The dirty little secret about a Fresno State football magic bullet


I bumped into a well-known developer at Fresno City Hall today. Our first topic of conversation: Sunday’s firing of Fresno State football coach Tim DeRuyter, of course.


The developer recalled his founding of a community bank many years ago. Five years after the founding, he said, the bank needed a new president to handle day-to-day operations.

But the search proved frustrating. No candidate rose to the top. The bank’s board couldn’t find the right person.

The developer went to a friend, an expert in the California banking industry.

“Your problem,” the expert said, “is there are 850 different banks in the state.”

The developer paused – he knows how to tell a dramatic story.

“And there are only 200 good bankers.”

Another pause.

“We lost our coach on Sunday,” the developer said.

His silence and raised eyebrows finished the thought: Excellence at the top is always in short supply.

I’ve known the developer for years. He’s a true Red Waver. Still, I was cautious in my response. Not because I disagreed with his essential point. He hit the nail on the head – perhaps an unrealistic Fresno State jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

But the proof is out there. I don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to the inner workings of Fresno State athletics. I’m the guy who wrote last week predicting Bulldogs Athletic Director Jim Bartko wouldn’t make a decision on DeRuyter’s future until after the 2018 season, when the coach’s contract was done.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I’ve read a lot over the last 48 hours about DeRuyter’s firing. I must admit I still don’t know what’s going on. Someone please tell me: How does getting rid of a coach owed $3.1 million in salary through the 2018 season help Fresno State athletics in general and Bulldogs football in particular?

One answer is DeRuyter’s record. The Bulldogs at 1-7 so far are guaranteed to have a losing record this year. That’s three in a row for DeRuyter. He’s paid to perform. Time to try someone new.

But, to borrow the theme of the developer’s story, will Fresno State football ever be in a position to have a coach who wins on the scale demanded by the fans who wanted DeRutyer’s head?

Let’s take a quick look at Fresno State football for the past 50 years. That’s the 1967 season (which seems like yesterday to me) through last Saturday’s game at Utah State.

And let’s split that half-century of memories into two 25-year blocks. The first block is 1967 through 1991. The second block is 1992 up to Oct. 22, 2016.

Fifty years is a long time. That span should give us a good sense of where Fresno State stands in the world of big-time college football.

The Bulldogs’ overall record in that first 25-year block was 165-114-3, for a .591 winning percentage (I tossed out the ties and used the Bulldogs’ record on the field in 1976). The Bulldogs had losing records in nine of the 25 seasons.

Now, a .591 winning percentage isn’t bad. But keep in mind that Fresno State during much of this time had a modest reputation on the national scene. The Bulldogs played home games at Ratclifffe Stadium for 14 of the 25 seasons. The Bulldogs’ conference in 1967 was the California Collegiate Athletic Association. From there, the program advanced to the Pacific Coast Athletic Association and then the Big West Conference.

Fresno State moved to Bulldog Stadium in November 1980. The Bulldogs were 88-26-2 from 1982 through 1991. Keep in mind that Fresno State during that decade played in a conference that was falling apart. University of the Pacific eventually dropped football. So did Long Beach State and Fullerton State. The latter two programs were so cash-strapped that for a spell they agreed to play their scheduled home games against Fresno State in Bulldog Stadium.

The Fresno State football program will never again have a record-boosting situation like the one it enjoyed from 1982 through 1991. That means a Bulldogs head coach will never again get such a gift.

The Bulldogs’ overall record in the second 25-year block is 173-139-1, for a winning percentage of .554 (without the tie). The Bulldogs had losing records in nine of the 25 seasons.

Our second 25-year block begins with the 1992 season. That was Fresno State’s first year in the Western Athletic Conference. This was the big time. The WAC at that time included Brigham Young and Utah. WAC teams in 1992 won four of five bowl games, including Fresno State’s 24-7 victory over USC in the Freedom Bowl.

Now, a .554 winning percentage isn’t bad. But it’s hardly the stuff of legend.

And keep in mind that a fair number of those 173 victories were against Division II schools and the likes of Idaho, New Mexico State and San Jose State. Worthy opponents, to be sure, but, again, not the stuff of legend.

What conclusion are we to draw from those 50 years? How about this: Fresno State is an average to pretty good football school at the lower end of the Division I scale, and most likely will always reside in that neighborhood.

I’m not being critical. I’m a Fresno State graduate. My three children are Fresno State graduates. I am a football season ticket buyer.

But there’s no escaping life’s record. And the record says Fresno State in the complex industry that is Division I college football in the 21st century is fortunate to be a little above average as long it plays a fair number of schools each season of below average skill.

When it comes to intercollegiate athletics, I’m not one to put much stock in Calvinist predestination. But the past half-century of Fresno State football certainly suggests that Tim DeRuyter with his 30-30 record in a stint barely longer than JR Boone’s simply fulfilled a destiny dictated by that unbeatable mathematical force called “regression to the mean.”

Chances are Athletic Director Bartko in 2016 will face the same challenge as that developer/bank chairman back in the 20th century: Miracle-working chief executives are in short supply.

The developer/bank chairman, though, didn’t start $3.1 million in the hole.

  1. It’s all about money. Losing team, empty seats. Even the news this morning said there were PLENTY of seats available for the next game. I’m glad I hate football.

  2. I remember coming to Fresno State in 1980 and even during the down years of Coach Sweeney and Coach Hill, the stadium was never this empty. And I think the reason is we saw no improvement in the offense from week to week, and especially at the QB position. It seemed pretty stubborn to not make a switch for at least one game.

    Were the other QB’s so bad that you couldn’t take a chance on one of them? And what does it say when you go through five over two years, and cant develop one of them into a competent player? Brian Burrell was the last decent one.

    Fans can tolerate losing, but not being non-competitive. That’s where we have been for the last two years. Should have known back when we got destroyed in the bow games.

  3. Fresno State build great football teams with players who could not qualify academically to the top tier universities. The players were once Prop 48 or NCAA academic non-qualifiers. They did not participate in their sport as freshmen, thus losing a year of eligibility, which they got back if they met 75 percent of their graduation requirements after their junior year. Well-known Prop 48 athletes were guys like Lorenzo Neal, Ron Rivers, and basketball player Terrence Roberson. The old WAC hated that, which contributed to the departure of BYU, Utah, and other universities to form the Mountain West Conference. Fresno State agreed to stop the practice, even though they was nothing illegal or inethical in bringing athletes with marginal academic records. Many Prop 48 athletes at Fresno State earned their fourth year of eligibility. Now and then, extremely talented recruits like Derek and David Carr, or unknowns like Logan Mankins, become Bulldogs, but sustaining a level of talent necessary to remain bowl eligible with a winning record every year is a daunting task.

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