I want to preface what I’m about to say with the notion that I hope I’m wrong about these machinations, which have been in the works, according to those in the know, for longer than you might think:
Jeff Tedford is a name I hear repeatedly. I’m aware there are some health issues there, but he still comes up.— Josh Webb (Twist) (@BulldogsTwist) October 11, 2015
Josh Webb, currently a contributor at SB Nation’s Turf Show Times, wrote this thirteen months ago, when he still covered the Fresno State beat and had myriad connections within the program. This was the first time I remember reading about the Jeff Tedford rumor. When I talked to him again some months later, he doubled down on the claim without any provocation and with the utmost confidence.
“Mark my words,” he said, “As soon as the money comes together to make this happen, DeRuyter is gone and Tedford is coaching the team next year.”
I had my doubts. Jeff Tedford, of all people? This was the best the program could do? I didn’t want to believe that he was the guy to which Fresno State would lock in, with the singlemindedness of a cat stalking a shadow everywhere it moves, and yet here we are.
It’s official, and the mothership would have you believe this is a good hire. It’s not. Considering the coach in question and his pricetag together, it’s completely stupid.
As a Fresno State alum and a Fresno State graduate student, I’ll be glad to be wrong but, now that the arguments for looking beyond Jeff Tedford have fallen on deaf ears (on blind eyes?), let’s put the hiring of Fresno State’s 18th head football coach in the proper context:
Hawaii bottomed out in 2015 and gambled with a low-cost hire in Nick Rolovich — his $400,000 salary in 2016 is the lowest in the Mountain West — who is a former Warriors quarterback, as well as a young and energetic offensive coordinator who happened to possess familiarity with the intricacies of what it takes to win on the island.
Fresno State has bottomed out in 2016 and gambled with the most expensive hire in the conference: Jeff Tedford, a familiar name and former Bulldogs quarterback. He was the Cal head coach and hasn’t led a team a college team since 2012 and the last time he was a head coach was for one year in the CFL with the BC Lions in 2015
UNLV, desperate to break out from its historical losing malaise, went way outside the box and agreed to a low-cost, high-reward arrangement with local high school coaching legend Tony Sanchez, surrounding him with veteran coaches and enabling him to shape the team from the ground up, beginning with a full 2016 recruiting class that rated as the third-best in the Mountain West, per 247 Sports.
Fresno State, desperate to break out from a losing malaise largely unfamiliar to the current fanbase, hired Jeff Tedford, a familiar retread despite the recent mixed history of such hires (ask Cincinnati fans, for instance, how they feel about Tommy Tuberville these days; he peaked in 2004, too), which is about as risk-averse a move as any program in Fresno State’s situation has made this decade, at a minimum.
And, again, they made him the highest-paid coach in the conference, for good measure.
Colorado State, looking to maintain the momentum gained from letting Jim McElwain depart for the job at Florida, after he’d restored the Rams to their winning ways, used his buyout windfall to hire a young and accomplished offensive coordinator, Mike Bobo, who’d previously developed a quarterback into the first overall pick in the NFL Draft, then developed the SEC’s current career leader in passing yards, and directed offenses that, while playing in the nation’s toughest conference, dipped below six yards per play just once from 2008 to 2014.
Fresno State, looking to regain the momentum gained from nearly two decades of sustained success, scraped $3 million together to buy out Tim DeRuyter’s fully guaranteed contract, then gave even more money to Jeff Tedford, who once developed a quarterback into the conversation for the NFL Draft’s first overall pick but had just one signal-caller who topped a 60% completion rate in his last seven years at Cal, and whose last five offenses there never cracked six yards per play.
Wyoming, an isolated destination where it’s difficult to win consistently, took a modest but reasonable gamble on a head coach, Craig Bohl, who’d established a three-time FCS champion at North Dakota State before slowly building a winner in Laramie.
Fresno State, theoretically capable of becoming one of the Group of 5’s premier programs in a talent-rich region, has taken a significant gamble on Jeff Tedford, the third-winningest coach in Cal history (read: winning percentage, not wins. I know he has the most wins in Cal football history and, considering he played more games per year than Andy Smith and Pappy Waldorf, that matters less; if it’s not clear, this is damning with faint praise).
Boise State, the Group of 5’s gold standard, rightfully ponied up to bring Bryan Harsin back to the blue turf, after he’d already led the Broncos to two Fiesta Bowl wins as the team’s young offensive coordinator and apprenticed as a head coach in the Sun Belt Conference... where he won a title at Arkansas State in his only year in charge.
Fresno State, a respected but faltering national brand within the Group of 5, wrongfully ponied up for Jeff Tedford, who never led the Golden Bears to the Rose Bowl, won at least a share of the conference title just one time — as many times during his tenure, mind you, as coaching luminaries Mike Price and Dennis Erickson — and finished in the Pac-10/12’s top three just three times in eleven years.
For a university whose brand claims students and faculty and auxiliary services should strive to #BeBold, this hire is about as tepid and dumb as it gets. Tedford’s been a Washington Huskies offensive analyst for four months, been a non-factor in the college game for four years before that, and the move is give him Brian Kelly money? Seriously? P.J. Fleck is making half as much leading a nationally ranked squad at Western Michigan, and so are Blake Anderson and Jeff Brohm and Rod Carey and Doc Holliday and Rocky Long, all of whom have won a conference title in the past two seasons.
At least Steve Fairchild was a young hire, as were Gary Crowton and Vic Koenning and Mike Locksley. They weren’t anywhere near as expensive, either, just like Chuck Long and Tom Craft and Norm Chow and John Robinson, as well. I might have been able to accept a contract which paid Tedford $1 million per year. At $1.6 million, Fresno State just made an egregious overpay.
And it pains me to see nearly everyone in the local media and nearly everyone in the fanbase eat this move up. It doesn’t matter to me who’s pulling the strings these days — the boosters, Jim Bartko, Dr. Joseph Castro, whomever — if you’ve paid any attention to the college football landscape in the last five years, the idea that this program, which has been closer to that pivotal big money breakthrough more times than any team that never actually broke through, needs a steward like Tedford on the road back to respectability is ridiculous.
Respectability is for UNLV, for San Jose State, not for Fresno State. We aim higher or, at least, we used to aim higher. Instead, we accepted a lazy, telegraphed hiring process and a mediocre selection at the most critical juncture in the program’s history.
This is a community that, if we’re not kidding ourselves, will never be satisfied without a Boise-type winner. Fresno State fans believe in all-or-nothing, myself included, anyone who suggests otherwise is kidding themselves, and hiring Jeff Tedford guarantees the Bulldogs don’t get anywhere close to that ceiling in the next four years. If we win eight games in the revamped Bulldog Stadium four years from now, are we really going to pretend that’s okay, that attendance didn’t go down the last time the Bulldogs had to claw their way out of a much more forgiving hole, from 2006 to 2010?
And it’s a shame because other teams across the country have shown that quick turnarounds are not an impossible task if programs take the right kind of chance. That will be the greatest disappointment of all: Fresno State paid a pretty penny to settle in lieu of swinging for the fences.