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Why did Cal defensive coordinator Tim DeRuyter struggle at Fresno State?

A look back at some up and down times for Cal’s new DC.

Fresno State v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

Tim DeRuyter is our new California Golden Bears defensive coordinator after being relieved of duty as the Fresno State Bulldogs head coach. It was an up-and-down stretch for DeRuyter, who won two Mountain West titles in his first two seasons but began tapering off after that.

We interviewed Josh Webb of Athlon Sports to learn more about DeRuyter’s time. Webb has covered Fresno State the past few seasons. This is a two part interview.

What scheme does Coach DeRuyter prefer? 3-4, 4-3, or something more unconventional like 3-3-5?

Tim DeRuyter is a fan of a 3-4 that places the corners on an island and uses Jokers to get pressure on the quarterback. His defenses are typically very aggressive, but they also get beat if they don’t have the proper secondary to accompany the front-seven. One thing DeRuyter does emphasize is turnovers. He coaches his guys to strip the ball, snatch it out of the air, and pounce on loose balls.

A good way to emphasize this point is through something that happened on the field. Fresno State were playing San Diego St. and there was a play where the ball went dead, or so everyone else had thought. Outside linebacker (Joker) Ejiro Ederaine hadn’t heard a whistle, so he picks the ball up and starts casually walking before breaking into a full sprint toward the endzone once he had gotten far enough away. He scored and the Bulldogs went up 28-14 with 10:11 to play. San Diego State would go on to push the game into overtime, but Fresno would have lost -- they were ranked No. 15 at the time -- if Ederaine hadn’t done what he’d been coached to do.

Simplistically, does he prefer a "bend but don't break" approach or a more aggressive one?

Both, really. DeRuyter is a realist. He knows when teams are better than what he’s going to put on the field. But that doesn’t mean he thinks he’s going to lose, he just recognizes internally that there is a talent gap. These aren’t things he will ever say in the media, though he does toss his players under the bus quite a bit.

His defenses are built to keep teams out of the endzone. He gets more and more aggressive as they get down into the red zone. When his defenses are operating at full strength, they’re usually stout against the run, aggressive at all times, and pulling down turnovers. Sometime he will incorporate a ‘bend but don’t break’ strategy, but it’s situational and not meant to be par for the course.

Similarly, does he try to heavily disguise coverages, or simplify the scheme to make it more digestible for players?

I would like to tell you yes, but he’s not exactly a player-friendly coach. The defense isn’t impossible or even super difficult to learn, but it does ask a lot of the players and he has a hard time adjusting when it’s not working. He tends to stick with things and that can be good or bad. He does more to disguise blitz packages than I would say he does with coverages. He’s pretty straight forward with who will cover whom, it’s the blitz packages that he can really fool teams with out of the gate.

You don’t get into Cal without a bit of intelligence and he will have a better crop of players at Cal than he had at Fresno State, so there’s no reason to think he can’t rebound from his time at Fresno. The guys he will have at his disposal would have been playing in a 3-4 with Wilcox, so either way they’re getting a heavy dose of the 3-4 with an emphasis on run fits.

What else (e.g., halftime adjustments, game-to-game adjustments, etc) was he particularly known for?

He wasn’t. This is where he really struggled. One source told me that it was like there were three different head coaches in the building with Tim, his OC, and his DC, when he was at Fresno State. The entire reason he got fired was because he couldn’t make the proper changes needed to improve the squad.

When it comes to recruiting, an alarming number of kids left the program under DeRuyter. He averaged losing nearly 50% of every class he recruited while he was there. He went through six quarterbacks in the two years following Derek Carr’s departure and toward the end of his career, he blamed the players in the press conferences, it was never the coaching staff’s fault for anything.

We’ll have part two of the interview in the coming weeks.