Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford will promote linebackers coach Bert Watts to defensive coordinator to replace Orlondo Steinauer, who left the Bulldogs’ program after one highly-successful season to return to the Canadian Football League.
Watts last season worked with a group that included the Bulldogs’ top two tacklers in inside linebackers Jeffrey Allison (126, 79 solo) and George Helmuth (89, 58) and three of the top five with outside linebacker James Bailey (71, 39).
Safeties Mike Bell (77, 51) and Juju Hughes (71, 54) were third and fourth in tackles.
“The most important thing is the kids and the continuity and how it evolved through the season to have people who were there and was a part of that is important,” Tedford said.
“I did not want to upset the apple cart when it came to the terminology and technique and all the things that were taught last year. I did not want someone coming in here and starting from scratch put the kids in that position.”
The promotion is in the process of being finalized through the university’s human resources department. But with the Bulldogs set to start spring practices on March 12, there will be no transition period in building on a season in which they ranked second in the Mountain West in scoring and in total defense.
They jumped from seventh and sixth in the conference in those two categories and almost made big gains in sacks (tied for first with 2.4 per game, up from 11th with 1.2) tackles for loss (second with 6.4 per game, up from 11th with 4.7) and turnovers gained (fourth with 21, up from tied for 10th with nine).
Fresno State, which a year ago was only the second team in FBS history to go from double-digit losses to double-digit wins one season from the next and defeated Houston 33-27 in the Hawaii Bowl, returns its top seven tacklers from a unit that ran from a 4-3 base but was very multiple through the season.
Tedford will hire a linebackers coach, joining Watts, defensive line coach Jamar Cain and defensive backs coach J.D. Williams.
“They all learned from each other and they all did a great job of working together as a team,” Tedford said. “Orlondo did a really nice job of facilitating it, but by no means was he the only idea guy. There is a lot of flow of information in there and that won’t change, it’s just how it gets facilitated is now Bert’s responsibility.”
Steinauer, who Tedford had pulled from the CFL to run the Bulldogs’ defense, is returning to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats as assistant head coach. He spent four years there as defensive coordinator and played in the CFL for 13 seasons.
He had a two-year contract at Fresno State worth $310,000 per year with $49,600 available through performance bonuses.
“It’s a great opportunity for him,” Tedford said. “He’s going back to the CFL, where he has a great reputation and a chance to become the head coach in waiting-type thing.
“He did a great job for us. He did a really good job with the kids and with the defensive staff. It was really a defensive staff effort, but he obviously called it and was a really good leader for them. But we wish him well. He’s a classy guy and he’ll do great up there, which he always has.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada