Prior to Fresno State’s bowl game loss to Wyoming, the athletic department did something they had to do: extend Pat Hill’s contract.
Pat Hill’s contract was up after 2010, and it is rare for college coaches to enter the final year of a contract without an extension. This is because if the university is unwilling to show a long term financial commitment to their head coach, it becomes difficult to convince recruits that they should make a four year commitment to the school and creates a mood of uncertainty around the program.
I cannot be convinced that Hill’s contract was extended because the school sees a long future together. In the 2008 season in which the Bulldogs finished a disappointing 7-6 overall, the mood surrounding the program seemed to be that Hill and the school were ready to part ways, a scenario many Bulldog fans embraced.
Pat Hill’s track record makes it difficult for the school to let him go. I know this. Even considering the tradition of mediocrity that plagues the Western Athletic Conference (WAC), Hill’s teams are consistently among the top three in the conference, year in, and year out. He beats teams he should beat, and loses to teams he should lose to. Compiling a 100-66 record over 13 years is nothing to be ashamed of.
The athletic department needs to decide what kind of program they want to be. If being 8-5 every year and attending pre-Christmas bowl games is sufficient, then yes, keep Hill for as long as he wants to stay. But the lingering memories of the 11 win season in 2001 and their conference nemesis Boise State’s quick ascendance from obscurity to a nationally ranked powerhouse has generated a consensus among fans and alumni that just being respectable is not good enough.
Hill’s desire to fly to the University of Washington for a job interview in the middle of the 2008 season demonstrates just how quickly Hill is willing to walk, if given the opportunity. The University of Washington shrewdly decided to pass on the conservative and defensive minded Hill in order to give the job to a bright, young offensive coordinator from USC, Steve Sarkisian, who is already turning that program around.
The idea of welcoming Hill back with open arms should have been unpalatable to the athletic department and Bulldog fans.
The sad reality is that both Hill and Fresno State feel the other is the best they can do right now. Pat Hill wins just enough games to keep him from losing his job, while not winning enough to land him a more high-profile gig.
But the athletic department, knowing full well what the football program’s success does for the university, feel they cannot afford to risk failing miserably, which Pat Hill, with the exception of the 2006 four win season, has never done. Letting Pat Hill go would have been bold, but the alternative was to do just what they did, which was to give a somewhat disgruntled coach an extra $2 million guaranteed to get them seven or eight wins and an insignificant bowl game.
Now Pat Hill is in the driver’s seat. With one great season he will walk right off campus and into another football program. With one terrible season then yet again, his detractors will be calling for his head. Why deal with this?
By not firing Hill after the 2008 season, Fresno State would have been hard-pressed to adequately justify firing him after a successful 2009 campaign, and was forced to deliver him a contract extension. The Washington interview should have been the straw that broke the camel’s back, but the athletic department, perhaps frightened by their many egregious hiring errors in the past, was, unfortunately, too apprehensive.