T here are only so many times a football coach can open a news conference following a blowout loss with some version of: “We ran into an excellent (blank) team. We ran into some adversity and didn’t handle it well.”
Only so many times a football coach can address his team after it gets trounced by five touchdowns and make them trust and believe things will improve.
Only so many times a football coach can have the same conversation with his athletic director who needs a winning program to sell tickets and spearhead the brand.
Tim DeRuyter doesn’t have many times left.
Besides the extreme optimists and pessimists among us, everyone assumed Fresno State would be 1-2 right now. And Toledo, as described by yours truly, was a tough matchup. But I don’t think anyone was prepared for how poorly the Bulldogs played in Saturday’s 52-17 wound-reopening loss.
An offensive line that can’t block the guy opposite him. A quarterback who’s skittish under pressure. A defense that litters the field with missed tackles (37) and blown assignments.
As if last year’s 3-9 squad was cryogenically frozen and the capsules unsealed an hour before kickoff.
“It was tough to watch,” said Fresno State athletic director Jim Bartko, who did not make the trip to Ohio.
We’ll make the right decision at the end of the year for the program.
Fresno State athletic director Jim Bartko
The biggest difference this time is that it wasn’t Nebraska, Ole Miss, Utah, BYU or USC on the opposite sideline.
The opponent was Toledo, a school that has an athletic budget about two-thirds the size of Fresno State’s. A school with a stadium built in 1936. And pays its head football coach nearly $1 million less than the Bulldogs pay theirs.
That’s the part that really grates. A program that once made a reputation by challenging the Power Five schools, and beating them once in a while, now can’t even hang with a Mid-American Conference team.
Which brings us to Saturday’s Garth Brooks-avoiding, 1:30 p.m. tilt against Tulsa, a program that used to be in Fresno State’s league literally (Western Athletic Conference from 1996 to 2004) and should be metaphorically.
37missed tackles by Fresno State, as compiled on film, in Saturday’s loss to Toledo
Yet the Golden Hurricane is a 14 1/2 -point favorite at Bulldog Stadium. (Tulsa went 6-7 last season, 2-10 the year before and 3-9 the year before that – which should tell you something about how the Bulldogs are regarded in the Vegas sportsbooks.)
So, yes. Here we are. It’s only the second day of autumn, the calendar still reads September, conference play doesn’t start until next week – and Fresno State and its fifth-year head coach are already out of wiggle room.
For a visual, picture 6-foot-3, 341-pound right guard Micah St. Andrew driving around in a Smart Car. Which he used to.
Let’s be blunt. Any hope the Bulldogs have of reaching a bowl takes flight immediately. Beat Tulsa, or come darned near close. Lacking that propellant (and the way the Mountain West Conference schedule unfurls with road games at UNLV and Nevada followed by No. 22 San Diego State on a Friday night), Fresno State could be playing out the string by mid-October.
“We’ll know what kind of team we are in the next three weeks,” Bartko said.
Way too early to say it’s going to be a losing season. I’m not going there right now.
When Bartko and I spoke in his office this week, he expressed disappointment in the team’s performance but also faith in DeRuyter and the coaching staff. He also stated, pretty unequivocally, that there would not be a coaching change made during the season.
“There’s lots of teams 1-2 right now that are going to end up having good seasons,” Bartko said. “We’ll make the right decision at the end of the year for the program.”
Besides satiating angry Bulldogs fans whose complaints fill my email inbox and Twitter mentions, I’m not sure a midseason coaching change accomplishes much. However, we’ve reached the point where general exasperation with the head coach over the program’s deterioration has boiled over – and it’s only Week 4.
We’ve reached the point where general exasperation with the head coach over the program’s deterioration has boiled over – and it’s only Week 4.
If DeRuyter’s impending dismissal continues as the No. 1 story line, the next two months will seem like an endless trudge through a 2-foot-deep tar pit.
But that’s the situation we’re stuck in. A coach on the hot seat running out of chances to explain and desperate for any sign of progress. Something, anything positive to begin a news conference, to hold up in the locker room, to take to your boss.
Was last week just a stumble, or a continuation? Do the Bulldogs still believe in themselves and their coaches? Those are questions I can’t answer. So I posed them to junior tight end Chad Olsen.
“We’re doing just fine,” Olsen said. “Everybody else seems to think the world’s going to end, but after what happened (against Toledo), we went in, watched the film, corrected everything we needed to and moved on to the next week.
“That’s been one of the biggest things this season, having that next-game, next-play mentality. You can’t dwell on the past.”
Olsen is right. You can’t dwell on the past. Still, the fact is: If the Bulldogs of the present play like the 2015 edition any longer, the future will begin with a new head coach.