Fresno State Football: 12 Names To Watch In The Bulldogs’ Head Coach Search
Bulldogs head coach Kalen DeBoer has moved on to Washington. Who should replace him? We run down the obvious and out-of-the-box choices.
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Plenty to chew on.
The Fresno State Bulldogs are in need of a new head coach after news broke yesterday that Kalen DeBoer had accepted a job from the Pac-12’s Washington Huskies. It takes the program into relatively new territory, as this is the first time in 40 years that Fresno State has had to replace a coach who simply moved on to a different job.
So who could get a look at a program which has aspirations of climbing back to the top of the Mountain West next fall? Who deserves more consideration, and who are the potential wild cards? Read on to learn more:
The Obvious Candidate
Tedford’s first stint as Bulldogs head coach exceeded even the most optimistic Red Waver’s expectations, culminating with a 12-win campaign in 2018 that included a Las Vegas Bowl victory over Arizona State and a top-25 finish in the Associated Press poll, the program’s first since 2004.
Though Fresno State finished 2019 with a 4-8 record, it was Tedford’s health that prompted him to step away from the sidelines and hand the reins to Kalen DeBoer, not a lack of results in what was obviously a transition year. Not only were the Bulldogs 1-5 in games decided by eight points or fewer that year, by Bill Connelly’s SP+ metric, the Bulldogs finished that year 80th; by Brian Fremeau’s FEI ratings, they finished 87th, both of which signify a below-average year but nothing close to a bottoming out.
With an apparent clean bill of health and no shortage of backing in the community, a second stint at the corner of Cedar and Barstow seems as close to a foregone conclusion as any coaching search in recent memory. The only real peril to speak of is that, historically speaking, the second go-around typically doesn’t go as well as the first — just ask Utah State and UConn fans how they feel these days about Gary Andersen and Randy Edsall — but there’s plenty of reason to believe Tedford could tread the same path as past coaches like Chris Ault and Bill Snyder.
Presumed strong contenders
Ryan Grubb, Fresno State offensive coordinator
Grubb and DeBoer both arrived in Fresno from Eastern Michigan at the same time, courted by Tedford as offensive line coach and offensive coordinator, respectively. When Tedford stepped aside, DeBoer became the head coach and Grubb acted as OC himself, continuing a relationship that extends back to their time together in Ypsilanti and before that in NAIA Sioux Falls.
His Bulldogs offense currently ranks 31st by SP+ and he would seem to fit the profile that the program has typically followed as an offensive-minded coach. The biggest problem? He might tag along with DeBoer to Seattle.
William Inge, Fresno State defensive coordinator
Grubb’s status is up in the air, but Inge’s work with the Bulldogs defense over the last two seasons is definitely worthy of consideration in spite of the fact he’s never been a head coach. He inherited a unit that had finished 98th by defensive SP+ in the year before his arrival from Buffalo and improved them to 48th in 2021.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that Inge, like Grubb, could follow Kalen DeBoer to Washington as a defensive coordinator, but familiarity with the Valley and a strong track record of development should be enough for him to make a strong case should he want to stay in Fresno.
Tim Skipper, Central Michigan linebackers coach/assistant head coach
The former Bulldogs linebacker was reportedly a very strong contender to replace Tedford in 2019 before the program decided to elevate DeBoer instead. In the interim, Skipper has continued to burnish what is a pretty solid resume as the linebackers coach and assistant head coach to Jim McElwain out in Mount Pleasant.
In 2021, he’s helped the Chippewas bounce back to bowl eligibility and received strong performances from linebacker talents like Justin Whiteside and Troy Brown, a strong reason why Central Michigan currently ranks in the top 30 nationally by defensive sack rate, stuff rate, and line yards per carry allowed. Fresno State has typically been led by offensive-minded coaches, but there’s no doubt his familiarity with the program and the region will make a lot of people happy.
Not a Front-Runner, but Not Inconceivable
Troy Taylor, Sacramento State head coach
Winning big in the Big Sky is no easy feat, which makes Taylor’s two conference titles in three years all the more impressive. The Hornets’ 9-2 record this fall isn’t a fluke, either: Heading into their home playoff game on Saturday, Bill Connelly’s SP+ rankings for FCS teams puts Sacramento State 22nd overall and they landed 16 players on the all-conference team, as well.
Dipping into the FCS ranks probably isn’t the primary path that the Bulldogs will follow, but it’s also worth noting that Taylor spent two years (2017-18) under Utah’s Kyle Whittingham as offensive coordinator and lit up scoreboards as the quarterbacks coach and co-OC at Eastern Washington in 2016, as well. If nothing else, he fits the usual profile.
Anthony Tucker, Utah State offensive coordinator
Considering how badly the Aggies offense cratered under Gary Andersen in 2020, the fact that Tucker arrived in Logan from UCF and put together such an explosive attack with a bevy of young talents and transfers in equal portions is an eye opener. Though the offense ranks just 76th by SP+, the Aggies are 32nd in available yards percentage earned per drive and 46th in points per drive.
Better yet, Tucker is a Fresno State alum who’s had the chance to learn from a number of college football’s offensive minds, from Blake Anderson to Josh Heupel. This move might be a little more high-risk, high-reward, but he fits the bill and is worth a look.
Kenwick Thompson, UNLV associate head coach/linebackers coach
You may recall that Thompson, like DeBoer and Grubb, was recruited to Fresno in during Jeff Tedford’s first stint as head coach, serving as linebackers coach and run game coordinator in 2018 and 2019 before leaving for Las Vegas last year. During the Bulldogs’ run to the Mountain West championship in 2018, Thompson was involved with a defense that
His experience as a west coast coach extends to his time at San Jose State, too, where he coached from 2001-06 and again in 2013. Add to that his time with Tedford at Cal, from 2007 to 2012, and he’s a quiet candidate with plenty of recent successes, like the development of Jacoby Windmon and Jeffrey Allison, that could bolster a bid for the big job with quality coordinators to support him.