Feeling the School Spirit
See what Terry Tumey says is the role of athletics at the University
By Eddie Hughes
Terry Tumey appears in the doorway of his athletics director’s office on the first floor of the Duncan Building on Fresno State’s campus — smiling, shaking hands and making small talk as he straightens out his red and blue necktie.
He’s personable, warm and friendly, with a disarming laugh and a physique that suggests he could still get down in a three-point stance and rush a quarterback. The former UCLA defensive lineman is in his first couple months leading Fresno State’s Department of Athletics.
He draws on his past experience as director of athletics at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (2016-18), a unified Division III program in Southern California, UC Davis (2012-15) and Dominican University (2009-12). He also spent time on the UCLA football coaching staff as well as the staffs of the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos.
And now he takes over at Fresno State, an athletics program with a proud history of doing more with less — and with a future that will require strategic investments and growing support.
Fresno State Magazine sat down with Tumey to get to know him and discuss his vision and priorities.
Fresno State Magazine:
What’s your first impression of things since you got here and officially took over in the department?
I think my first impression is really simple, it’s community. This place is phenomenal in terms of the support and really the love that they have for Fresno and for folks who represent Fresno, so it’s been truly a blessing to be here.
What makes Fresno State unique when it comes to athletics and community support?
I think it’s the big little institution. It’s big in the fact that it has all the assets that a big university has. It has great professors and great student body and great leadership in President Joseph Castro, but I think what makes it really unique is how it can be very individual and invest in its students in an individual manner where you feel like the University cares about them.
You’ve had experience at previous universities, but this is your first gig at a Football Bowl Subdivision school. What do you anticipate being the biggest adjustment?
The level rises as you move up through the FBS ranks. I feel as though that’s something I’ve yearned for. Being as though I’ve been at the highest level in professional athletics, it’s wonderful to have that mix of academic excellence and athletic excellence all in one place.
What makes you the right guy for the job?
I’m the right guy because I’m committed to Fresno State. I’m a person who believes and sees the power of Fresno State and what it can offer to our community, to our students, regionally and nationally.
In your letter to the Red Wave you talked a lot about the importance of the student-athlete experience at Fresno State. What does that mean to you?
Student-athletes are the reason why we’re here. To be able to invest in individuals as they’re developing, and really to have an impact or an imprint on their lives as they move forward, and to be able to take this transformational experience and be a part of it — it’s a blessing. It’s truly an honor to be a part of that. So we value the student-athlete experience, probably more than anything else.
What role does winning play in providing a positive student-athlete experience?
It’s so important. You can’t have a real positive experience without experiencing winning. I want to have those experiences for student-athletes. I want them desperately. But I also want them desperately for our student body. I want everyone to feel like winners when they come out of Fresno State. I want them to understand that this athletic department represents them. It represents our student community, and I want our students to be so proud and excited about our teams in competition, because they truly are a reflection of that student body.
A lot of the fans and donors want to know your vision for elevating the athletics program. Describe that vision from a competitive standpoint.
I think the biggest thing we need to understand here at Fresno State is that we belong. We belong at the highest level of academics; we belong at the highest level of athletics. My vision is to make sure we’re promoting that in every way possible. We promote that through how we invest in our student-athletes. We promote that in terms of the experiences that we give to our general student population, how we serve our community and how we serve this region. If we do all those things, I promise you, the national prominence that goes along with being Fresno State surely will be here.
Does Fresno State have some challenges that other places don’t when it comes to the budget and providing those resources?
I don’t think there’s an institution in the country that doesn’t face some of the financial constraints that Fresno State’s going to face, or has been facing in the past. But I don’t think there are as many places that truly have a fan base and a community that would be as committed as the folks here in Fresno, and in the Valley. We’re going to lean on that.
What’s the role of athletics at a university?
When you talk about spirit and the feeling of pride that you get for a university, athletics is a way that you can see it, you can touch it, you can almost visualize that spirit for a university in competition. It brings communities together. It’s a very intimate feeling that you get toward a university that comes through athletics. That’s why people love athletics, because it really shows us competing on a larger platform, a larger stage.
Do you think that’s what makes alumni feel and stay connected, decades down the road?
Absolutely. I think they see themselves going through hardships and see themselves rising and succeeding, because of the support of our community, helping them move forward. That does resonate. It stays with you for your lifetime. I think that’s very important for our students to feel that. And I think it’s very important for our alumni to see students going through that, because it reminds them that this was a very special place in their path that they had in terms of their growth and development as individuals.
Historically, Fresno State has seen so many well-known professional athletes, so many top 25 teams and national champions in softball, baseball, tennis, track and wrestling. What will it take to continue that level of national prominence?
I think that’s a real compliment to our past and current coaching leadership. I think continuing to invest in our coaching staff and in the staff who helps to support coaches is vitally important. The growth of a student-athlete is not just dependent upon their hard work. It’s also dependent upon the investments that we place into that athlete.
Having played a sport yourself,
what difference can it make when the student body is really behind the team, showing up and making noise?
It makes all the difference in the world. It’s the difference in thinking that you can win and knowing that when someone comes to your town, to your place, to your university, you’re going
How important is the success of the football program at Fresno State for the entire athletic department?
Football is important because it’s like a portal. Once football becomes successful, it opens up so many other avenues for success in other sports, because it has such an attraction and such an appeal. It allows the community to get so energized and excited. But I’m as excited about football wins as I am about soccer, volleyball and equestrian wins. All these sports are representative and reflective of the success of Fresno State.
What are your expectations across the board for those various programs and what level can they can reach?
We are going to invest in every program to where there’s a championship experience for all of our students. That’s the goal. Not just to have a great student experience, but to try to have a championship experience. So I really have an expectation that we will be champions in every sport, not just football, basketball, tennis, which we had a championship there last year. I want to see success in all of our sports.
What’s your plan of attack to get the community as engaged as they can be at the stadiums and arenas?
We need to use all channels of communication. We have so much diversity in our population, we have so many varied ways in which we can communicate. We need to really start figuring out which way is the most effective. I know with some of our younger population, it may be through social media. For some of our older population, it may be through some more traditional means, whether it be through radio and television or print. But I think we need to start looking at really expanding our ability and our breadth in terms of trying to figure out how we can communicate best with our population.
Is there anything that surprised you about Fresno State?
I think the thing that surprised me the most is, no matter where you go, people know that you’re a part of Fresno State. You are recognizable here, which is great, because that means that people really are paying attention to this University and what it does for the community. So I love the fact that I could be pumping gas somewhere and they say, ‘Hey, aren’t you?’ And I say, ‘Yes, I am,’ and we talk about Fresno State. To me, that is exciting and that’s a lot of fun.
Academics and athletics rising together. I assume that’s a phrase that you’ve heard since you’ve been here. From the athletics department perspective, what types of measures are in place to ensure student success?
I think that’s one of the most important aspects of what we’re going to be doing here, is really looking at comprehensively what the student experience looks like. So when we talk about development, it’s not just about the physical development of our student-athletes, but it’s also how can we support their growth academically or from a career path? How can we make sure that these young people are on the right path so when they matriculate through this institution they’re going to be successful Bulldogs and be able to give back to our community once their careers are over as athletes?
Tell us about your family.
My wife’s name is Candace, and we’ve been together since college. My oldest daughter is Cameron and my youngest is Simone.
Any game day superstition?
I used to like to tape my hands myself. It kind of gave me a sense of power and strength in terms of me preparing myself mentally for a game. You do so much as a student-athlete to prepare for snippets of time in your life, but there’s such a joy in competition that it’s all worth it.
Dodgers or Giants?
Niners or Raiders?
I worked for the Niners for so long and know so many of those individuals, I feel like I better say Niners. Unless it comes to Derek Carr, then it’s all Raiders.
When you get a cut, do you bleed Bulldog Redor UCLA blue?
I think if you cut my wrist right now it’s going to be totally red. It’s so funny, I always think of it like this. You have a home. Everyone comes from a home, but a lot of times we leave home and we find a place that we love. So I’ve left home, and I found a place that I love and that’s Fresno State.
Bulldog alum you’ve known the longest?
Kelly Skipper and Jethro Franklin, those two former football players. I’ve known them since I played in college. I met Jethro at a bowl game we had, called the Japan Bowl, back in the day. We’ve been friends ever since.
Have you talked to him since you got the job?
Oh yeah! ‘Don’t mess it up, Tumey. Do a good job, Tumey.’ He’s a proud Bulldog. He’s very proud of his alma mater, and I promise you, Jethro, I’m not going to let you down.