Last season, the Fresno State Bulldogs scored just 22.3 points and averaged just 315 yards of offense per game, a drastic decline driven by injury, indecision and ineffectiveness that cost offensive coordinator Dave Schramm his job after four seasons. After a nearly month-long search, the program has found his replacement.
First reported by the Fresno Bee's Robert Kuwada over the weekend and confirmed by others today, including SI's Thayer Evans, Eric Kiesau is to be named the team's next OC, with an official announcement coming sometime after the conclusion of the College Football Playoff semifinals.
Currently one of eight football analysts for the Alabama Crimson Tide, Kiesau previously spent time as the offensive coordinator for Steve Sarkisian's Washington Huskies in 2012-13 and as the wide receivers coach at Kansas in 2014. He had a stint as the primary playcaller in Lawrence late in 2014, as well, after being promoted to co-coordinator in relief of John Reagan.
His best work as a coordinator may have been in 2013, when the Huskies averaged 37.9 points and a shade under 500 yards per game, two of the best such figures in program history. The next year, though, his Jayhawks nearly pulled off what would have been one of the biggest upsets in college football history against then-#3 TCU.
Though he possesses no direct links to the university, Kiesau boasts an impressive list of connections with some of the nation's most dynamic offensive minds. Aside from having worked with Sarkisian in Seattle, he currently works alongside Crimson Tide OC and former Bulldogs alum Lane Kiffin. He also previously worked under Dan Hawkins at Colorado -- alongside current Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich -- and Jeff Tedford, another Fresno State alum, at Cal.
Mountain West Connection: What did Washington's offensive attack look like under Kiesau and former head coach Steve Sarkisian? In retrospect, did Kiseau accomplish as much with UW's NFL-caliber talent (Bishop Sankey, Austin Sefarian-Jenkins) as you and your peers at the blog expected?
Kirk DeGrasse, site manager, UW Dawg Pound: The offense was evolving under Sark from the pro-style looks he ran at USC to incorporating more zone-read and spread looks. The biggest change occurred before the 2013 season, when the Huskies went to a full-time hurry-up/no-huddle approach. Their playbook didn't change significantly, but it did put greater emphasis on stretching the field east and west with bubble screens, fly-sweeps and rocket sweeps/passes.
That dedication to go all-in on the HUNH approach reportedly was spurred by Kiesau, and it resulted in one of the best seasons on the offensive side of the ball in Washington history. Yes, a lot of that credit goes to the talents of Sankey and Kasen Williams, but it was also a very good match for the rest of the personnel on hand (Keith Price, Kevin Smith, Jaydon Mickens). It helped mask the pass-blocking deficiencies of the offensive line, made good use of some excellent blockers at wide receiver -- Williams, Smith and Demore'ea Stringfellow -- and allowed dynamic players like Sankey and Mickens to get the ball in space.
MWC: One of the bigger indictments leveled against former Fresno State OC Dave Schramm was that he wasn't an effective communicator with the Bulldogs' young talent, especially at quarterback. What was Kiesau's relationship like with former Husky QBs Keith Price and Cyler Miles?
DeGrasse: Even though he played quarterback himself, Kiesau made his name prior to his stint at Washington with his work with receivers at Colorado and Cal. His first season here, 2012, he was the QB coach in addition to having the OC title and it was the worst season of Price's career.
That shouldn't all be put at the feet of Kiesau -- the pass-protection was terrible which had a big impact on Price's confidence -- but it's notable that, in the following season, Sark shifted Kiesau's position-coaching responsibilities to the receiver group and made Marques Tuiasosopo the QB coach. Price rebounded with a strong season and talked about feeling more comfortable with Tui as his coach.
It worked out well for the receivers, too - they all looked better under Kiesau's watch than they had under Jimmie Daugherty (who left to become the offensive coordinator at San Jose State). I don't know if you should read too much into that, as it may have just been a particular personality mismatch between Kiesau and Price, but it's worth mentioning.
MWC: Kiesau was hired to coach Kansas's wide receivers in 2014. How would you describe his performance in that regard, given that the Jayhawks' passing offense seemed to have bottomed out in 2013?
David, co-editor, Rock Chalk Talk: It's hard to judge Kiesau's precise effect on the receivers, namely because he inherited two very good ones who weren't there in 2013. The top receivers on the team in 2014 were Nick Harwell, a first team all-MAC receiver who'd transferred in from Miami of Ohio, and Nigel King, a last-minute graduate transfer from Maryland. Each only played one year for Kansas, and each spent time in NFL training camps this summer.
All I can safely conclude is that the receivers definitely played at a higher level in 2014 than we'd seen in the preceding years at Kansas, but it's tough to judge how much was coaching and how much was simply the better talent he had to work with.
MWC: When Kiesau was promoted to co-offensive coordinator in the last month of 2014, I noticed that KU's offense reached a level it hadn't previously managed in Big 12 play--most notably in a near-upset of TCU. Did the offensive game plans change at all? How did he make use of personnel that, to be honest, probably did not stack up to the rest of the conference?
David: The offense definitely took a step forward when Kiesau took over play-calling duties. After Weis was fired, the offense didn't initially improve the way anyone had hoped, which led to then-OC John Reagan losing his title and Kiesau taking the reins.
Kiesau immediately implemented a pseudo-air raid system that relied heavily on the short-to-mid range passing game. Kansas' offensive line was dreadful, but Kiesau did a solid job of scheming around that, relying on quick passes and misdirection, something Weis and Reagan seemed incapable of doing.
Kansas' offense had some nice performances after the switch, including the near-upset against TCU and a thrashing of Iowa State but, sadly, Kiesau wasn't a miracle worker. The Jayhawks couldn't get anything going against Oklahoma or Kansas State (the defense scored their only points against OU) in their last two games, and he was not retained by David Beaty in 2015.
MWC: Did Kiesau have any presence as a recruiter during his brief time in Lawrence?
David: He didn't bring in any notable recruits, but he was only in Lawrence for a year, and most of the commits the 2014 staff was able to lock down ended up going elsewhere after the coaching change. I'd have to give him a grade of "incomplete" where recruiting is concerned.
MWC: In perusing the Alabama athletics department directory, I noticed that eight different people have the title of "football analyst". What does that mean for Crimson Tide staff? Do you have any insight into whether Kiesau was responsible for any particular analysis or communications?
Erik Evans, editor-in-chief, Roll 'Bama Roll: Like most analysts on the Tide staff, Kiesau was largely tasked with identifying tendencies in opposing defenses. Kiesau's specialty primarily involved passing downs, and helping the scout team prepare for looks that opponents would provide.
MWC: For those Fresno State fans who didn't watch a lot of SEC action in 2015, can you describe the Crimson Tide offense? We're all familiar with Derrick Henry and former Bulldog alum Lane Kiffin, of course, but what did Kiesau and Kiffin and 'Bama want to do on an average game day?
Evans: I'd love to say that there was an "average day" in 2015. However, that is simply not the case, as the Tide have had to rely on passing to win at least three games (It's not all Henry.) Lane Kiffin wants to work the edges, however. And he loves getting players in space.
The offense since Kiffin arrived has largely revolved around the shotgun pro-set offense, with some increasing elements of hurry up. Alabama has rarely taken this few snaps under center. Given Kiesau's further experience with Weis, and under Sarkisian, I'd expect to see much the same as we've seen Alabama, with an increased emphasis on tempo, however.
MWC: Given how much is at stake for head coach Tim DeRuyter, do you think hiring Kiesau as the new OC is a good move for Fresno State?
DeGrasse: It's hard to fully evaluate Kiesau as an OC from his time at Washington, given the level of involvement Sark himself had. Sark called plays his entire time here, and almost certainly had a big hand in creating the playbook and assembling weekly game plans. Kiesau should get credit for pushing Sark to go to the HUNH in 2013 - it was a great match for the personnel, and the results were terrific.
The only time we got to see Kiesau as a play-caller was the 2013 Fight Hunger Bowl against BYU, after Sark had left to take the USC head coaching job, and the Huskies looked good against a strong Cougar defense. I'll say this - there was talk he was in consideration to return as WR coach this off-season after the firing of Brent Pease, and I was all for it.
David: I won't pretend to be an expert on Fresno State football, but it does appear that they have some returning receivers who put up nice numbers last year. Given what I saw from him as an OC for about half a season in Lawrence, I think it's a solid move. He took over an offense that simply couldn't move the football, and was able to get a few nice performances out of them.
The transition to his pass-heavy spread was pretty seamless, given that it took place mid-year, and it took advantage of KU's relative areas of strength, while working away from the deficiencies. Given how bad the team was, it's hard to heap too much praise on him, but I'd say the Bulldogs could certainly do worse.
Evans: He certainly has the CV at this point, with multiple stints as a coordinator/coach under three very good offensive minds; so, you're not dealing with someone particularly green. Overall, it's probably an excellent hire. Kiesau will run a balanced shotgun offense, with some elements of tempo, and that is a great historical fit for Fresno State.