If Fresno State changes football coaches, here’s who should be on AD’s list

Every athletic director has a list of potential coaching candidates, just in case.

“You have to,” Fresno State’s Jim Bartko told me last month when we spoke in his office.

Bartko needed a list in June when Arizona State hired away his softball coach. He nearly needed one in March when another Pacific-12 school was interested in his women’s basketball coach. (Jaime White ended up getting an extension.)

Now we’re in October, and the football team Bartko depends on to fill his department’s coffers is 1-6, has lost 15 of 17 against FBS opponents and is drawing its sparsest crowds in decades. If he makes a coaching change, who would be Tim DeRuyter’s replacement?

Since Jim Bartko won’t let me peek at his list, I took the liberty of making up my own.

Since Bartko won’t let me peek at his list, I took the liberty of making up my own.

Before digging in, a dose of reality: Fresno State, on a national scale, would not be a coveted job.

I say this for two reasons: 1) The dearth of talent currently in the program – no one is inheriting Derek Carr or Phillip Thomas. 2) A supremely difficult 2017 schedule that includes games at Alabama and Washington (gulp), plus BYU at home and the return of Boise State.

That combination tells any prospective coach (and his agent) the Bulldogs are by no means a quick fix.

Nonetheless, this is only a list – and lists don’t have to conform to strict realism. Which is my way of saying some guys on here are probably out of reach.

1. Lane Kiffin

Current job: Alabama offensive coordinator

Pros: No other potential hire would spark as much national attention, plus he’s an alum. Bulldogs fans would eat up his brash style. Proven recruiter and play-caller. Three years under Nick Saban had to rub off a little.

Cons: Checkered past as a head coach. Last three jobs at USC, Tennessee and Oakland Raiders didn’t end well, to put it mildly. After so much success at Alabama, a likely candidate for Power Five conference openings. Already making $1.4 million per.

2. Jeff Tedford

Current job: Washington consultant

Pros: Ex-Bulldogs QB would please longtime fans and boosters, whose checkbooks Bartko desperately needs. Proven FBS head coach with 82-57 record at Cal, including nine winning seasons in 11. Could keep current offensive staff, since most have worked under him.

Cons: Last three jobs ended with him quitting to pursue a better gig (CFL’s BC Lions), stepping down because of health concerns (Tampa Bay Bucs) and getting fired (Cal) partially because of his team’s poor academics.

3. Steve Sarkisian

Current job: Alabama offensive analyst

Pros: Winning records at Washington and USC before the Trojans dismissed him amid personal issues. Great pedigree as a play-caller. Armenian heritage, which in Fresno never hurts.

Cons: Clean and sober, a likely candidate for P5 job. Or could be next in line for Alabama OC gig if Kiffin bolts. Either way, a tough “get.”

4. Tim McDonald

Current job: Buffalo Bills DBs coach

Pros: Instant credibility throughout the Valley and everywhere else. Hiring a Fresno legend would be potential boon to local recruiting. Should be able to assemble a top staff.

Cons: Only experience in NFL and college (Fresno State, 2012) has been as a position coach.

5. Tim Drevno

Current job: Michigan OC

Pros: Wherever Jim Harbaugh has gone in coaching (USD, Stanford, 49ers, Michigan), the Torrance native has been alongside as the trusted right-hand man. Excellent reputation as O-line and run-game coach.

Cons: No head-coaching experience. Might be too loyal to Harbaugh to leave.

6. Matt Wells

Current job: Utah State head coach

Pros: Seen as an up-and-comer, though past two seasons have let out some of the helium. Already familiar with Mountain West Conference. Teams known for a tough, physical style.

Cons: Under contract through 2019. No obvious California ties. Might not leave alma mater for conference foe.

7. Justin Wilcox

Current job: Wisconsin defensive coordinator

Pros: If Bartko wants to tap into his Oregon roots, 39-year-old former Duck and son of NFL Hall of Famer Dave Wilcox is highly regarded.

Cons: Less-than-stellar results at USC scrubbed off some shine. No head-coaching experience.

8. Doug Nussmeier

Current job: Florida OC

Pros: Proven play-caller at five FBS schools, including Fresno State (2008), with NFL playing experience and West Coast ties. Prime age (45) for first stint in big chair.

Cons: No head-coaching experience. Has held nine jobs since 2001.

9. Pete Kwiatkowski

Current job: Washington DC

Pros: Probably the best defensive coach on the West Coast and Chris Petersen’s longtime lieutenant. He’s also a Boise State Hall of Famer. Why not a little cross-pollination?

Cons: Head-coaching aspirations unclear, and unlikely to find Fresno State all that appealing.

10. DeWayne Walker

Current job: Jacksonville Jaguars DBs coach

Pros: Known as a top-notch recruiter and strategist during years as DC at UCLA (2006-08). Ties to fertile Los Angeles area for recruiting. Learned defense from Pete Carroll.

Cons: Had disastrous head-coaching stint at New Mexico State (10-40 from 2009 to 2012), but then again, who wouldn’t?

Bonus names


Current job: Florida RBs coach

Pros: Bulldog through and through (No. 2 in career tackles, ex-Pat Hill assistant) has experience on both sides of the ball and comes from a noted coaching family.

Cons: Lacks coordinator experience at FBS level.


Current job: USC special-teams coordinator

Pros: Bulldogs would lead the nation in blocked kicks – as they often did during his 13 seasons under Hill – and news conferences would be a hoot. We’d see return of Academic Gameplan, education company he and wife Jill co-founded.

Cons: Never been a head coach, and might be too eccentric for the job.


Current job: ESPN NFL analyst

Pros: Arguably the most visible former Bulldog after years on TV and 13-year NFL career. Definite “name” hire with intricate knowledge of QB play. Said to be interested.

Cons: With zero coaching experience, would need to hire a crack staff. Lacks a bachelor’s degree.


  • Saturday: 7:30 p.m. at Merlin Olsen Field at Maverik Stadium (22,059) in Logan, Utah
  • Records: Bulldogs 1-6, 0-3 Mountain West; Aggies 2-4, 0-3
  • TV/radio: CBS Sports Network/KFIG (AM 940), KGST (AM 1600)

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