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Dick Tomey said he knows exactly what he's getting himself into as the new head football coach at San Jose State.
He's heard the whispers that have been circulating for several years that San Jose State could join California state schools like Long Beach State, Cal State Fullerton and Cal State Northridge in the college football graveyard. He also knows that the Spartans averaged a pitiful 6,479 fans for five home games during a 2-9 season in 2004.
But Tomey, who left Hawaii and Arizona as each school's all-time leader in coaching victories en route to a 158-110-7 career mark, decided to take on the monumental task of rebuilding the Spartans anyway.
"I've always felt that San Jose State is a really good situation," said Tomey, who coached Arizona to a 12-1 record and No. 4 ranking in 1998. "San Jose is a great community with a lot of recruiting possibilities. And I'm old enough to remember the days when San Jose State competed well with Pac-10 teams."
Actually, you don't have to go too far to remember those days. The Spartans thumped Bay Area rival Stanford three straight years ('98-'00) under Dave Baldwin and rallied to stun defending Big Ten champ Illinois, 38-35, in Champaign in '02.
Tomey lived in San Jose in '03 while working as an assistant coach with the San Francisco 49ers before moving on to Texas, where he was assistant head coach and defensive ends coach for the 2005 Rose Bowl champions.
"My whole coaching career is built around recruiting in California," Tomey said. "Our new president and athletic director don't only want this program to succeed but to flourish. The facilities here have changed dramatically. I think they're better than the ones we had at Arizona. Some of them are comparable to what we had at Texas."
Tomey hired former NFL star Ken Margerum, who starred as a wide receiver at Stanford under legendary coach Bill Walsh, to run the West Coast offense for the Spartans. Sophomore Adam Tafralis is the only quarterback with any Division I-A experience on the roster after playing in nine games as a backup last season as a redshirt freshmen.
The good news for Margerum is that the top three receivers return, including '04 second team All-WAC pick Rufus Skillern, who had 40 receptions for 588 yards and four touchdowns as a junior. "It's as strong a position as we have on the team," Tomey said.
Running back is a different story, however. Tyson Thompson, a second-team All-WAC choice as a junior, decided to bypass his senior year to enter the NFL Draft. The team's second-leading rusher, Lance Martin, also departed. That leaves tiny (five-foot-five, 151 pounds) fifth-year senior Lamar Ferguson, who gained just 150 yards on 49 carries last season, as the top returning rusher.
Tomey hired Steve Morton, who has previously coached at Pac-10 schools like USC, Washington, Stanford and Washington State, to mold his offensive line. The Spartans return two starters on that unit -- junior center Matt Cantu and senior Amadeo Novella, who has switched from guard to tackle.
The Spartans will switch to the blitzing Flex defense that Tomey made popular during his Desert Swarm days at Arizona. They must replace first-team All-WAC defensive tackle Tony Ficklin, who elected to bypass his senior year to enter the NFL Draft.
The linebacking corps will have a new -- and smaller -- look. The Spartans could start three players under 210 pounds.
The secondary returns virtually intact from a year ago and will be led by senior strong safety Josh Powell, the team's leading tackler with 101 tackles and a member of the Bronko Nagurski Award watch list. Senior free safety Brian Nunez, who intercepted a team-high four passes, is also back.
Waylon Prather, who finished seventh in the WAC as a freshman with a 36.8 punting average, returns. But the Spartans must replace steady placekicker Jeff Carr, who was a perfect 40-of-40 on extra points and 8-of-13 on field goals.
Senior John Broussard, who finished fourth in the WAC with a 25.0 average and returned one for a touchdown, returns to handle kickoff returns along with Trestin George, while James Jones, the team's top punt returner a year ago, is also back.
Talk about your rebuilding jobs. Tomey takes over a San Jose State program that lost its final seven games in '04 and didn't draw a home crowd larger than 10,411.
Tomey became best known for developing the Desert Swarm defense at Arizona in the early '90s and also drew kudos last year with his job as an assistant at Texas. But he'll have his work cut out for him this year after inheriting a defense that ranked dead last in Division I-A in scoring defense, allowing 42.6 points per game.
Offensively, the Spartans appear to have a solid group of receivers, which should help with the team's West Coast offensive attack. If Tomey can find himself a dependable running back to complement the passing game, the Spartans could pull a few surprises in the revamped -- and weaker -- WAC.