The legacy of Pat Hill

Many schools’ athletics departments have a long-lasting tradition of bringing their cities together and uniting different communities under a common bond.  Fresno State football is no different for the people of the Central Valley.

The Bulldogs give us a chance to feel part of something big that is close to home.  As Bulldog fans, we draw a lot of local support, and people from all walks of life rally behind our team.

I believe that Pat Hill embodied this same type of support and commitment during his 15-year coaching career with Fresno State.  I think it is important for us as fans to understand that although it may have been the appropriate time for his departure, we must always remember our past and from where we came.

Pat Hill came to Fresno State in 1997 following the tenure of Jim Sweeney.  By his third season as Bulldogs coach, Hill led the team to a tie for the Western Athletic Conference title, something he was unable to repeat as coach and probably a big reason for his removal.  However, Coach Hill boasted a .583 winning percentage in more than 190 (112-80) games at Fresno State, the second-most games for any Fresno State coach, behind only Sweeney.

I think it is important that fans understand the pressures to perform for head coaches at competitive schools, such as Fresno.  I’m sure Pat Hill would agree that being the head coach means you get all of the blame and little of the fame.

As a coach, you are the one held responsible at the end of the day, and I think Hill understands the importance of winning.  However, sometimes it is in the best interest of all parties to pursue other avenues.

Hill had a motto here at Fresno State that said: “Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere.”  This approach seemed to be a bit “out of reach” for people who complained we were not winning the big games.  I would say to those people, ideas have to start somewhere, and I still stand by his motto.

We should be willing to play “Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere.”  I don’t think Fresno State fans should shy away from playing bigger school and top contending teams just because of a few discouraging losses.

Although Hill had some heartbreaking losses against teams like USC, Oregon and Wisconsin, he also had some big wins against top contending teams.  In 2001, the Bulldogs traveled to Colorado and Wisconsin and upset both teams.

The same year, the Bulldogs hosted Oregon State – a team “Sports Illustrated” had chosen No. 1 in preseason rankings – and won a decisive victory at home. These wins catapulted the team to No 8 in the country, its highest ranking in school history.

In 2004, the Bulldogs traveled to Washington and Kansas State and won both contests.  Under Hill, the ’Dogs were the first non-BCS conference school to win three straight bowl games against BCS conference teams, including Virginia, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

As much as it was painful to watch Fresno State go 4-9 in Pat Hill’s final season, I believe that a few bad years do not write your story as a coach.  It just so happens that the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons thought the same thing.  Since leaving Fresno State, Hill has become the offensive line coach for the Falcons who are an NFL-best 9-1 and have one of the league’s best offenses.

Meanwhile, the Bulldogs are 8-3 (6-1), and coach Tim DeRuyter looks to be transitioning well.  The Bulldogs are currently one win away from winning the Mountain West Conference title and have much of the school chatting about the possible bowl games and the potential for next year.

What I am saying is, it was just time for something new.  Just like a relationship that is no longer compatible, maybe it was just time we said goodbye to Pat Hill.  I ask fans to be respectful and understanding during this “changing of the guard.”

Just like in a breakup, regardless of how painful it is, I think that rather than point out a person’s flaws and what went wrong, it is important to remember the good times, what we learned and how we are going to move forward as a school.

We should be able to honor the legacy of Pat Hill while maintaining the Bulldog pride we hold so near and dear to our hearts.  Remember, winning is important,  but it’s not everything. We have to keep things in perspective and know that Hill gave it his best and rallied the Central Valley behind our team. It is merely time to move on.

As fans, we must also keep in mind that if we are to expect so much from our team, players and coaches, we should be expected to support them through the good and the bad.  I, for one, thank Pat Hill for all the great seasons. I wish him well and look forward to becoming champions of our new conference under Coach DeRuyter’s leadership. Go ’Dogs!