During a cold, rainy night following the final game of the Bulldogs’ season against San Jose State, head coach Jeff Tedford was asked what his plans were for the upcoming season.
Tedford answered that the season had just ended, but that there was lots to reflect and think about.
At the time, no one knew that three years after being hired to lead the Bulldogs back to its winning ways, Tedford would be stepping down from his head coaching duties to focus on his health less than a week later.
A 4-8 overall record following the 2019 season may not reflect it, but Tedford has left a strong legacy at Fresno State, achieving so much in three short years.
The decision to come back to his alma mater was not a hard decision for Tedford, who quarterbacked the Bulldogs back in the early ‘80s. He also became an assistant coach on Jim Sweeney’s staff and later worked with Pat Hill.
In late November 2016, Tedford once again returned to the Bulldogs, becoming the 19th head coach in Fresno State’s history.
Tedford had the difficult task of inheriting a team that won only one game the previous season and turning it around before any big-time boosters began considering turning their backs on an underperforming program.
He knew the risks, but he was also very aware of the rewards the position might bring.
Former head coach Tim Deruyter left Tedford with some good talent, but no quality quarterbacks that he could build on for the upcoming years. Tedford decided that instead of recruiting for a quarterback to develop, he would go poach a quarterback that was ready to start and had roots in the Central Valley.
This move proved to be one of the best decisions that Tedford made during his time as head coach. Having a reliable quarterback in Marcus McMaryion helped Tedford focus on other aspects of the game, which, in turn, helped him win games.
Tedford’s success at Fresno State was not only because he could bring in good players, but because he was able to retain talented players from within the Central Valley, bringing them to Fresno State.
Players like Rodney Wright III, Aaron Mosby and Jalen Cropper, among others are all from the Central Valley and were recruited to Fresno State by Tedford.
Another one of his biggest contributions to the program was to have one of the best defenses in the country. Even this season, one in which the team’s record was far from the best, the Bulldogs managed to have a fierce defense that helped the offense stay in games.
In his first season, he took the Bulldogs to the Mountain West (MW) Championship game, losing to Boise State by three points. However, Tedford was able to do what his predecessor could not: win a bowl game.
The Bulldogs defeated Houston in the Hawaii Bowl to give the ‘Dogs the first bowl game win of the decade.
For the next season, Tedford surpassed the expectations of even his toughest critics by giving the Bulldogs their best season ever, a 12-2 overall record and a 6-0 record at home, with a conference championship win and a Las Vegas Bowl win against Arizona State.
His third season marked the first time the Bulldogs ended below a .500 record under Tedford. However, McMaryion was no longer with the team and both offense and defense had lost a lot of talent to graduation.
Much like he did with McMaryion, Tedford went and recruited a player from a different team. Jake Haener, who was with Washington earlier this year, looks to be the next quarterback for the Bulldogs. But first, he has to sit out a season due to transfer restrictions.
Tedford leaves a mark of 26 wins in three years, two West Division titles, one MW title and two bowl wins. He was named the 2017 coach of the year in the MW and was also on the short lists of several coach of the year awards.
Fresno State was ranked in the top 25 in the nation during his second season, and the Bulldogs also made NCAA history as the first team to have two back-to-back winning seasons after having a double-digit losing season.
He leaves the program in good standing and even during a bad season, his team was able to bring in an average of more than 31,000 people per game to Bulldog Stadium. One consolation for Bulldog fans is that Tedford will continue to be involved with the program in various ways.
It won’t be easy finding a replacement for Tedford who can do what he was able to do in such a short amount of time. But even if they do, Tedford’s legacy will remain in Bulldog history.