season on a high note, but I think Tim deserves the opportunity to make things right. He’s very passionate about this place, and he’s won. There’s no option but to turn things around. He has to succeed.”

In many ways, Bartko’s hands are tied. Or to be precise, his pocketbook is.

Following the 2013 season, when DeRuyter was 20-6 and coming off back-to-back Mountain West Conference titles, he signed a five-year contract through 2018. The contract not only made DeRuyter the highest-paid coach in the conference, it was fully guaranteed. Meaning that if he were let go for any reason, Fresno State still must pay his annual base salaries through the remainder of the deal.

The contract Tim DeRuyter signed following the 2013 season was fully guaranteed. Meaning that if he were let go for any reason, Fresno State still must pay his annual base salaries through 2018.

That number, with three seasons left after this one, is $4.6 million.

A school like USC might be able to swallow that kind of chunk without choking, but not Fresno State. Not with its annual athletic budget of $33 million. Not with the new demands of cost-of-attendance stipends ($1.2 million) and an expanded training table ($500,000). Not with this year’s $1 million shortfall in football road game guarantees. Not with wrestling and women’s water polo on the way.

And certainly not when Bartko is out there in the community trying to sell his vision of a renovated stadium, which could cost $80 million with all the bells and whistles.

But how do you sell a football team as inept as the Bulldogs have been in 2015?

As things stand, I don’t see how Fresno State affords that $4.6 million. At the same time, Bartko can’t afford to do nothing.

$4.6Millions of dollars still owed by Fresno State to coach Tim DeRuyter through 2018

During our talk, Bartko twice used the phrase “one bad year” to describe the downturn under DeRuyter. He needs to be more critical than that. There were signs this was coming.

Just because the Bulldogs reached the MW championship game last season doesn’t mean you can discount their 6-8 record. Five of those eight defeats were blowouts (remember Wyoming?), and one was an overtime defeat to a UNLV team that finished 2-11 and fired its coaching staff.

Bartko also referred to the team’s youth. It’s right there in the pregame notes: Twenty-nine players are seeing their first game action, including 15 first-time starters.

While that might be accurate, there are also 11 seniors and five juniors listed as starters. Five of those seniors start on the offensive and defensive lines, where Fresno State gets overwhelmed as a matter of course.

If those five seniors starters on both lines are better than the younger players behind them, that doesn’t portend well for next season.

If those seniors are better than the younger players behind them, that doesn’t portend well for next season.

Bartko also should investigate why the Bulldogs are so young. In DeRuyter’s fourth year, they really shouldn’t be. Simply, his recruiting classes have not produced.

Only eight of the 17 freshman signees from 2013 can be found on the current depth chart; the most productive is middle linebacker Jeff Camilli. Many promising names from 2014 are either gone (Michael Lazarus, Xavier Ulutu, Kurt Scoby) or indefinitely suspended (Bobby Johnson).

Yes, the recent hiring of director of player personnel Jimmy Morimoto should help. But much is needed, and quickly.

I didn’t leave a great place like Oregon to come here and be content with last place.

Jim Bartko

Bartko needs to look at the lack of player development and continuity. Since Derek Carr left, the quarterback position has been nothing short of a merry-go-round, with DeRuyter either unwilling or unable to commit to anyone for any length of time.

I also can point to Fresno State’s lack of physicality. Forget Mississippi and Utah. Both San Jose State and Utah State completely outmuscled the Bulldogs up front. The word is out: The Bulldogs are soft.

Despite this team’s obvious deficiencies, at this point I don’t see Barkto making a change with DeRuyter. But he may have to insist on staff changes, even at the coordinator level.

DeRuyter is awfully loyal to his guys – probably too loyal – but if the boss directs him, he’d have no choice but to comply. Or else risk being in violation of the fine print in that fat contract.

Will it come to that? I doubt it. But Bartko made it clear in our talk he won’t accept losing.

“I didn’t leave a great place like Oregon to come here and be content with last place,” he said.

Same goes for the Bulldogs fans he sits with during games.

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