In the spring of 2017, Paul Creighton, then the tight ends coach at UC Davis, drove down to Fresno to hang out around Fresno State’s spring practice for a few days.
Creighton is good friends with former Bulldog assistant Bert Watts, who was the linebackers coach at the time. Watts invited him down here, and he had the opportunity to meet then offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer and then offensive line coach Ryan Grubb.
Three years later – with DeBoer taking over as head coach and Grubb entering his second season as offensive coordinator – Creighton joins the Bulldogs as the tight ends coach.
Creighton spent six years at UC Davis, all of them coaching the tight ends. For the first half of his tenure he also was the coaching coordinator, and for the latter half he also coached special teams.
With previous coaching experience at Colorado, Auburn and Colorado State University-Pueblo, he never had the chance to coach in California and recruit the Golden State.
“It was an interesting job because I really had never recruited the state of California before I got there, so I kind of got a baptism by fire of recruiting the state,” said Creighton in a teleconference with reporters Thursday. “And California’s arguably the most talent-rich state in the country, if not the top three for sure of high school football.”
That familiarity he gained of the Central Valley over the past six year will lend itself to Creighton’s Fresno State career.
“Being at Davis for six years, I got a chance to really watch the Fresno State program,” Creighton said. “And you think about this league, the Mountain West Conference, and then you think about [the] location of those programs, and all of a sudden it becomes pretty clear that Fresno is located in one of the best locations for local talent. You think about the amount of good high school football players within a 70 mile radius of campus – I’d put us up against anybody definitely on the west coast with an advantage in that aspect.”
Creighton’s connection to DeBoer and his staff didn’t stem solely from the few days around the program in 2017. When he was playing tight end for Colorado from 2002-2006, current Fresno State defensive coordinator William Inge was the defensive line coach during his junior season.
He kept a relationship with Inge over the years, and when DeBoer needed a tight ends coach to fill out his staff, Inge brought Creighton into the mix, and DeBoer made the hire.
For Creighton, Fresno State is the right fit for him and his development as a coach. When DeBoer and Grubb were at Eastern Michigan several years ago, Creighton saw what they were doing offensively and would study film from their games.
“Some of the stuff that they did – especially in the run game – I was really fired up about the way they incorporated the quarterback run and some of the gap schemes stuff that they did,” Creighton said. “Some of the nuances of it were really unique and different from what a lot of other programs were doing.”
One thing that appealed to Creighton about DeBoer’s offense and what the Bulldogs ran under former head coach Jeff Tedford for the last three seasons is how tight ends are utilized. Some teams see the position as an extension of the offensive line, others see it as another inside receiver.
Fresno State, Creighton said, expects tight ends to be able to be physical in the run game, perform as a legitimate receiver and excel in pass protection.
“So when you put a tight end out on the field, all of a sudden that guy has three different things that he’s capable of doing, and that’s what kind of makes the tight end position unique,” Creighton said. “That’s what makes it harder for defenses to defend against.
“When you start putting tight ends on the field, all of a sudden you’re having to account for that guy in three potential different areas of what he could be doing from an assignment standpoint. That’s really what makes the tight end position unique. Next to the quarterback, it’s probably the most cognitively demanding position on the field.”
The Bulldogs have six tight ends on the roster with one more on the way for fall camp. Out of those seven players, Creighton has a clean slate to work with. Jared Rice and Cam Sutton – the previous leaders at the position – are graduating.
“I walked into an interesting room, because although the tight ends have played huge roles in the offense, the two guys that played the most in this position graduated,” Creighton said. “Jared and Cam are both gone, and they were exceptional football players. But what it kind of created is, I really have six guys in the room right now that all have the expectation of being contributors next fall. So that really creates a pretty fun environment to step into, because all the guys are extremely hungry to learn.”
Photo: UC Davis Athletics