Fresno State, basketball coach Justin Hutson part ways after conference tournament loss

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Fresno State and basketball coach Justin Hutson parted ways on Thursday, ending a rocky six-season relationship following an 87-75 overtime loss to Utah State at the Mountain West Conference Tournament.

Hutson, who will stay on for an unspecified period in a consultant role after his contract expires on April 30, said in his post-game press conference: “I’ve coached my last game here at Fresno State. I’ve talked to the administration. It’s a mutual decision. My contract is up in April. I want to express gratitude to them, the previous administration, to the community. It’s the right time. It’s the right time.

“I’ll finish off through April. I also want to express gratitude that I plan on staying on in a consulting role for awhile after my contract is up, on a new contract and do whatever they want me to do and help however they want help. We’ve talked about that. I just think I wanted to make that clear now and express gratitude to everybody that I’ve been around during these six years. It was a lot of fun.”

The university statement from president Saúl Jiménez-Sandoval said: “On behalf of Fresno State I want to thank Coach Hutson for his dedication and commitment in serving as our basketball coach over the past six seasons. During his tenure, Coach Hutson led the program with integrity and care for his student-athletes. As he transitions from his coaching duties, we thank him for his support of our Bulldog community and appreciate his willingness to continue in a temporary advisory role during the transition.”

Fresno State coach Justin Hutson had a career record of 92-94 in six seasons with the Bulldogs.
Fresno State coach Justin Hutson had a career record of 92-94 in six seasons with the Bulldogs.

On-going investigation into basketball program

Fresno State on Thursday did not release any information regarding an on-going investigation into claims of racial discrimination made by Hutson, which according to multiple university sources are tied to a lack of resources for the basketball program.

But those claims and that investigation are only part of a tenure that did include a 23-9 season in 2018-19, Hutson’s first season, and a 23-13 record and a minor post-season tournament championship in 2021-22.

If there were a checklist of things a first-time head coach would not want to happen, Hutson would have marked off many.

The interim athletics director who had hired him in 2018 did not get the job full-time.

Hutson inherited a dire multi-year NCAA Academic Progress Rate score that not only threatened the team’s eligibility for post-season play and opened the door to other potential penalties, but impacted roster management and recruiting.

Athletics department budgets took hits due to a decline in institutional support from the university and then the COVID-19 pandemic, which impacted the program top to bottom including the scheduling of non-conference games and team travel.

A number of players Hutson recruited left the program, choosing to continue their college careers elsewhere or move on from the game.

The NCAA received an anonymous tip regarding potential rules violations and other alleged misconduct by Hutson and his staff. Similar concerns also were expressed to an athletics administrator by at least two players and by the parent or guardian of a player in a lengthy voicemail message to athletics director Terry Tumey. A university investigation determined the allegations to be unfounded.

Fresno State coach Justin Hutson and the Bulldogs will play in The Basketball Classic, a 32-team tournament for teams not in the NCAA Tournament or the NIT.
Fresno State coach Justin Hutson and the Bulldogs will play in The Basketball Classic, a 32-team tournament for teams not in the NCAA Tournament or the NIT.

Fresno State budget in bottom of Mountain West

It also did not help that several Mountain West Conference programs significantly increased investment in basketball at a time Fresno State ranked ninth in operating expenses and 10th in operating revenue among 10 public schools in the league.

Boise State is a prime example. In 2019-20, it spent $309,925 more than Fresno State on basketball. In 2022-23, Boise State invested about $1.1 million more than the Bulldogs, and has had greater success on the floor.

San Diego State, at the top of the league, invested $9.1 million in its basketball program in 2022-23, according to a database maintained by Sportico.

Fresno State, which is stuck playing in an arena where it receives no cut of parking, concession sales, suite leases or sponsorships, spent $3.8 million.

Along with that lack of revenue, the athletics department is charged for everything from floor conversions to staff, security, housekeeping, utilities and on down to a 5-cent printing fee for tickets that go through the Save Mart Center box office on game days.

Fresno State coach Justin Hutson smiles as the Bulldogs mount a comeback against San Diego State in a 66-62 victory at the Save Mart Center on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. The Bulldogs were down by 20 points in the first half.
Fresno State coach Justin Hutson smiles as the Bulldogs mount a comeback against San Diego State in a 66-62 victory at the Save Mart Center on Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019. The Bulldogs were down by 20 points in the first half.

Justin Hutson final remarks as Fresno State coach

Hutson departs with a record of 92-94 at Fresno State, including 11-20 and 12-21 marks the past two seasons.

After the loss to Utah State, Hutson expressed gratitude for his time in one of the toughest basketball jobs in a highly-competitive conference.

“Man, you spend a lot of time with those guys,” he said, in the post-game press conference. “Again, the word is really, and it sounds cliche, but it’s gratitude. To be put in that position to spend that much time and try to influence the young men to play harder and to learn these life lessons.

“You’re proud of them because there was a lot of opportunities in life where you point fingers or quit. We’ve had some tough games. We’ve never quit, but we’ve had some tough games where it didn’t go our way, and our energy was down, and we were able to talk about that. I thought we had pretty good energy the last two days.”

Point guard Isaiah Hill reflected on his four years playing for Fresno State and Hutson, and what it meant.

“Coach will definitely go down as my favorite coach I’ve ever played for,” he said. “He just brings so much to the table as far as becoming a man off the court. He’s just helped lead all these guys from the players to the staff. It’s meant a lot to be able to get under his wing, learn the game, and become a better man.

“I just want to give my thanks to Coach Hut as well.”