It takes 3 minutes and 30 seconds for a college football team to climb the Bulldog Stadium ramp, walk across the parking lot and into the home locker room.
Jeff Tedford checked.
Tedford is the 20th head coach in Fresno State history, if your count includes 1921 “founding coach” Emory Ratcliffe and 2016 interim coach Eric Kiesau. (Both of these gentlemen, coincidentally, are new additions to the football media guide.)
I suspect Tedford is the first to time the start-of-halftime walk. Which the Bulldogs players and coaches did as part of their preparations for Saturday night’s season-opener against Incarnate Word.
“I never would’ve thought how long it took us to actually get up there,” sophomore safety Juju Hughes said with a smile. “That’s another one of those detailed things about Coach. He’s detailed about every little thing.”
There’s a reason Tedford timed the walk. This season, college football is paying stricter attention to the 20-minute halftime limit. Referees have been instructed to start the clock as soon as the first half ends.
Halftime is critical for player recuperation and for coaches to confer amongst themselves before meeting with their position groups to make in-game adjustments. If it takes 3:30 to walk out the stadium to the locker room and, presumably, another 3:30 to return, that leaves 13 precious minutes for the important things.
It’s a safe bet Tedford has a detailed plan for how to best use those 13 minutes.
Now, when it comes to deciding the outcome of a football game, the process of halftime ranks well below offense, defense, special teams, turnovers, penalties and scouting in terms of importance. Heck, it probably ranks below the pregame meal.
But it’s still part of the stew, and a great illustration of how this program has been reshaped.
If you want to get a sense of how Fresno State football will be different under Tedford, starting in Year 1, just follow the fine points.
Just the vibe around the team is unprecedented compared to last year. You can tell the guys have a lot of respect for the coaches, they have trust in what’s going on.
senior tight end Kyle Hendrickson
The Bulldogs now have someone in charge who leaves no detail unturned.
Which is a massive change from the way things operated in the recent past.
“Everything is planned out with precision,” senior receiver Da’Mari Scott said. “We practice every situation, and not just the ones during the game. We practice going out there, too.”
Restoring the pride and tradition of Fresno State football.
Reemphasizing California and local recruiting.
Painting the Valley red – again.
These have been the main talking points about Tedford’s return to his alma mater. They’re the kinds of phrases that rally the faithful, that sell tickets, that get stenciled onto T-shirts.
But when the ball leaves the tee, those words are little more than warm fuzzies. Slogans don’t win football games. There has to be substance with the sizzle.
Being the most prepared team every Saturday, having a thorough grasp of the details – these will be the Bulldogs’ building blocks under Tedford. This is how 1-11 becomes 4-8 (my prediction for Fresno State’s record) in Year 1 and a bowl berth in Year 2.
Interestingly, that mindset didn’t start on the practice field. It began in the classroom. Soon after he was hired, one of Tedford’s first steps was to overhaul the team’s academic program.
Regular attendance checks were implemented, along with thrice-a-week meetings between player, position coach and academic adviser. Each player was handed a day planner and told to fill in his syllabus and exam schedule for each course.
Some bristled, at least initially, at the increased oversight.
“At first it was kind of like a hassle, somebody always checking you, this and that,” Hughes said. “Aren’t we college students? Do we really need this?”
In short, yes. Thanks to a new emphasis on the details, Hughes said his GPA climbed from a 2.6 to a 3.0 during spring semester. Collectively, the team posted a 2.83 GPA, up from 2.74 in spring 2016.
“They’re real precise on you. They’re checking you. They’re keeping you on every little assignment,” Hughes said. “There’s not an assignment that’s going to just slide by that you can forget about, because they’re going to check with you every day. ‘You know you’ve got this coming up.’ You know it’s coming before it comes.”
You know it’s coming before it comes. Be ahead of the game in the classroom, and on Saturdays in the fall.
The emphasis on academics spawned something else: Players saw their coaches taking sincere interest in their lives off the field, which led to a closeness and a sense of family that didn’t previously exist.
Senior tackle David Patterson said Tedford “really cares, not just about the results on the field but whether we’re doing good in school and whether everything is good with your family and your relationships.
“He cares about our future, what we’re going to do after football. I’ve never had any coach like that in my experience here.”
Senior center and team captain Aaron Mitchell added, “It feels like the coaches kind of care a little bit more. You aren’t just another guy out here playing football, you know?”
They care enough to sweat the small stuff.
Much attention will be paid to Tedford’s first walk down the stadium ramp as Fresno State coach.
It will be an emotional moment for the former Bulldogs quarterback, as he himself admitted. Just don’t overlook the walk back up the ramp at halftime. Tedford certainly isn’t.