What is the future of Fresno State football? Many fans would say Fresno State football will go as far as Pat Hill takes the 'Dogs. Few would say Fresno State would reach new heights with a new coach. Some would say Fresno State football will forever be doomed a "mid-major" no matter who is the head coach. Others might say Fresno State would not be the same if Hill left Fresno State. The future of the program revolves around the head coach, plain and simple.
Fresno State has had the luxury of having only two head coaches leading the program for the last 30 years, save the two years Bob Padilla filled in for Jim Sweeney while he was "testing" the waters in the NFL. Most Bulldog fans don't realize the strength of stability the program has had because of that. If Hill decides to leave Fresno next year, the year after or 10 years from now, the next coach would have to be an exact fit for the Bulldogs.
Fresno State has not been a springboard to a major coaching job, like Boise State has been the last 10 years. The Bulldog program was not a consistent winner prior to Sweeney's hiring in 1976. If and when Hill leaves, Fresno State may or not be the same program it has been the last 2o plus years. It could be like Boise with numerous hot, young coaches proving themselves in a few years before leaving for a bigger name. Or it could just try to survive with big name aging coaches looking to prove themselves one last time, like San Jose State.
The chance of Fresno State hiring another Sweeney or Hill type coach looking to stay long term is remote. Hill has said on numerous occasions he wants to stay and build Fresno State into a consistent top 25 team. But in his nine years the 'Dogs have finished ranked in the top 25 once, and have received just one preseason ranking, as well, in the same time span. Along the way, Hill has developed a pipe dream of winning a national title at Fresno State. Stop the insanity already; it will never happen at Fresno State. BYU's national title in 1984 was an anomaly. A more logical goal is to win the WAC and if you run the table lets see what happens.
Hill has gotten that part. In order for the "what happens" to be something special, you have to beat some decent teams in non-conference play. Hill has beaten a few but not enough to get the masses, beyond the diehard loyalists, to buy into his program. Many are still spoiled from the great start in 2001 and the Heisman hype that surrounded David Carr. Those same fickle fans that are living the past don't realize David Carr only comes around once and a lifetime at a school like Fresno State. 2001 was Hill's season to change everything inside the program from stadium expansion to energizing the masses about becoming diehard Bulldog football fans. However, two WAC losses doomed Hill and the program per se, in 2001.
Hill got a second chance at glory last year in the Coliseum against USC. Even in defeat the fans, media and the nation believed in the 'Dogs. However, two WAC losses doomed Hill and the program, once again. This year Hill has to win, plain and simple. A seven or eight win season will get the 'Dogs into another ho-hum bowl game, but that is not enough. If Hill wants to stay and build a national power he has to win the WAC and win two of the three games against BCS opponents. Furthermore, this year's team can not lose to anymore teams is suppose to beat, and that includes the season opener against Nevada.
The Hill lovers will forgive him as long as the team is competitive against Oregon and LSU, and he gets the 'Dogs to an 8th straight bowl game. The Hill lovers always point to next year and beyond. I support Fresno State and Hill, but I am among the ones that say this year's team has to win the WAC. I don't want to hear about the young quarterback or tough schedule. There is enough talent on this team win nine games with ease. There are only two teams on the schedule with more talent than the 'Dogs, Oregon and LSU, and the Ducks are at home. There are only two road games that can be categorized as difficult or tricky, Washington and Boise State. The other eight games, I believe, Fresno State should not lose to.
The future of the program comes down to 2006. If Fresno State has another down year (6-6, 7-5, or 8-4) without a WAC title, in my opinion, the Bulldog community is not going to be very forgiving. Please, I am not in the fire Pat Hill crowd that is just plain stupidity. But the team will need some major change if losses to Nevada, Hawaii, and Louisiana Tech appear on the 2006 schedule. The media preseason hype might be subtle, but things could get ugly in Bulldog country, if a team with three first round NFL talents has another five loss season. Imagine 2007 without Hill and a team coming off a disappointing season. If and when Hill leaves he has to do it on a high note or, in my opinion, Bulldog football will have to replace more than just a head coach.