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May, 1982 – Fair Weather Fairbanks – “The End of an Error”

Fair weather Fairbanks

Despite compiling a 7-26 record over three seasons, and recording Colorado’s first string of three consecutive losing campaigns in almost twenty years, head coach Chuck Fairbanks still had a job as the 1981 season came to a close.

With this record, when combined with the off the field difficulties the program had endured, few would have been shocked if Fairbanks had been sent on his way. Still, athletic director Eddie Crowder remained loyal to his coach.

As things turned out, it was Fairbanks who was to demonstrate a lack of loyalty.

Most coaching changes occur, if they are to occur, at the end of the regular season. Athletic Directors want to have as much time as possible to interview potential candidates, with the goal to have a coaching staff in place by the end of the bowl season, when the recruiting race really kicks in.

After studying films and making initial contacts with high school prospects during the season (and, in most cases, for several seasons), coaches start fanning out all over the country after New Year’s Day to personally woo high school seniors in advance of the February signing date. Assistants are sent out to strategic locations with the advanced planning of a major military campaign.

“Signing Day”, when letters of intent are signed, is met (in places such as Athens, Georgia, and State College, Pennsylvania, anyway) with as much fanfare as the signing of any peace agreement in Washington. As the true fan knows, the major college programs win as many of their games with the stroke of a pen in February as they do with a crucial fourth down call in October.

The Colorado head coach for the 1982 season was not to be afforded the opportunity to put together a staff and recruit his own players, however. Chuck Fairbanks recruited the incoming class, and took the team through spring football drills. Then, when most of the football world was dormant, waiting for the opening of fall drills in August, Fairbanks quit.

Fairbanks surprised almost everyone with his resignation, and surprised absolutely everyone with his timing, resigning the day after Memorial Day, 1982. Fairbanks was returning to pro football, taking over as president and head coach of the New Jersey Generals of the newly formed United States Football League .

There would be no mourning.

The headline in the Denver Post the next day, June 1, 1982, announced: “The End of An Error”. Although most of the Colorado student population had departedfor the summer, enough remained so that the Post could run an article entitled: “Students Display No Grief”.

Fairbanks’ leaving, while not met with sorrow, did place Colorado at a tremendous disadvantage. As noted, most coaching slots are filled by January, so all of the coaches who may have been interested in the CU job had already found a position. Athletic Director Eddie Crowder was going to have to convince a coach to leave their present position to:

1) take over a floundering program;

2) find assistant coaches;

3) be willing to enter into a season with someone else’s players facing seven teams on the schedule who had gone to bowl games in 1981; and

4) be prepared to do it in three months. The head coaching job at the University of Colorado was not exactly a plum in the world of college football.

Yet, the search had to begin, and it had to begin in earnest.

An early favorite for the job was Drake coach Chuck Shelton, who had beaten Fairbanks’ Buffs twice in the past three years. Another possibility was BYU’s coach, LaVell Edwards, who met with Crowder, only to return to the more stable situation in Provo, Utah. Not convinced that Shelton was the answer, Crowder met next with the defensive coordinator from Michigan, who was offered the job lessthan 24 hours after coming to Boulder. The name of the new head coach was made public on June 9th, and the Bill McCartney era at CU had begun.

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