Tim DeRuyter’s name was not the first on many people’s minds as Cal began its hunt for a defensive coordinator all the way back in December. Tosh Lupoi—in equal measures welcomed and reviled—dominated the conversation, particularly when it became apparent that Justin Wilcox, not Sonny Dykes, would be the one making the hire. Once the news broke that Lupoi would not be returning to Berkeley, attention shifted to Jimmy Lake, DBs coach for the ascendant Washington Huskies. But when the dust finally settled in Strawberry Canyon, it was the 54-year-old DeRuyter’s name that had been selected, displayed for all to see in that horrible Nike-designed font so beloved by the Cal athletic department.
The move was received by Cal fandom with a resounding “huh.” DeRuyter, though he has been steadily climbing the coaching ranks throughout his 28-year career, is a bit of a buy-low prospect right now. Fresno State was willing to eat $3.1 million in salary guarantees to rid itself of him back in October, prematurely ending his fifth season as the Bulldogs’ head coach amid a 1-7 slump. But let’s start at the beginning, when DeRuyter was a young linebacker at Air Force.
DeRuyter played on three bowl game-winning teams for the Falcons, then remained with his alma mater as a defensive assistant under storied Air Force head coach Fisher DeBerry. The Long Beach native then made stops at Ohio (1995-98, 2002-04), Navy (1999-2001), and Nevada (2005-06) before returning to Air Force in 2007. Serving as defensive coordinator and occasional DBs/safeties coach throughout that stretch, DeRuyter earned his first assistant HC title with in 2008.
He again left the Falcons in 2010, joining Mike Sherman as DC/Asst. HC at Texas A&M. His Aggies team, which included eventual Denver Broncos legend Von Miller, finished the season as Big 12 South co-champs and earned a berth in the Cotton Bowl. 2011 was not as kind to the Aggies, but did present DeRuyter with his first head coaching experience when Sherman was terminated after his team lost to Texas. Though DeRuyter won his only game as interim HC, the full-time position was ultimately offered to Kevin Sumlin.
Instead, DeRuyter took the head job at Fresno State, where he found immediate success. With Derek Carr at the helm, DeRuyter’s Bulldogs became back to back conference champions, going 9-4 in 2012 and 11-2 the following season. But he was unable to replicate that success in later years, winning a combined ten games in his final three seasons. With a 1-7 start in 2016, DeRuyter was replaced in late October by former Cal assistant Eric Kiesau.
DeRuyter’s record as a head coach (31-30) is less than stellar. The Bulldog faithful lamented his inability to retain local talent, high rates of attrition from his program, and the inexplicably poor performance of his defenses. But those results seem out of place when compared to the rest of his career. Recognized as a turnaround specialist for struggling defenses, DeRuyter found consistent success guiding Ohio, Navy, and Air Force to significant gains in defensive S&P during his tenures at each school.
So how do you explain his recent failure as head coach? Perhaps his skill set is better suited to a coordinator position than the top job. And if there’s any defense that’s ripe for a DeRuyter Special™ turnaround, it’s Cal’s. Hopefully his weaknesses as a recruiter can be overcome by his position coaches, a number of whom have been recognized for their ability to land top talent—not to mention Justin Wilcox’s explicit commitment to recruiting locally.
This is also a chance for DeRuyter to simplify and get back to his schematic roots, as he and Wilcox both prefer to run a 3-4 system. It remains to be seen whether Cal has the personnel to pull that off, given the lack of depth at linebacker, but Wilcox has expressed his desire to transition to the 3-4 as soon as his roster permits. Meanwhile DeRuyter, like OC Beau Baldwin, can lend some head coaching experience to Wilcox as he navigates his first year in that position.
With all that in mind, DeRuyter has plenty of appeal as a practical hire if not as a splashy one. Cal fans were right to be wary when his name cropped up under Sonny Dykes, a coach who needed a defensive mastermind to support his scheme. But with the defensive-minded Wilcox at the helm and a spectacularly experienced group assistants, DeRuyter may be in just the right position to engineer some success.