To be honest, I was a little surprised.
Not so much that Fresno State fired coach Tim DeRuyter. Think we could all see that coming. More, it was the timing. DeRuyter was let go with four games remaining on the schedule, hours after the Bulldogs flew home from Saturday’s 38-20 loss at Utah State, and before a short week leading to a Friday night game.
That only speaks to the urgency of the situation. Athletic director Jim Bartko could not afford, both figuratively and literally, to wait until the bye week or the end of the season.
The guillotine had to drop now.
“Waiting another week or two weeks doesn’t do anyone any good,” Bartko said during Sunday’s press conference at the North Gym.
Bartko insisted that Fresno State’s dismal 1-7 record, on the heels of last year’s 3-9, has not damaged fundraising efforts toward a new-and-improved Bulldog Stadium. I’ll take Bartko’s word on this. But there’s no way you can convince me the campaign wouldn’t be going better if the Bulldogs were. Moreover, I’ve heard numerous stories about key donors withholding university support (toward areas other than the stadium) until a change was made.
Now it has.
Waiting another week or two doesn’t do anybody any good.
Fresno State AD Jim Bartko
Lackluster ticket sales and the lifeless atmosphere at home games were certainly another factor. With three home dates left, Bartko is obviously hoping for an attendance bump. I wouldn’t count on that, though if everyone who emailed, tweeted or stopped me at the grocery store these last several months to express their displeasure with DeRuyter bought tickets for the remaining games, Fresno State would sell out Michigan Stadium (aka The Big House).
“Fan support doesn’t make this decision, but we need to fill that stadium, win or lose,” Bartko said. “Nebraska was 5-7 last year, and they sold out every game.”
I was also a little surprised that offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau was elevated to interim head coach rather than defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, who carries the “associate head coach” title.
But perhaps I shouldn’t have been. My impression this whole time has been that Kiesau was more Bartko’s hire than DeRuyter’s, while Ward and DeRuyter had a long-standing relationship. (Ward’s pre-existing contract with South Carolina, which is paying him most of his 2016 salary, certainly didn’t hurt.)
30-30 Tim DeRuyter’s career record over four-plus seasons
The other factor here is Kiesau’s close association with Jeff Tedford, the former Bulldogs quarterback and offensive coordinator who is a leading candidate to become the next coach. Before the season, when I asked Kiesau about his coaching influences, Tedford’s name was the first out of his mouth.
Bartko said Sunday that he and Tedford have not spoken in quite a while, which I have no reason to doubt. Nonetheless, I believe Tedford is Bartko’s No. 1 choice to replace DeRuyter. But there is no agreement in place, no matter what you hear or read elsewhere.
Following Saturday night’s loss, I interviewed DeRuyter for a column made completely irrelevant by Sunday’s announcement. Everything seemed like business as usual. I don’t think DeRuyter had any inkling it would be his last interview as Fresno State coach.
“There are too many things right now that we’re not doing well enough to win a football game on the road,” he said.
There are too many things right now that we’re not doing well enough to win a football game on the road.
Tim DeRuyter, in his last interview as Bulldogs coach
As far as epitaphs go, that’s as good as any.
History will not be kind to DeRuyter’s four-plus seasons. Everyone reading this already knows the synopsis: He had tremendous success with the players he inherited from Pat Hill (20-6, two Mountain West Conference titles). But when it came to recruiting and developing his own, those efforts fell woefully short (10-24 over the last three seasons).
How woeful? The Bulldogs are at least a year away from being competitive, especially considering next year’s brutal schedule. As I reported last month, two NFL scouts told me Fresno State was the least-talented team in the MW.
Because I’ve been writing about DeRuyter’s shaky job status for quite some time and been plain-spoken about the team’s inadequacies, you might think I’m pleased he’s out the door.
DeRuyter was just in over his head, and the results speak for themselves.
That couldn’t be farther from the truth. DeRuyter is a quality guy who provided good media access and always answered my questions, no matter how difficult. I’ve met several of his family members. They’re quality people, too. He was just in over his head, and the results speak for themselves. How someone with an excellent reputation as a defensive coach could field teams with such lousy defenses would’ve made a great episode of “Unsolved Mysteries.”
There are two ways the rest of the season can go: Either the Bulldogs give up, completely stop trying and finish 1-11, or a new coach and a new voice bind everyone together and perhaps they win a game or two.
It’s clear, however, that things could not continue on their current path. Which is why this move had to be made now.