From Fresno to Bakersfield to even outside of the Central Valley, inquiring minds want to know who will take over at Fresno State and who will save this suddenly stumbling program.
Barkboard colleague Matt Kenerly put out his list of choices, so I figured I can put my own thoughts down and see what kind of reaction we would get.
I’ll set mine up differently by weighing in the pros and cons of each name that has been linked to the Bulldogs’ opening, including tossing in some surprise names. The reason? When the job opened back in 2011, many who followed Fresno State thought the job was Mike Martz’s or Jim McElwain’s to lose, but it wound up going to a surprise name: Tim DeRuyter.
Here’s my take by category: Former head coaches, fast-rising assistants and FS alums.
Former Head Coaches
The pros: Well let’s see here: He’s a former Fresno State quarterback, coached at Fresno State and he took a sorry Cal program that was 1-10 in 2001 and took it to nine bowl games in his 11 years at the helm before getting canned in 2012 (finished 3-9 that year). He’s also responsible for luring NFL stars Aaron Rodgers, Marshawn Lynch, DeSean Jackson, Lorenzo Alexander, C.J. Anderson and Keenan Allen to Berkeley. There was a time when Cal football challenged USC for Pac-12 supremacy during the Trojans’ national title runs under Pete Carroll. Guess who was the coach on the Cal sidelines? Jeff Tedford.
The cons: At a place that preaches academic integrity like a gospel hymn on Sunday morning, Cal’s Academic Progress Rate (APR) dipped during Tedford’s tenure with the Golden Bears, giving him a black eye on his resume. Also, Tedford never won an outright conference title during his tenure at Cal nor got the Bears to the Rose Bowl.
The chances: Tedford is the popular choice among the Red Wave faithful, and they point at his success with building Cal and his Fresno State ties as the reason. While Tedford does have a solid resume that includes an 82-57 mark in Berkeley, there will be questions about his APR strategy and his ability to produce conference titles which could sway FS in another direction. He’s also nearing 55 years of age; which raises more questions of whether he can be a long-term fix. Still, much to the chagrin of some people, it’ll be hard for FS to ignore Tedford.
Odds of landing at FS: Extremely high
The pros: After disastrous results at Tennessee and USC, Kiffin has started to rehabilitate himself in Tuscaloosa…by running a high-powered Alabama offense that confuses defenses and puts lots of points on the board. Additionally, he’s been praised for his recruiting efforts at different stops. If the Crimson Tide win another national title, it’ll be hard for ‘Bama to keep Kiffin.
The cons: His results and controversies at UT and USC give him the kind of baggage that will get most college athletic directors to turn away. He’ll have to convince an athletic department that he can run a clean slate. Plus, FS will have a hard time trying to match Kiffin’s current $1.4 million salary that he collects at ‘Bama or persuade him to take something less.
The chances: Kiffin is a name I don’t want to hear associated with the FS opening. I would rather hear Tedford’s name than Kiffin. The 41-year-old may still be youthful and energetic, but he’s proven to be expensive and problematic. Besides, he’s either the coach-in-waiting in Tuscaloosa or he’s gearing up for another Power Five gig.
Odds of landing at FS: Extremely low
The pros: He’s helping rebuild a once moribund football program in Boulder and turning Colorado into a top 25 program again as Mike McIntyre’s right hand man. Leavitt, the former head man at South Florida, has control of the Buffalo defense. And the results are? The Buffs are surrendering just 3.8 yards per carry on the ground and holding opposing quarterbacks to a 50.8 completion percentage. While at USF, he built an unknown Bulls program into the nation’s No. 2 ranked team at one point during the 2007 season. His last five seasons at USF saw the Bulls become bowl eligible while in the shadow of Sunshine State kingpins Florida State, Miami and Florida.
The cons: He’s unfortunately known for physically assaulting a player in 2009, leading to his dismissal at USF. His ability to have a strong and stable relationship with his players will come into question because of that incident. He’s also nearing 60, which means he might only have five years left in him. Lastly, he has no previous ties to the Central Valley or the west coast.
The chances: Leavitt is an intriguing name and one that Kenerly mentioned in his feature piece. I do like the idea of him getting some consideration for the open FS job judging by his current results at CU, but he’s not my first option.
The odds: Low
The pros: He’s won at Ball State, Michigan and he’s no stranger to the west coast; having turned a lackluster San Diego State program into a nine-win team in his second season before leaving for Ann Arbor.
The cons: He was forced out at Michigan for underachieving teams after a promising 11-2 start during his first season. And he’s currently coaching the Oregon defense, a unit that recently surrendered 70 and 52 points in losses to Washington and Cal, respectively.
The chances: Hoke has ties to the MWC, but not much. The fact that his Oregon defenses are struggling makes him unattractive to a school that had to replace its own defensive minded head coach.
The odds: Extremely low
The surprise name: Karl Dorrell
The pros: He’s an NFL and Power Five guy, plus he’s a former head coach who went a respectable 35-27 at UCLA. His area of expertise is offense, which bodes well for Fresno State because the top building blocks for the ‘Dogs are on that side of the ball.
The cons: The 52-year-old Dorrell hasn’t been a head coach in nearly 10 years. Thus, during his time in Westwood, his Bruin teams fell into a habit of either losing or getting embarrassed by unranked teams.
The chances: While Dorrell is a west coast guy (he grew up in Alameda) and finished above .500 in his head coaching career, he only produced one 10-win season with the Bruins. There’s also no telling if the current wide receivers coach of the New York Jets is interested in being a head coach again.
The odds: Low
The pros: He’s coaching Heisman Trophy favorite Lamar Jackson as an offensive assistant at Louisville. Additionally, he was responsible for recruiting NFL stars Kevin White, Tavon Austin and Bruce Irvin to West Virginia. His recruiting efforts earned him the 2010 Big East Recruiter of the Year nod by ESPN.
The cons: He not only has zero ties to the Valley or west region, but his recruiting territories have always been in Georgia and Florida. Sounds like FS Athletic Director Jim Bartko wants someone who can heavily recruit the Golden State.
The chances: Galloway will soon be a head coach, but he’s looking more appealing for a P5 team and not FS.
The odds: Extremely low
The pros: He’s young (31 years of age), he’s coached a Heisman winner (Johnny Manziel) and helped turn Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden and Geno Smith into NFL quarterbacks.
The cons: While the aforementioned quarterbacks were former Spavital pupils, none have blossomed into true NFL signal-callers. He hasn’t been an offensive coordinator for very long either.
The chances: Spavital, to me, needs at least two more years as an OC to fully cement his case as a future head coach.
The odds: Low
The pros: As Jim Harbaugh’s top offensive deputy, Drevno’s unit is averaging 483 yards per game and scoring 48.7 points per contest. He’s spent most of his time out west too, with previous stints at UNLV, San Jose State, Idaho, the University of San Diego, Stanford, the San Francisco 49ers and USC; all in that order.
The cons: Drevno hasn’t been an offensive coordinator for very long and has spent most of his time as a position coach. And everywhere Harbaugh has gone, Drevno has followed, which signifies that he could be too close to Harbaugh for him to consider leaving.
The chances: Drevno is an intriguing name in the CFB world, but like Galloway and Spavital, he might also be gearing for a P5 job soon. The success of former Harbaugh assistant D.J. Durkin at Maryland (currently 5-2, pulled a 28-17 upset of Michigan State on Oct. 22) already makes Drevno a hot commodity for a CFB team in search of a head coach, including P5 ones. He’s worth a look, though, if you’re Fresno State.
The odds: High
The pros: He’s had coaching stops at Alabama, Washington and he’s at Florida. Before trekking to the P5 realm, guess where he got his first offensive coordinator job at? Fresno State.
The cons: Not only is his Gator offense stagnant right now, but his lone season at FS was an underachieving one…one that saw the Bulldogs finish 7-6 after being ranked in the Top 25 to start the year. His unit scored 24 points or less in five games that season.
The chances: The former NFL backup quarterback Nussmeier has done well enough to land at different P5 schools. But is he head coach material considering how his offenses have gone at Florida and FS?
The odds: Low
The surprise name: Jeff Horton
The pros: Not only has he turned San Diego State’s Donnell Pumphrey into a record-breaking running back and dark horse Heisman finalist, but has coached in the NFL and the Big 10. He’s helped install a hard-nosed running element into the MWC favorite SDSU.
The cons: Has a dismal 22-51 record as a head coach, including his 0-11 showing in his final year at UNLV in 1998.
The chances: While his age (59) might raise questions about how much more he has in the tank, Horton could be a surprise choice judging by how he’s helped bring a physical, downhill running element to the defending MWC champion Aztecs.
The odds: Neutral
Fresno State Alums
The pros: Former Bulldog player and assistant who has coaching experience in the Pac-12 and NFL. Currently the Jacksonville Jaguars running backs coach.
The cons: He hasn’t had much coordinator experience.
The chances: As a former recruiting coordinator for Fresno State, Skipper was largely responsible for helping lure in Trent Dilfer, Michael Pittman and Charlie Jones. His ties to FS and past recruiting history are major pluses.
The odds: Very high
The pros: Well-respected in the Central Valley for being a star Bulldog linebacker and recruiting guru. Currently helping pilfer talent for Florida. Also, he hit the 559 and 661 hard on the recruiting trail as an assistant at Colorado State.
The cons: Like his older brother, Skipper hasn’t had much coordinator experience. Once served as the interim defensive coordinator during FS’s 4-9 season in 2011.
The chances: Between the two Skippers, Kelly has the best chance of landing the open FS head coaching job. But seeing Tim return to Bulldog Lane will provide a huge draw for the Red Wave.
The odds: High
The pros: He’s another former Bulldog player who has carved out quite a resume as a recruiter for a rising program like UNLV, especially with landing city of Fresno star running back Charles Williams and helping get UNLV to field a top five recruiting class in the MWC during this past spring.
The cons: He’s been no more than a position coach and his one year of running a defense saw his Rebels unit give up over 207 yards per rush in 2012.
The chances: Williams’ familiarity with the 559 and 661 should score some points for the ‘Dogs. His stock will only rise if UNLV closes out the year with a bowl game.
The odds: Low
The pros: Was a successful player at Fresno State and has built a resume that features stops at the University of Miami and the Oakland Raiders.
The cons: He’s been no more than a defensive line coach.
The chances: I’ve had sources tell me in the past that Franklin would consider making a run at the FS head coaching job if it ever opened. While he may have zero experience as a coordinator, his FS background and his history of producing defenders still makes him too good to pass up.
The odds: High
The surprise name: Steve Mooshagian
The pros: Has an extensive and successful background in the following: Recruiting, coaching at higher levels and producing NFL stars in Lorenzo Neal, Trent Dilfer, Ron Cox plus helped coach Pro Bowl receivers Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmenzadeh while with the Cincinnati Bengals.
The cons: He’s been away from the FBS level for quite a while and making the jump from junior college to the FBS ranks is considered a major stretch.
The chances: Mooshagian has built a powerhouse in the JUCO world at Ventura College. Even though he’s been at VC for seven years, his previous stops in the NFL and FBS/FCS ranks makes him an intriguing name for his college alma mater.
The odds: High
My picks? I wouldn’t mind seeing a surprise like Mooshagian come back to Fresno. I also like Drevno’s resume. But right now, it’s a toss-up between Tedford and Kelly Skipper for me, with the former Bulldog quarterback getting the edge by virtue of his past success with rebuilding Cal.
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