From the get go, I thought Eric Bieniemy would be the next head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. Five years ago, I thought it was going to be Jon Embree…so the projections were wrong, but the thought process right. Today it looks like Embree will be the guy, and Bieniemy could be the offensive coordinator. One or the other…or a combination of the two… isn’t just the right choice for CU, it’s the ONLY choice.
It was easy to laugh out loud at some of the absurd nonsense said and written over the past two weeks that included names like Mike Bellotti, John Gruden and Les Miles. Pa-leeeeze. None of those three guys were ever EVER going to take a job like CU. It was complete lunacy to even mention them. Those are big timers, and this is not a big time gig (or paycheck). Troy Calhoun from Air Force quickly realized that he was better off where he was. Had he taken the CU gig, he might have been the first person to ever pass away from culture shock.
No, it was/is going to take a certain type of person – someone who is familiar with the unique set of circumstances that come with the job and who won’t get frustrated by what the program lacks – to take over and have any shot at success in Planet Boulder.
In retrospect, it’s pretty clear that one of the things that brought down Dan Hawkins was frustration. Same thing that chased Rick Neuheisel away. Former CU HC Gary Barnett said recently that he was told (promised?) when he was hired in 1998 that CU was going to build an indoor practice facility. That still hasn’t happened. Do you suppose Hawkins was told the same thing five years ago? Hawkins was coming from a successful program at Boise State and thought he was taking a step up. Do you think he would have thought that if they promised him a practice bubble?
Coaches almost everywhere get frustrated with what they don’t have. A rival has a better scoreboard that we do? The coach starts campaigning for bigger and better. That sort of approach will never fly at CU. There are limitations. Plenty of them. It’s far better to bring in someone who already knows this…who won’t be put off by what CU doesn’t have and won’t be getting any time soon. Embree (and Bieniemy) fit that bill. They know the culture, they know the limitations, and they know what they will have to do to make things work. (And for the administration, it will be a relief to not have Rev. Jesse Jackson banging on the door.)
Embree is a good football man with the right kind of even-keel personality to deal with what will not be an easy job. Hawkins said CU had been “burned to the ground” before he took over. I guess inheriting a team that had just won the Big 12 North was not good enough for him. And if that’s the “burned to the ground” standard, how would someone describe the current state of the program Hawkins leaves behind?
Embree and his staff have a big job ahead of them. There is no quick fix. This year’s recruiting class will be poor by everyone’s standards. Then there is the issue of “rallying the troops” in and around the program to get off their behinds and start 1) showing up at home football games. Eight sellouts in over the past 10 seasons just screams out “second rate program,” and 2) start pumping some money into the program via fund raising/donations. These are area’s where CU “supporters” umm….stink. Badly. That has to change or Embree is as doomed as his predecessors.
And finally, the administration, some of whom fought to keep Bill McCartney out of the coaching mix because of his political and social views, need to get on board. It’s fine to be righteous and well meaning. It’s fine – and correct – to make academics THE top priority. But sitting up in your ivory tower and deciding that taking the lead in finding ways to curb global warming is that much more important than football is just foolish and wrong. These nose-in-the-air academic types need to realize that football DOES matter to the university and the community. Proclaiming yourself the Harvard of the West might make you feel good about yourself, but it’s looked upon with a smirk elsewhere in the county. Believe it or not, CU admin, much of the country DOES evaluate your school on what you do on the athletic fields. Gasp! It’s true! Potential students getting ready to spend $30K a year on an education have televisions. They see the games on TV! They get the scores on their cell phones! They notice…and it matters to them!
The CU athletic department is making a good choice for the new head coach. But even that won’t matter if the support system around the football program does not improve…drastically. If things stay the same up in Boulder’s ivory towers, then it won’t matter who the new coach is.