Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter wasn’t the first choice for Bulldog fans when he was hired a couple years ago. Similar to how many college searches go, many fans weren’t even really aware of who he was prior to his arrival in the Valley. But fans didn’t really have to wait too long to find out what DeRuyter was all about, going 9-4 in his first year and grabbing a share of the Mountain West Conference title. One year later, his Bulldogs won that title outright and enjoyed their first 11-win season since 2001.
DeRuyter hasn’t just flipped the balance of power within the conference, he’s had the national media talking about at least one of their players every year since he’s been the head coach. This year is no different with Derron Smith leading the charge. The Bulldogs have some high expectations and DeRuyter knew that when he took this job. From the day he took this job, DeRuyter said he had big plans for the Bulldogs
”I wanted to establish a program that’s able to compete for championships, year in, year out,” DeRuyter said. “I knew from my experience how I wanted the defense to look. I knew, big picture-wise, what I wanted the offense to look like. I wanted to be a fast, up tempo, spread offense. Thought that was one of the most difficult attacks to try to defend and it was something I thought we could recruit to here. To be able to establish a three-four defense that’s multiple, that’s attacking, and have that type of offense. As I looked at this thing, that’s what I wanted to do. Even bigger picture, I wanted to recruit players that number one, understood that the number one goal is to graduate. Number two, they have to be great citizens in the community, because they reflect not just our football program, but our school. Here in the Valley, we’re the Valley’s team. I want out guys to understand and appreciate that. That’s why we do things like have our youth experience.”
One of the biggest reasons that DeRuyter has been successful has been the extremely low turnover on their staff. Fresno State made an even larger commitment to DeRuyter this past offseason when they inked him to a large extension. The Bulldogs knew the sharks were circling around DeRuyter’s name and they locked him up for the foreseeable future, something DeRuyter sees as a sign of Fresno State’s commitment to winning.
”It’s really gratifying that our administration has seen what we’ve done and wants to sustain it,” DeRuyter said. “They realize that the quickest way successful programs fall apart is either discipline lacking on the team or coaches leaving. So, having that continuity is key. I’m really appreciative of our administration making some commitments to our football program and doing some things to elevate our program through marketing. Development of our players, training-wise, we’re doing some things in the weight room and we’ve got a really good ground swell in this community of people wanting to get back involved with Bulldog football. It all goes hand in hand. We can’t just do it in the athletic department. We need the community and they’re getting on board.”
One of the building blocks of this Fresno State program has been the family atmosphere provided by the staff. DeRuyter brought that with him from Texas A&M and it’s something that he’s integrated into the Bulldog community, as well. But before you can sell your product to the community, you have to get the players onboard, and that’s an area where this staff has excelled beyond belief. This wasn’t an overnight process for DeRuyter, though. This is something he’s been gathering at every stop he’s made in his career.
To put into perspective just how long DeRuyter has been assembling his larger picture, he actually coached his defensive coordinator when he was still a player. Long before Nick Toth installed his linebacker-friendly defensive onslaught at Fresno, he was getting coached up by Tim DeRuyter. Now Toth is one of the hottest, young defensive coordinators in the game and a major reason the Bulldogs are at the top of the food chain in the Mountain West.
"I’m an amalgam of the guys I’ve been around,” DeRuyter said. “The most successful programs that I’ve been around, there was Mike Sherman at Texas A&M, Troy Calhoun at Air Force, going back to our days with Jim Grobe when were together at Fisher DeBerry. It’s always been about family. That’s why I’ve known most of our coaching staff for over a dozen years. Coach Toth, I actually coached as a player. You have that kind of connection with these guys that players see right away, whether you’re genuine or not. When we bring new people into the fold, when I bring new coaches, we want to see if they’re going to fit into our family. Not to pat myself on the back, but I think one of the best things I’ve done is hire really good people, guys that care about our players and they feel that.”
This offseason showed DeRuyter’s ability to bring in guys that can relate to the player. DeRuyter brought in Marcus Woodson to coach the defensive backs and the Bulldogs have already seen an uptick in recruiting. Woodson fit in well with the staff’s aggressive scheme, but it wasn’t even on DeRuyter’s radar prior to the application process. Speaking rather frankly, DeRuyter said that the other guys brought more to the table when it came to experience but that Woodson’s interview made it impossible to go in any other direction than him.
”Again, it’s all about fit and feel,” DeRuyter said. “I didn’t know Marcus before this last job search that we did. We had over 130 people apply. You get calls from everybody all over the country. Some of the people that I really respect in this business were very adamant about what kind of a coach Marcus was, so then we started a conversation with him on the phone. We had Coach Toth talk to a number of different candidates. We synthesized that list down to where we only had three guys come on campus. Every one of them, we would have felt really good about. They’re really good coaches. The other two candidates that we brought in had a lot more experience than Marcus, but quite frankly, he won the interview. The way he carried himself, his presentation, his demeanor, his energy, the way I thought he would relate with our staff as well as the players, we were all kind of blown away by him. It kind of confirmed in all the conversations we had with different coaches about him and I just thought, ‘you know what, this guy’s the right fit for us.’”
While Woodson was the only new hire to the staff, it wasn’t the only change they made during the offseason. Fans will notice that the Bulldog coaching staff has a more active presence on Twitter and that they’re targeting other social media platforms, as well. Additionally, they decided to make wide receivers coach Ron Antoine the new recruiting coordinator. All of this is an effort to bring the Bulldogs into the new era of college football recruiting, and it’s really hard to argue with the results.
”I absolutely think that social media is one of the key elements in recruiting,” DeRuyter said. “We’ve decided to have Coach Antoine spearheading our recruiting effort right now. Ron’s a younger guy, very active in social media. With him driving it, some of these dinosaur coaches are getting more and more on board. I really think that that is what the future is. It’s what you need to do, to have someone like Ron with the energy he has and the passion that he has in recruiting. I think it’s going to just increase our recruiting efforts and I’m sure it will pay dividends next February.”
If it seems like the Fresno State staff has a youthful vibe about them, it’s because that was by design. The recruiting game in college football has changed and it’s incumbent upon schools to recognize the paradigm shift and react accordingly. DeRuyter wanted to position the Bulldogs well for the future and setting that tone upon arrival was a top priority for him. He assembled his staff with that in mind and has tried to keep that through his time in Fresno.
”I think guys, especially now-a-days, are looking for coaches that don’t just tell them what to do but enjoy the experience with them,” DeRuyter said. “We got guys that are going to kick them in the backside if they’re not doing anything right. But when they do things right, we are going to hug them up and love them up. Again, that connection, that family feeling, that, ‘hey, we’re in this together and we’re excited and passionate when things go right,’ I think kids love that environment and tend to play at their best when they feel that.”
While the DeRuyter and his staff build toward the future, the 2014 season is rapidly approaching and there will be absolutely no rest for the defending conference champions. The first month of Fresno State’s season is, arguably, one of the hardest schedules in the country. The Bulldogs open up at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum against the USC Trojans, who demolished them in the Las Vegas Bowl last year. Then it’s off to Utah before coming to face the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the home-opener at Bulldog Stadium. To say this is a rough month would probably be an understatement, but DeRuyter refuses to back down from his philosophy of going 1-0 every week. After all, things are much simpler when broken down into manageable goals.
”We’re not looking at the whole month,” DeRuyter said. “We’re looking at one game and it’s USC. We know it’s going to be a tremendous challenge. We talked to our players in January. Each year is a different year. The 2013 team was coming off a co-championship year, didn’t mean anything. We had to go out and prove it that year. This year, same thing. We’re coming off of a championship year, but that was last year’s team. This year, who knows how we’re going to win? We may have to play better defense. We need to. We may have to run the ball more. Whatever it takes, we have to find out as coaches who are playmakers and put them into position to make plays. Our offense and or defense each year is going to be dependent upon the players and it’s not going to look exactly the same. But what doesn’t change is the fact that we’re going to compete for championships.”
With only two years and two titles under his belt, it probably wouldn’t be a smart idea to bet against DeRuyter and these Bulldogs competing for Mountain West titles for years to come. The future is extremely bright for the Red Wave and perhaps most importantly, the future is right now.