Once Bitten, Twice Shy
The Mike MacIntyre era at the University of Colorado is all of two months old, far too early to draw any conclusions about how things will turn out for the former San Jose State head coach. But it’s not too early to draw some conclusions about how the Buff Nation is receiving the new coach and his staff.
Reserving judgment would be one way to put it.
Once bitten, twice shy would be another.
Compared to the last few hires at CU, the reception for Mike MacIntyre has been muted. Polite applause for the new coach, rather than a standing ovation. Golf claps from the “patrons” at Augusta, if you will, rather than the rowdy cheers of the crowd at the 16th hole at the Phoenix Open.
This is not to say that Buff fans are not hopeful, even optimistic.
It’s just that we’ve been there, done that … and been burned.
Rick Neuheisel was a surprise choice to be the next CU head coach in 1995, but the hire was met with general enthusiasm. Neuheisel, though, took over a team which won 11 games in 1994, and had finished ranked No. 3 in the nation. It was easier to justify taking a flyer on a young coach who had never yet even been a coordinator when there was already so much talent on the roster.
Gary Barnett in 1999, and Jon Embree in 2010, were also met with approval from the Buff Nation when they were hired. Both names were well known to the CU faithful, and each promised a restoration of recent glory (remember “Return to Dominance”?).
Dan Hawkins was an outsider, but he was coming from Boise State, where he had won 50 games in five seasons, and was the “hottest” hire of the 2005 crop of new coach.
Mike MacIntyre is neither a hot young coach (though he is only two years older,47, than Dan Hawkins and Jon Embree were when they was hired), and is not a past member of the CU family.
Considered a “solid” hire by outsiders, MacIntyre is not a “splash” hire, like those made by Arizona (Rich Rodriguez), Washington State (Mike Leach), UCLA (Jim Mora, Jr.) last year. Still, Colorado is coming off of a school record seven straight losing seasons, and lost a school record 11 games last season.
Beggars can’t be choosers.
Colorado fans have long complained that the CU administration is not supportive of the athletic department, and that the Colorado football program has a difficult time being competitive due to a lack of support from the Colorado state legislature, the CU faculty, the administration, and the local community. The recent lack of an announcement concerning facilities upgrades has just added fuel to the fire of outrage.
The University of Colorado regents, however, did open up the checkbook when the new hire was announced. Mike MacIntyre’s $2 million salary is not record-breaking by any means, but the Regents did up the ante for assistant coaches, putting together a pool of $2.6 million for assistants.
Finally, finally, CU would be able to lure some first class assistant coaching talent to Boulder, and be more competitive in that area with the rest of the Pac-12.
So, what happened?
Mike MacIntyre brought with him most of his staff from San Jose State.
Glass half full … This coaching staff will not have to spend a great deal of time getting to know one another. They know their system, and they know their system works – witness the 11-2 record of the Spartans last fall. Plus, unlike the former coaching staff, where head coach Jon Embree and coordinators Eric Bieniemy and Greg Brown had exactly one year of coordinator experience amongst them, the new coordinators, Kent Baer on defense and Brian Lindgren on offense, have a total of 28 years with “coordinator” as part of their job title.
Glass half empty … Colorado is paying premium prices for a WAC-level coaching staff.
Keeping the existing recruiting Class together
Jon Embree and crew had put together a recruiting Class of ten prospects when the coaching staff was let go in early December. Much has been made of the fact that Mike MacIntyre was able to keep the Class together after his hire, with all of the Buffs’ verbal commits sticking with the University of Colorado all the way to Signing Day (the Buffs did not sign four-star tight end Mitchell Parsons, who wound up at Vanderbilt, but it must be remembered that Parsons de-committed from Colorado well before Jon Embree was fired).
Glass half full … Keeping the recruiting Class in place speaks highly, not only for Coach MacIntyre, but for the players CU signed. “When I got the job, the next day I called the 10 young men that were committed”, said coach MacIntyre at his Signing Day press conference. “The thing that I am really proud of is that all 10 young men stuck It is always said that recruits should look to the school and the education they are to receive when they are being recruited, not just the head coach”. Apparently, all of these players, despite the coaching change, and despite the poor season the Buffs had on the field in 2012, continued to see the potential of the program.
Glass half empty … These were not highly recruited players to start with, and many did not have a great deal of other offers to play at a BCS-level school. The recruiting Class was in the bottom third nationally (and near the bottom of the Pac-12) when Embree left, so keeping those commits is hardly cause for celebration.
Commits recruited by the new coaching staff
Seven players committed to Colorado after Mike MacIntyre was hired. Three of those players were three star recruits, the other four were of the two-star variety. Several of the players were “flips” from other schools, but those schools the players had committed to previously were Colorado State and San Jose State.
Glass half full … Coach MacIntyre was able to recruit players who can play in his system. Six of the seven were from California, and were already being recruited by MacIntyre and his staff for San Jose State. Colorado is far behind the rest of the Pac-12 in talent, and before the Buffs can start recruiting five-star players, they have to win games, and to start winning games, the Buffs need to find players who can execute in Coach MacIntyre’s system.
Glass half empty … When you are competing with Colorado State and San Jose State for players, you are destined for failure. Had Chidobe Awuzie and Tedric Thompson not signed on to Colorado on Signing day, the list of new recruits by this coaching staff would have been as follows: five players, four of those being two-star recruits. By any reckoning, that is a scary statistic.
These coaches can seemingly win recruiting battles with Mountain West and Western Athletic Conference schools, but can they win recruiting battles with Pac-12 and Big 12 schools?
It didn’t happen this year …
Colorado finished last in the Pac-12 in recruiting, according to every recruiting service which bothered to rank all 123 schools. The Buffs finished in the low 60’s nationally in most recruiting rankings, far behind almost every other team in the conference, and far behind almost every other BCS conference school.
The poor national ranking was not unexpected, especially for a 1-11 team with a new coaching staff. But is there any reason for optimism about MacIntyre’s first Class?
Glass half full … Mike MacIntyre thinks so. “Rankings in signing classes don’t mean a lot to me,” MacIntyre said. “I’ll tell you in two to three years – how many stay, how many work, how many get better, the tenacity of them – all of those things. I feel like we got some kids who have a little bit of a chip on their shoulders to prove stuff. You always want that; I look for that.”
Glass half empty … Does recruiting five-star players lead automatically to ten-win seasons? Of course not. There are plenty of cases wherein teams loaded with five-star talent (see: USC, 2012) don’t live up to expectations, but those are the exceptions. If you love statistics, you have to read a CBSSportsline.com article entitled, “Recruiting by the Numbers: Why the sites get the rankings right“. As a study of the recruiting numbers suggest, USC’s 2012 season is an exception which proves the rule. So states the articles author, Matt Hinton, “Overwhelmingly, setting aside every other conceivable factor that determines success and failure — injuries, academics, even coaching — individual players and teams tend to perform within the very narrow range their initial recruiting rankings suggest. Some percentage of both groups will not. But when it comes to forming expectations, it should go without saying that you never want to count on being one of the anomalies”.
For the foreseeable future, coach MacIntyre and his Buffs will have to try to be an anomaly, and win more games than they lose with less talent on the playing field than has the opposition.
But then again, that’s what coach MacIntyre and his staff just accomplished at San Jose State …
Through the 2012 season, the University of Colorado football program has fielded a team for 123 seasons.
In all that time, the Buffs and their fans had never endured seven straight losing campaigns … before now.
In all that time, the Buffs and their fans had never endured an 11-loss season … before now.
There is nowhere to go but up.
With the Buffs coming off of a 1-11 season, even the most wildly optimistic Buff fan is not yet ready to predict that the streak of losing campaigns won’t reach eight seasons, or even nine.
Will coach Mike MacIntyre turn the program around? Can he?
This is my sixth coaching change as a member of the Buff Nation. The level of enthusiasm for the hiring of Mike MacIntyre is the lowest I’ve seen since Bill McCartney strolled onto campus in June, 1982, as an off-season replacement for the departed Chuck Fairbanks. There was much more excitement for the hires of Rick Neuheisel, Gary Barnett, Dan Hawkins, and Jon Embree.
The least ballyhooed of all of the above hires was that of Bill McCartney, an unknown defensive coordinator from Michigan.
And that hire worked out okay …