Jeff Tedford has some idea what he is getting into in returning to his alma mater as Fresno State’s new football coach, trying to repair a program that is nearing if not already at the bottom.
The Bulldogs are 1-9 overall and 0-6 in the Mountain West Conference as they start their prep for a game next Saturday against Hawaii. They showed few signs of life last time out, a 37-0 loss at Colorado State in which they were shut out for the first time in six years.
They didn’t run a play on the plus-side of the field until the third quarter was almost gone and averaged 3.9 yards per play, which is not even their lowest output of the season.
69 Scholarship players in the Fresno State program, 16 less than the NCAA limit of 85.
The Bulldogs generated just 3.8 yards per play in a loss at Utah State, the last game for Fresno State before the firing of coach Tim DeRuyter, who was 30-30 and won two conference titles in four-plus seasons but was 4-16 in his last 20 games.
Some issues that play into that are more easily fixed than others – academic support, nutrition, strength and conditioning – though not much comes easily to an athletic department struggling to keep up with the escalating costs of college athletics and just added two sports in wrestling and women’s water polo that will increase the degree of difficulty for every program.
But there is a commitment there from Athletic Director Jim Bartko and university President Joseph I. Castro. Tedford is convinced of that, at least.
“I’m not sure about a long look, but I took a look (at the program),” said Tedford, introduced Friday as the 19th coach in program history. “Did I uncover everything? Probably not. But I have the confidence and the trust in President Castro and Jim Bartko that they understand, and they’re driven to be successful in all areas, and I believe that I will have the leadership to put us in those positions to do that with the experience that I bring. But I have the confidence that they will back me on it.
Recruiting is No. 1. Recruiting our type of guys, that’s what’s important. Guys who are accountable. Guys who have leadership. Guys who have integrity and great attitudes. Those are the guys that we’re going to be looking for.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
“All the things that go into a program … it’s a long list. Academic support. Recruiting department. Strength and conditioning. Nutrition is big. Player development. Community relations. Internship programs. Job placement programs. All of that. For what we’re here to do with these guys, all of that needs to be addressed. I don’t know what level that they are at right now in each area, but I do know that they’re all important for the experience of the student-athlete and their success.”
What falls to Tedford and his staff, though, will be a tough turnaround.
Due to high attrition in past recruiting classes, Fresno State has 69 scholarship players in its program, 16 fewer than the NCAA limit.
That number will take more hits if there are any transfers at the end of the season, which would seem likely. The loss of key seniors will impact position groups that already were not in the best shape going back to the beginning of the season in terms of depth and balance between classes.
Under DeRuyter, the Bulldogs had a scholarship blueprint that included – on offense – four scholarship quarterbacks, five running backs, three to four tight ends, 10 to 11 receivers and 17 offensive linemen. On defense, it called for 10 to 12 linemen, seven to eight inside linebackers, seven to eight outside linebackers and seven to eight at the cornerback and safety positions, as well as three to four specialists.
Fresno State signed 75 players on national letter of intent signing days from 2012 to ’15. Of those 75, 33 have left the program or never made it into school.
That blueprint is likely close to what it will be under Tedford, and the Bulldogs are short just about everywhere. Most acute: an offensive line that has been a problem for years and been the one spot hit hardest by attrition; a cornerbacks group that will lose senior starters Tyquwan Glass and Jamal Ellis; and at safety where Fresno State will lose three seniors in starter Stratton Brown, Dalen Jones and Alan Wright.
In the secondary, Fresno State will have eight scholarship players between four positions.
The receivers group is thin, and the Bulldogs did not sign a wideout in their 2016 recruiting class.
The outside linebackers group, another area where depth and balance are issues, will lose one senior. Justin Green, Stephen Van Hook and Tobenna Okeke each have one more year of eligibility.
Fresno State set out to rectify some of those issues – of the 11 players that have confirmed commitments in the Class of 2017, four are defensive backs and a fifth could play in the secondary, while two are outside linebackers.
But there are difficult choices to make in trying to get the numbers and balance between classes where they are designed to be, even with a full allotment of 25 scholarships available for the Bulldogs’ 2017 recruiting class.
I’m not sure about a long look, but I took a look (at the program). Did I uncover everything? Probably not.
Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford
Fresno State started the season with seven running backs on scholarship, loading up because of injuries at the position.
Five were true freshmen (Justin Rice, Saevion Johnson, Deonte Perry) or redshirt freshmen (Bryson Oglesby, Wesley Hill). Dontel James will be a senior next season and Dejonte O’Neal a junior. Hill, out for the season because of a knee injury, has left the program.
The Bulldogs could make some position changes within a poorly balanced group – O’Neal last spring was to play as a slot receiver before moving back because of the inordinate number of injuries in the backfield.
But every move will have an impact within two position groups and not necessarily solve an issue at either one.
Tedford, who took a Cal team that went 1-10 to a 7-5 finish in 2002 in his first season with the Bears, has a road map to follow and history on his side.
2 Wins by the Bulldogs over FBS opponents over the past two seasons.
But Fresno State could be a different challenge for the new coach and a staff that he will assemble in the coming weeks.
There, the charge is clear.
“I think as far as hiring a staff is concerned, it’s really important that you surround yourself with guys who are great evaluators, guys who are master teachers, guys who are experts in their field, guys who can communicate with players,” Tedford said.
“People who can come to work every day positive, poised, but demanding. Those are the things that we’re going to have on our staff.”
But the Bulldogs’ coach won’t have to unfold that whole map to get started. Right now, it’s roster repair.
“Recruiting is No. 1,” Tedford said. “I think it’s really important in evaluation and recruiting to make sure you’re getting the right guys into the program in all phases, because you want guys who want to be here, great attitudes, leaders, all those characteristics.
“Recruiting is critical, for sure, and the evaluation of it.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada
FRESNO STATE VS. HAWAII
- Saturday, Nov. 19: 4 p.m. at Bulldog Stadium (41,031)
- Records: Bulldogs 1-9, 0-6 Mountain West; Rainbow Warriors 4-6, 3-3
- Online/radio: MWN/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)