Around college football, coaches are stealing headlines for leaving their teams as mere memories to go to other programs. Coach Lincoln Riley leaving an SEC-bound Oklahoma program for Hollywood and USC, and Mario Cristobal flying away from the Oregon Ducks to slide into a University of Miami polo are among the most notable. However, a few under the national radar coaching moves have happened here in the Mountain West Conference.
The most seismic being Kalen DeBoer leaving Fresno State and cutting right through the Oregon Trail for the University of Washington. Can anyone blame him? The guy had to wake up in Fresno every day… He was a high-profile west coast target after the great season that the Bulldogs had. DeBoer really gave that Fresno State program life after they’ve been very stagnant over the past few years. It was an easy choice for DeBoer to accept the UW position. He gets to leave Fresno for Seattle, which comes with a high quality of life, and pick up a Power-5 program paycheck.
Ryan Grubb, Fresno’s QB Coach and Offensive Playcaller for the past two years, has accepted DeBoer’s offer to join him in the Pacific-Northwest. Future NFL draft pick, QB Jake Haener, had at one point announced that he’d be transferring from Fresno State and was expected to attend UW to reunite with Coach Deboer. However, there were eligibility issues since he had already used his one-time transfer to leave UW for Fresno State in 2019.
So, Haener will be returning to Fresno next season. DeBoer, Grubb, and Haener were the main components of the Bulldog’s high-powered offense. Fresno State has rehired Jeff Tedford, who was the Bulldog’s head coach for three seasons from 2017-2019. Like most people, he’s been on the unemployment couch since 2019. Tedford will have to pick up the pieces but having Haener return will make his job a whole lot easier.
The most shocking move was Jay Norvell leaving Nevada after five years to take over for Steve Addazio, who was fired as head coach by Colorado State. Addazio was best known for getting ejected due to unsportsmanlike conduct during his final game in a blowout loss to Nevada and Jay Norvell. His execution of terrible clock management in which his team rushed to kick a game-winning field goal in the final seconds against Utah State, while they could have just spiked the ball since it was first down to stop the clock was laughable. A rushed CSU special teams missed that kick. If they make that, Utah State doesn’t win the Mountain division, nor gets a chance to play in the MWC Championship. SDSU likely would have ended up playing Air Force for a title.
An inner-conference move is a slap in the face to the Nevada athletic department. The Wolfpack finished the 2021 regular season with an 8-4 record. CSU finished a horrendous 3-9. Yet, Norvell sprinted for the Rocky Mountains. Nevada has potential, but losing Coach Norvell to a Mountain West opponent proves that their athletic department is underfunded. Nevada has gone and hired first-time head coach, Ken Wilson, former Oregon co-defensive coordinator, to try and keep the program respectable.
As for Colorado State, there is nothing unbelievably special about Fort Collins. However, CSU invested in their football team by building a new stadium and their athletic department spend almost $11 million more than Nevada in 2019. In one year alone, that’s more than enough to pay for Norvell’s 5-year $9 million contract that averages $1.8 million per year. Norvell went from being the Mountain West’s lowest-paid coach ($625k), to the highest.
Norvell will be bringing a large party of former Nevada employees with him to CSU: Matt Mumme – offensive coordinator and QB coach, Timmy Chang – receivers, Chad Savage – tight ends, Thomas Sheffield – special teams, Lucas Gauthier and Colton Bosnos – player personnel, and Jordan Simmons, who will serve as the strength and conditioning coach. So they are basically just Nevada in green and gold without Carson Strong. They look to bring the air raid offense to Fort Collins and light up the scoreboard.
On the other side of the spectrum, where the sun can make anyone smile, Coach Brady Hoke is happy at San Diego State and the university is also pleased with him. Hoke has bounced around and been great coaching all levels of college football over the years. His time in the NFL was also well spent making connections with some of the game’s elite minds like Coach Norv Turner and Ron Rivera, as well as coaching some of the best defenders in the professional ranks.
Hoke has found a real home at SDSU however. The weather and scenery of San Diego, along with the culture of the Aztec football program has made the university a destination. Will a P-5 program be coming for Hoke soon? Who knows, but not likely. Hoke has been there and done that at Michigan, earned millions more than most coaches throughout his career, and by all indications, seems completely comfortable just where he’s at. Why would anyone want to leave San Diego when already living an enjoyable life. SDSU Athletic Director, JD Wicker, says that Hoke is on a year-to-year contract—as long as he wants to coach at SDSU, he has the leadership to do so.
On the defensive side of the ball, coach Kurt Mattix has made tremendous strides in mastering the in-game play-calling of the Rocky Long established 3-3-5 defense. Having All-American caliber defenders at his disposal is an added plus to being on the Aztecs coaching staff. Time after time this season, Mattix exhibited his awareness of situational adjustments that put the Aztecs over the top against some of the toughest quarterbacks that the Mountain West has seen in quite some time.
On the offensive side of the ball, coach Jeff Hecklisnki’s squad went through some growing pains in 2021. The optimal word there however is growth. With the quarterback position lacking consistency at times due to injury resulting in poor play, the offense always seemed to deliver in the clutch moments —and boy were there a lot of them. Close wins for the Aztecs always needed a cluster of big plays from the offense (Think games against Utah, San Jose State, Nevada, and Boise State). While the running attack wasn’t up to what we here in AztecLand were used to, it was the passing game that stepped up oftentimes to spearhead the victory. Whether QBs Jordon Brookshire or Lucas Johnson, Hecklinski was able to improve their overall performances as the season carried on. That growth will be exciting to take notice of in 2022 with young quarterback talents taking over as the two seniors head out.
Overall, Coach Hoke is the perfect man to lead San Diego State University into the future during this exciting time. From overseeing his coaching staff, to recruiting the right kind of student-athlete to come live on the Mesa. Aztec’s all-time leading wide receiver, J.R. Tolver, says, “Brady just does a great job at building these mid-major programs. I think he attracts the kid who has a chip on his shoulder. He’s getting that 2 or 3-star kid who’s probably a 4 star, but hasn’t gotten the recognition that he deserves. I think Brady comes in there and really plays to that chip-on-the-shoulder type of talent. A kid that’s good but because of his attitude, mentality, and work ethic, you know he’s going to play really good and pissed off. If you know anything about Brady, he’s a hell of a recruiter and SDSU has given him all the tools that he’s needed to accentuate his gifts. Brady brings players into the program, gets them connected with his staff, into the weight room, bought into the Aztec culture, and away we go.”
In his time on the Sons of Montezuma Podcast, J.R. Tolver recounted his love for the SDSU program that he came through. Along with the guys on the show, the conversation detailed notable examples of DL Cameron Thomas and DB Darren Hall as prime examples of this recruiting success. Both young men were recruited highly by other Mountain West schools, and some Pac-12 programs as well. But both came into the SDSU program and earned meaningful playing time as freshmen. The latter in Hall, went through the program in 4 years and earned his NFL Draft spot with the Atlanta Falcons. Cameron Thomas coincidentally earned his All-American status as a Junior in the program.
The SDSU Football program is able to develop talent and that’s why the Aztecs have had the 2nd most NFL draft picks (37) come out of a G5 program since 2000.
With talented freshmen in the secondary like Noah Avinger and CJ Baskerville also earning stand out playing time as true freshman, it goes to show that with Coach Hoke, if they put the time in and show their talents, young guys can contribute no matter what age level they are. A valuable and trusted facet of the Hoke-mania that is alive within the Aztec fanbase.
As the Aztecs football team excitedly gets to play in their own home field at the new state-of-the-art Snapdragon Stadium in 2022, some new faces will put on the red & black armor for the first time. With both of the last two seasons having been a roller coaster ride for the program playing away from San Diego County, it will finally be the beginning of a new era. A new era not only for this excellent Brady Hoke coaching staff, but for all the future coaches and players alike for decades to come.
More to come about the Aztecs recruiting class of 2022, as the Sons of Montezuma Podcast presents our Early Signing Day Episode this week!