Would Jeff Tedford Really Leave Fresno State After Just One Year?
Jeff Tedford’s first season at Fresno State has been a huge success, but could a Power 5 job tempt him to leave the Bulldogs?
After his alma mater made him the highest-paid coach in the Mountain West, would Jeff Tedford bail?
It’s a narrative that’s familiar to many Group of 5 fans: Your favorite team hires a new head coach after the program hits a low point. Your head coach turns the program around in two to three years, and then a Power 5 team in need of a new direction poaches your head coach. From Kalamazoo to Houston, Bowling Green to Memphis to San Jose, many successful head coaches have made the same jump from the Group of 5 to the Power 5 in the last five years.
Fresno State, despite its history of unusually long coaching tenures, hasn’t been completely ignored in past such rumors, so it should surprise no one that national pundits are starting to wonder whether first-year head coach Jeff Tedford, who has led the Bulldogs to the largest turnaround in program history this fall, should be considered a serious option for future openings:
Could this really happen? The short answer: No.
Considering that nine different Power 5 programs hired G5 head coaches in just the last two offeseasons, however, it seems fair to say this with 99% certainty rather than 100% because this kind of thing really does happen all the time. In this particular instance, though, there’s a couple of things that make this scenario different and unlikely.
The available jobs aren’t great.
As of right now, Arizona State, Arkansas, Florida, Nebraska, Ole Miss and Tennessee will be in the market for a new head coach this offseason. Oregon State and UCLA moved quickly to hire Beau Baldwin and Chip Kelly, respectively.
Texas A&M may finally get around to giving Kevin Sumlin the axe. There are mild rumblings about Mike McIntyre leaving Colorado and Willie Taggart leaving Oregon after one season.
Ask yourself, though: How many of those jobs would Tedford actually want?
In the event that the Florida Gators back up the Brinks truck to lure Taggart from Eugene, Tedford’s familiarity with the Ducks (he served as Mike Bellotti’s offensive coordinator from 1998 to 2001) might make him a dark horse candidate, but those other options… yikes.
Tangling with Nick Saban year after year has ruined many up-and-coming head coaches in the SEC. The Huskers appear dead set on reaching into their own program’s past to pluck Scott Frost from Central Florida, and they haven’t really been the national title contenders they want to be in nearly two decades. More to the point, Tedford’s entire career in the collegiate ranks is aligned with programs along the West Coast, so moving to the Midwest or Southeast doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
Tempe, then, may be a familiar kind of stomping ground, but the Sun Devils are nobody’s idea of a Pac-12 contender at present. And had Oregon State not jumped on hiring Baldwin, it might have made sense for the Beavers to take a second look since it would not have been the first time Tedford was linked to that particular job. The upside in both places, however, is limited when compared to the hero’s welcome Tedford received in returning to Fresno and making good in year one.
Money talks and Fresno State already spoke volumes.
If you look at base salary, you could see where many coaching candidates would be eager to make the jump to a sweet Power 5 gig. And even though Fresno State paid a pretty penny for Tedford, it’s still not Power 5 money on its face: The $1.55 million base is outpaced by just Bryan Harsin and eight AAC coaches among Group of 5 programs, but it’s just 69th among the entire FBS.
However, when you start to consider bonuses… I mean, have you seen the amount of bonus money Tedford can earn? Fresno State pushed all of their chips to the center of the table and bet the house that he’d be the one to lead the program to the promised land, a New Year’s Six bowl; in doing so, they presented a unique obstacle to any Power 5 team that would court him.
For instance, Tedford has already earned $250,000 for winning nine games, but he’d earn another $150,000 if the Bulldogs win eleven games by claiming the Mountain West championship and (probably) a Las Vegas Bowl victory.
And then he’d earn another $250,000 for the title game victory and another $200,000 for winning the Las Vegas Bowl. And in the off-chance the Bulldogs sneak into the top 25 of the College Football Playoff Rankings after winning the Mountain West, he’d earn $150,000 for that, too.
And he’s already earned $300,000 because home attendance, which ended up at 183,789, topped 152,000 patrons this season. For those keeping score at home (and assuming the math is correct), that’s the potential for a bonus of $1.3 million.
Oh, and this doesn’t begin to include other bonuses like those for APR, team grade point average, and graduation rate. Adding the $1.3 million bonus to his base salary vaults Tedford to the top 40 nationally, in the neighborhood of (oddly enough) Taggart and McIntyre and Mike Riley, the recently fired Nebraska head coach.
In other words, this wouldn’t be comparable to the move that, for instance, Minnesota made to hire P.J. Fleck. He’s making $3.5 million in his first year with the Golden Gophers, but he made just $816,830 in base salary when he led Western Michigan to the Cotton Bowl. If Tedford is going to come at a cost of near $4 million a year, is there a program willing to push even more stacks in his direction?
Age might make a difference.
Remember those nine Power 5 coaches I mentioned earlier? At the time of their hirings, those coaches were an average of 43 years old. Just two, Dino Babers and Bronco Mendenhall, were fifty or older. Fresno State gave the 56-year-old Tedford the Rocky Long treatment with the generous contract, insinuating that this would be his last stop for, say, the next ten years or so.
This doesn’t necessarily preclude a Power 5 program from going against the grain, as Syracuse did with Babers and Florida did with Jim McElwain, but it’s definitely more the exception than the rule.
So overall, it’s improbable but not impossible.
Considering how much emphasis has been placed on rebuilding the Fresno State brand — revamping local recruiting, restoring Central Valley pride and the like — by bringing Tedford back, the optics on bailing after just one season are incredibly difficult to imagine. Nothing is guaranteed on the coaching carousel for any Group of 5 program enjoying a measure of success, but I’m confident that Bulldogs fans can rest easy about the investment they’ve made for at least one offseason.