The Buffaloes Roam, Again

A Division I college football coach deserves at least four years to turn around a moribund program, especially when living within the confines outlined by the same University of Colorado administration that deposed one of its own: former Buffalo tight end and now former Buffalo head football coach Jon Embree.

Colorado’s decision to fire Mr. Embree less than two full years after his hiring is abhorrent and short-sighted. Consider:

  • The conditions of the Colorado Buffalo football program at the time of Embree’s hiring were disastrous.  The program had not been nationally relevant for at least the previous five years, arguably longer;
  • The existing roster lacked both talent and depth;
  • The recruiting classes of the previous five years were generally failed, a result of poor talent evaluation, development, and retention;
  • The 28-member senior class of Embree’s first campaign lacked distinctive talent to lead the program into its augural season in the Pac-12; and
  • The eight-member senior class of Embree’s second and final season lacked just about everything that a successful college football program needs from its veterans.

The administration’s firing of Embree is a devastating blow to the near and long-term future potential of the program and a sad reflection of what has become of the Colorado Buffaloes.

If  Colorado is to return to national relevance, major reforms at the base of the Flatirons must occur.  The first and most important decision will be the hiring of a new head football coach willing to risk his professional future to resuscitate the program knowing that the last three deposed coaches at the University of Colorado find themselves in coaching purgatory.

While Mr. Embree will be lucky to ever earn another opportunity as a college football head coach after his alma mater’s fateful decision, his predecessors Dan Hawkins and Gary Barnett are more likely to be found broadcasting Wednesday night MAC football games than receiving interviews to coach Division I football.  Lest we forget, Hawkins led Boise State to national prominence in the five years preceding his Colorado tenure and Barnett achieved the unthinkable — twice — by leading Northwestern to the Rose Bowl in 1994 and Colorado to the brink of a national championship in 2001.  Like Embree, Hawkins and Barnett were suitable to lead a college football program in today’s game.

Just not Colorado’s.

Herein lays the struggle: CU must decide if it is authentically interested in building a perennial winner, or if it is willing to let the limitations placed upon the football program continue.  Colorado needs to analyze its admission standards, rigidity in accepting junior college transfers, salary and contract structure of assistant coaches, and recruiting program in order to move forward.

From the perspective of your faithful correspondent the university has two distinct options in moving itself forward administratively, but both require a clear vision for organizational success.

Option #1:  Eliminate all restrictions to football success and hope to hire an ethical, law-abiding leader for the program.  This reflects the model the university embraced when Bill McCartney rebuilt the football program from the ashes in the mid-1980s. Allow the football coach to take risks on kids with questionable academic and (possibly) behavioral backgrounds, and let him lead those players to athletic success.  Accept junior college transfers, develop General Studies and Criminal Justice programs at the university, and lower the academic barrier that immediately disqualifies recruits by the dozens from even considering Colorado.

Option #2:  Embrace the academic success and rigidity of the school and build the Stanford of the Rocky Mountains.  Recently on the Jim Rome Show, Stanford coach David Shaw defiantly stated the first and primary criteria for recruiting student-athletes to his school is their academic records.  All Stanford has done in the last three years is compete annually for the Pac-12 and national championships, develop the best college quarterback prospect of the last thirty years, and build a winning tradition at a school that lacked it for years.  But they embrace their model, where Colorado has hidden from it. Colorado can choose this option, but it needs to become modus operandi before midnight tonight.

The status quo in Boulder is magnified by the administration’s failure to embrace an organizational and business model. Jon Embree could have successfully implemented either of the aforementioned models but was instead presented with his choice of two shit sandwiches:  build the Stanford of the Rockies in two years or less, or try to patch together a football program without administrative support from the suits in Boulder.

Mr. Embree offered the Buffaloes a commitment to the university, a solid recruiting track record, extensive collegiate and NFL coaching experience, and sound leadership traits all the way until his firing late Sunday night.  Granted appropriate time and support from administration, he likely would have built Colorado into a competitive Pac-12 football program.

Hopefully, the school will be able to find someone who is qualified and willing to take over the program in its current state.

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