Pat Hill won plenty of games at Fresno State. Indeed, he was once very much revered in his community as a no-nonsense underdog willing to take on all comers any time, any place. In some circles, he still is.
But the tide began to shift against him in the last several years, as it became clear the Bulldogs were no longer in position to fulfill its desire of taking the non-AQ mantle from Boise State and running with it. Really, Boise State took that mantle from Fresno State, a team that nearly became the first BCS buster in 2001.
Between back-breaking nonconference schedules and an inability to beat the top-tier WAC teams, the foundation Hill laid for the Bulldogs began crumbling. It came crashing down this season, a disastrous 4-9 campaign that tied for the most losses in school history. Included in the loss column -- games dropped to New Mexico State and San Jose State, two of the worst teams in the WAC.
Though he has two years remaining on his contract, Hill was fired Sunday after 15 seasons. The school was unapologetic for the move in a press release, in which it cited the decline of the program since 2005:
Fresno State has won just one of its last five bowl games.
The Bulldogs have a 28-19 (.596) league record over the past six seasons, with an average finish of fourth in the conference standings. Since 2006, Fresno State has posted an 11-29 (.275) record against teams with a .500 record or better while going 21-14 (.600) at home over that period.
The Bulldogs have struggled against the top three WAC teams each year since 2006, posting a 3-15 overall record. Against all bowl eligible teams since 2006, Fresno State is 8-22. The trend over the last six years has contributed in a 42 percent decline in season ticket sales and a 25 percent drop in ticket revenue.
The numbers are stark, and harsh. But reality says that you can no longer win on what you have done in the past. It is all about what you have done lately, and Hill has not done much to inspire the confidence of his administrators or the faith of his fans. Fresno State faithful have been criticizing Hill for several seasons now, wondering whether a change was needed to breath new life into this program.
Back in 2001, there were no such questions, not with David Carr in control. Carr ended up being the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft. That year, the Bulldogs made it as high as No. 8 in the national rankings before Boise State shattered its dreams of making it to the BCS. Fresno State set a school record with 11 wins that season, then reeled off three straight seasons with nine victories.
But one big source of pain has been Boise State, a team Hill beat just once. In the last two meetings between the two teams, Boise State outscored Fresno State 108-7.
Earlier this season, a defiant Hill spoke to me for 45 minutes about the state of his program, and the critics who wanted to see him leave. He professed his love for Fresno State, his belief that he would be able to turn the season around, and did not want to make excuses for the struggles of this season.
Hill is a good man, who has poured everything into making this program great. He took a pay cut several years ago when the state university system was in dire need of saving money. You do not get 112 victories in this game, nor last 15 years in one spot, without being a good coach. But the time has come to make a change. When I asked him back in October about his critics and the possibility of this being his final season at Fresno State, he said:
"I love this community. I came with the sword in my hand and when you go out, you go out on your sword. Everybody’s day ends some time and I’ll look back and hold my head high. I’m proud of what’s gone on here. Do I want to win every game? Yeah that’s what everybody expects, and that’s what I want.”
He did win games. But at the end of his career, he simply did not win enough.