For the first time in 15 springs, a new head man will be roaming the Fresno State sideline.
Tim DeRuyter has no Fu Manchu mustache, and he has saved the blustery talk about playing "anytime, anywhere." If you want even more proof that that these truly are new times at Fresno State, then pay attention to the revamped offense and defense DeRuyter brings with him now that spring practice is officially under way.
Goodbye pro-style and hello spread.
Goodbye 4-3 and hello 3-4.
None of this is to say that every single trace of former coach Pat Hill has been scrubbed from the Bulldogs. Hill recruited every player on the field this spring, instilling a toughness in each of them. He won more than 100 games in 14 seasons, bringing Fresno State to national prominence before the program slid back down. A 4-8 campaign in 2011 spelled the end for Hill, who gave everything he had to Fresno State.
But there is no doubting that folks in town got antsy for a change. The administration did, as well. So in comes DeRuyter, a proven defensive assistant getting his first opportunity as a head coach. He plans to put his own indelible stamp on the program, one he believes has the same potential Hill always spoke so passionately about during his time in the Valley.
"Coach Hill, he established a toughness, a physicality, a work ethic we're going to build on," DeRuyter said in a phone interview. "We're going to tweak some things offensively and defensively, but we're going to keep the identity of Fresno State. We're going to add a speed factor to it as far as how fast we're going to play on offense and defense."
Speed factor aside, the major question DeRuyter must answer right at the top is how he takes this program from good to great. Since the most successful non-automatic qualifying programs have gone to different conferences, there is a void that Fresno State can easily fill. The next rising non-AQ could very well be the school that was the very first rising non-AQ back in the early part of the past decade.
"You have to talk about consistency, and consistency happens in January, February, March -- all the way through the year," DeRuyter said. "That's one of the things we've talked about with our players. To win championships, you have to get after it now. If we play the exact pace, tempo and intensity, it's going to get us there. Coach Hill did tremendous things. His teams went toe-to-toe with everybody. If they did have a disappointment along the way, it was maybe losing to a team on paper they felt they should have beaten. No matter who we play, there's a standard for Fresno State football we have to live up to."
Losing seasons are unacceptable. So getting back to a bowl is a primary goal. Though the schemes will look decidedly different, the personnel on offense will not. Derek Carr returns for his second season as the starting quarterback. Though he is a pro-style quarterback, DeRuyter said Carr has fully embraced the switch to the high-tempo spread offense.
"He's an ideal guy to build around," DeRuyter said. "I go back to the game a year ago when they went to Lincoln and played Nebraska. He does not get fazed. He can spin the ball, and he also is a guy who can make plays and extend the play with his feet. His biggest attribute is his demeanor on the field. The game becomes slow for him because he gets it."
Seven other starters return, including running back Robbie Rouse and receivers Jalen Saunders and Rashad Evans and the entire starting offensive line. Offense, however, has rarely been a concern at Fresno State. The defense has been in major need of fixing for several years now, so it makes sense the Bulldogs hired somebody with DeRuyter's acumen as a defensive coach.
The transition to a 3-4 is meant to get more athletic players onto the field while also allowing the Bulldogs to better disguise their blitzes and schemes. Identifying the four best linebackers is a huge priority in the spring. The good news is that several injured players return, including safeties Phillip Thomas and Derron Smith.
Couple all these transitions with moving to a new conference home in the Mountain West, and getting used to a new head coach, and you have the makings of quite a different look at Fresno State.