For any college football head coach in the FBS ranks, a job with a mid-major program can be the birth or death of his career as the head man. In the case of former Fresno State head coach Tim DeRuyter, it’s likely to be the latter. After jumping out to a great start with Derek Carr (now of the Oakland Raiders) as his quarterback, DeRuyter and his staff failed to produce anything that resembled their first two seasons, begging the question; was it Carr or DeRuyter responsible for the Bulldogs’ success in 2012-13.
This is a debate that has raged endlessly in the Central Valley. Though I no longer cover the beat, one of the first things I was told when I took over coverage of the Bulldogs for Scout.com was that DeRuyter would be fired eventually and Jeff Tedford would be his replacement. After Jim Bartko was hired as athletic director, my sources were even more adamant that DeRuyter was out and Tedford was in as soon as they could manage the former’s buyout.
Given that, it was little surprise that Tedford’s name has been tossed around like hot cakes since DeRuyter’s dismissal. Fresno State already has Tedford’s son, Taylor, on staff. Jeff Tedford’s relationship with Bartko goes back a long way and many of the hires made by Fresno this offseason have some ties to Cal. It’s hard to believe that this is accidental, but what was so bad about DeRuyter that people were trying to replace him nearly two years before he was fired? In short, quite a lot.
Winning is the ultimate metric by which coaches are judged. For DeRuyter, winning rarely happened and it wasn’t very pretty when it did. An overall record of 30-30 looks fairly good as a head coach, but it fails to account for the fact that the Bulldogs nearly had an unbeaten season and that the vast majority of those wins (20) came with the aforementioned Carr at the helm. After Carr left for the NFL, DeRuyter managed to win 10 games in three seasons, an average of 3.3 wins a year. There will never be an answer to the question of whether or not Carr was the true reason the Bulldogs won on the field, but an average of three wins per year following his departure certainly welcomes the debate.
Then there were the locker-room issues. During his time at Fresno, DeRuyter oversaw the departure of no less than four different quarterbacks, including Zack Greenlee and Brian Burrell, who quit football entirely without giving any reason as to why when he did. Rumors persisted, but nothing concrete ever came out since Burrell opted to remain silent on the matter. Other athletes at Fresno State chose not to be silent about DeRuyter’s failings and that led to many dismissals and suspensions.
In fact, DeRuyter rarely saw even half of his recruiting classes finish their time at Fresno State. When I left the beat, only 57 percent of DeRuyter’s classes were still around. He lost about half the kids from each class, if not more, and those top athletes were replaced by other prospects who weren’t exactly rolling in offers when the Bulldogs came along. It’s one thing to find a diamond in the rough; it’s an entirely different matter when the majority of your recruiting class boasts offers from schools like Prairie View A&M and Texas State. Oh, Texas…
The Lone Star State is another reason DeRuyter finds himself without a job. Fresno State prides itself on being the Valley’s team and that practice disappeared with DeRuyter’s hiring. Fully believing that Texas athletes were superior to any from a different state -- I know this because he told me as much -- DeRuyter focused his recruiting efforts on Texas and pretty much ignored all of the local talent. Valley high school head coaches said they never even saw or heard from DeRuyter until the final year of his coaching tenure, and that was after Bartko took away DeRuyter’s ability to run the recruiting ship by hiring Jimmy Morimoto from UNLV.
Valley kids grew frustrated with Fresno State and several of them went on to be recruited by other Mountain West programs which oversaw their ascendency on the field. Defensive back Asauni Rufus of Nevada is one of the biggest names that comes to mind. Dismissed and discredited by the Fresno State staff, Rufus has really taken to the switch from quarterback to safety and is now considered one of the best at the position in the Mountain West.
Recruiting under DeRuyter was spotty, at best. Though some tremendously talented players came in, their support system at Fresno State was not set up for these athletes to excel. It’s one thing to recruit athletes with concerns regarding their admission (grades, character questions, behavioral issues, etc.) it’s an entirely different matter to provide these kids with an environment meant to foster change and positive growth. DeRuyter rarely saw players as people and often tossed his players under the bus in press conferences; the surest way to lose your locker room.
The practice of tossing players under the bus in press conferences was supplemented with humiliating them on national television. The stories surrounding Jalen Saunders’ departure are about as bad as it gets and players told many in the media, including me, that this was a regular occurrence with this staff. It’s important to remember that this is only one side of the story, but things like Burrell suddenly quitting in silence do little to support DeRuyter’s methods. The buck stops with the head coach and stuff like this going on for five years is both unfortunate and unacceptable.
Being a head coach is more than just winning games. The job calls for intimacy and nurturing behavior. That doesn’t mean head coaches have to coddle the players, but even Nick Saban understands when it’s time to dial it back a notch and ease up off of his guys. This feat is hard to accomplish, however, when your staff is constantly talking about the greatness of Texas, still have their homes in Texas, and constantly recruit Texas.
Until Bartko himself replaced Ron Antoine with Morimoto, Fresno State’s recruiting coordinator spent half the year in Texas and his wife worked in Texas. DeRuyter preached family, but he never practiced the concept. DeRuyter’s family was the guys that came with him from Texas A&M, not the players he sat down to recruit. At least they never felt like they were part of his family. That’s the thing about this sport -- you have to buy into your players as much as you ask them to buy into you. Together teams achieve more.
DeRuyter never fully grasped that he was a head coach in California, which is why he’s heading back to Texas without a job.
— Written by Josh Webb, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California.