In their first four years together, Tim Walsh was the one repeatedly recruiting Neil Fendall.In the years since, the relationship has been the other way around.
And with Fendall joining Walsh on the Cal Poly coaching staff to replace suspended assistant Randy Hanson this week, the two are finally back together again.
Hanson, who was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon on Aug. 4 and indefinitely suspended by the university two days later, resigned effective today, giving the football program the ability to hire a full-time replacement.
Enter Fendall, who played safety at Portland State for four seasons in the mid-1990s, three of which under Walsh as head coach.
He’s spent the past six seasons at Division III power Linfield (Ore.) College. Before that, Fendall had an eight-year assistant coaching career at three Oregon high schools. That was his preferred career path, even though Walsh wanted him to aim higher.
When Walsh left Humboldt State to coach Portland State for the 1993 season, Fendall had just finished his true freshman season as a safety for the Vikings. Walsh had to convince Fendall and others not to transfer away from the program.
“To this day, I’m not really sure what kept me there,” Fendall said. “I filled out all the paper work. I was ready to do it, and the day I was going to do it, I decided not to.”
When Fendall’s playing days were over, Walsh made a pitch to the former MVP and team captain to join the coaching ranks as a graduate assistant. It was rebuffed.
So, years later, when Fendall realized he did want to coach college football, he began to lobby his old friend.
“When I was coming out of college,” Fendall said, “he asked me to coach and I said no. So, it was kind of a process of getting out of that doghouse from 14 years ago, and he did hold that against me, so I had to give him a top 10 reasons to hire me someday.”
Said Walsh: “He was a football guy, and I just knew he liked young people. I think once he found out and started to realize how good he was on the football field as a teacher and a coach, he wanted to challenge himself on a higher level.”
When Walsh arrived at Cal Poly in 2009, he brought on former Portland State defensive coach Greg Lupfer as defensive coordinator. Lupfer nearly left San Luis Obispo a couple times as a head coaching candidate for both Portland State and Pacific (Ore.) over the past few years.
Those close calls might have prompted Fendall to send Walsh his David Letterman-styled top 10 lists via text message.
Walsh found the texts humorous and kept Fendall on a short list of potential coaching candidates. He even invited Fendall to help coach at Cal Poly’s youth football camp this offseason.
Walsh said he spoke with Fendall after Lupfer left to join Colorado State prior to the start of spring practice.
Instead, Walsh hired Hanson, a former NFL coach best known for an alleged altercation between he and former Oakland Raiders head coach who had previously worked under Walsh at Portland State.
When it became clear Hanson would be removed from the team, there was little time to line up a replacement with the season so close to its start.
Fendall was the most ideal candidate, Walsh said, but even he was almost ruled out as an option. When contact was made, Linfield was just two days away from opening is own training camp.
“If we would have waited another 24-36 hours, he’s the type of guy that once he started, he wouldn’t have walked away from his players,” Walsh said. “From that standpoint, timingwise, it was in the nick of time.
“To get a guy of his caliber at this time, it’s a steal.”
The addition gets the Cal Poly coaching staff back to full strength and allows Walsh to return to his role overseeing the entire team as a whole. In Hanson’s absence, Walsh had been helping coach the defensive backs along with assistant Pat Johnston.
While Walsh will go back to his original duties, Fendall must get caught up in a hurry. Only 15 days remain until the Mustangs’ season-opener against San Diego on Sept. 1.
“It’s Thursday, and I feel like I’ve been here two months,” Fendall said. “It’s jump in and go. It’s integration by force. You have to get going. We don’t have a lot of time to talk about it.”