The 2011 University of Colorado coaching staff

Jon Embree was hired by the University of Colorado to be its 24th head coach on December 6, 2010. Embree took his time – over a month – to put together his 2011 coaching staff. Below is a look at Embree and his coaches, broken down by coach as to “Why this was a good choice”; “Reasons for Concern”; and an “Overall grade” for each coach. There is also an overal grade posted for Embree and his new staff.

See if you agree with my analysis …

Head coach – Jon Embree

Why this was a good choice … I’ve posted two entire articles on this question Jon Embree, Why You’ll (Ultimately) Like this Hire,   and This Time, It’s Different, but to summarize here … Jon Embree brings to Boulder everything the search committee was looking for: 1) a solid coaching background; 2) a good recruiter; 3) ties to the University of Colorado; and 4) leadership.

Embree has not been a head coach at any level, but he has coached in both the BCS ranks and the NFL. What’s more, he has coached offense, defense, and special teams. He brings to Boulder a solid resume. Embree also has a reputation as a solid recruiter, and, with his years as an assistant coach at UCLA, a background in recruiting the west coast. With Colorado joining the Pac-12 in 2011, this aspect of Embree’s resume stood out. 

Embree also has had a long and strong history with the University of Colorado. He came to Boulder as a star player when it was not chic to come to Boulder (a strong plus), coached in Boulder under McCartney, Neuheisel, and Barnett, and has always “bled black and gold”. If Embree is hugely successful, the NFL might come calling, but it would be a huge surprise if Embree left Colorado for another college program (an after-thought now, but an important factor when some of the other candidates for the position were considered).

Reasons for concern …  As noted, Embree has never been a  head coach at any level, which becomes an even greater concerns when the fact that neither of his coordinators have been a head coach, either. This fear is tempered somewhat by the fact that two of his other assistants (Rip Scherer, J.D. Brookhart) have been head coaches at the collegiate level.

The other concern, which is not at the forefront today but may come back to haunt the Buffs in the next few years, is that Embree hired a number of former Buffs. It is hard to fault Embree for doing so. After all, the clamour amongst the Buff faithful during the Hawkins’ era is that Dan Hawkins did not cultivate former Buffs, and did not understand Colorado “tradition”. The pendulum may have swung too far in the other direction with some of Embree’s hires (most notably Kanavis McGhee). Time will tell.

Overall grade … A-minus.  I would like to give Embree a full “A”, but there will always be the second-guessing about the “ones which got away”. Remember, we all agreed with Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn five years ago when he introduced his “home run” hire, Dan Hawkins.


Offensive Coordinator / Running backs coach – Eric Bieniemy

Why this was a good choice … Up until the day Jon Embree was hired, Bieniemy was considered the front-runner for the head coaching position. When the search committee sent members to Washington D.C. to interview Bieniemy, it was just considered to be fortunate happenstance that Bieniemy’s Minnesota Vikings were in the nation’s capital to play the Washington Redskins, so that the committee could meet with Jon Embree as well. As it turned out, the Buff Nation got both coaches.

Bieniemy also had many of the characteristics the search committee was looking for in a head coach, including leadership, ties to Colorado, and recruiting skills. Now the Buffs will have Bieniemy to fulfill his role as emotional leader and sideline cheerleader while Embree can be the more reserved head coach. Bieniemy brings an undeniable love for the school back to Boulder.

“EB” can also be the Buffs’ “recruiter in chief”. Twice, while a member of the staff at UCLA, Bieniemy was twice named one of the top 25 recruiters in the nation. One of the players Bieniemy recruited to Colorado, Brian Calhoun, had this to say about Bieniemy. “He was very genuine. He kept it real,” said Calhoun, who led the Buffs in rushing with 872 yards in 2003 before transferring to Wisconsin (and enjoying even greater success) after Bieniemy left to coach at UCLA. “He was upfront, which I really appreciated … He was pretty much the sole reason I left Wisconsin to go to Colorado, because of him … When we were both at CU, he was a very positive father figure to me and a lot of us.”

Reasons for concern … Bieniemy is very emotional, and, at times, it has gotten the better of him. By many accounts, the issues Bieniemy had in Boulder (a DUI, run-ins with players, most notably Marcus Houston) are behind him, but these lingering doubts may have been the reason why the search committee opted for Embree instead of Bieniemy for head coach.

Again, Brian Calhoun defends his former coach on this subject. “Obviously, it is well documented that he is an ‘in-your-face’ kind of coach, and I wasn’t used to it at first” said Calhoun. “But I got accustomed to it. Really he was just trying to get you prepared for what was about to take place on game day, and he did a good job of that. He is definitely a great motivator.”

Overall grade … A-minus. Like the grade with Embree, this is just a qualificatioin away from being a solid “A”. The Buff Nation was divided between Embree and Bieniemy when the two were finalists for the head coaching job. Now, instead of wondering “what if Bieniemy had been named head coach?”, Buff fans get the best of both worlds. Bieniemy can be the great recruiter Colorado needs to compete with the powers of the Pac-12, and can be the emotional leader on the sideline the Buffs have lacked for the past five seasons. Still, Bieniemy has never been a coordinator, and he is just one emotional outburst or defected star away from hearing “I told you so” from fans.


Quarterbacks coach – Rip Scherer

Why this was a good choice … Rip Scherer has an impressive resume. Longtime coaching experience? Check. Head coaching experience? Check. Experience in the NFL. Check. The Reader’s Digest version of Scherer’s coaching history: Quarterback for William & Mary (1970-73); graduate assistant under Joe Paterno at Penn State (1974-75); quarterbacks coach at North Carolina State (1976); running backs coach at Hawai’i (1977-78); quarterbacks coach at Virginia (1979); quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator, then running backs coach/run game coordinator at Georgia Tech (1980-86); then offensive coordinator for both Alabama (1987) and Arizona (1988-90). Scherer got his first head coaching job at James Madison, going 29-19 in four seasons, before moving on to Memphis, where Scherer went 22-44 in five seasons. After two more college stops (Kansas and Southern Mississippi), Scherer spent the last six seasons in the NFL, serving as quarterbacks coach (2005-06) before adding the title of assistant head coach (2007-08) in four years with the Cleveland Browns, then working as the quarterbacks coach for the Carolina Panthers for the past two seasons.

Reasons for concern … While Scherer is well traveled, he is, well, well traveled. He spent the last six seasons in the NFL. Will he want to adjust back to the college game, where recruiting is the name of the game? Will he bolt back to the NFL if an offer is tendered? Then, there Scherer’s resume. While he has experienced coaching at many schools, he has not left in his wake a number of accomplished players. Can he take a roster of untested quarterbacks (other than Tyler Hansen, none of the quarterbacks Scherer will coach have any snaps in a Colorado uniform). Can Scherer become a quarterbacks guru in Boulder? His resume suggests not.

Overall grade … B-minus. It’s good to have yet another coach with NFL experience on the Buffs’ coaching staff. Scherer also brings with him to Boulder something neither Jon Embree nor either of his coordinators have on their resumes – head coaching experience. Still, Scherer has been out of the recruiting game for six years, and the quarterback recruitment for the Class of 2012 will be amongst the most scrutinized of all of the recruits in Jon Embree’s first full season of recruiting. Can Scherer sell a top prospect on prospering in his system?


Offensive Line coach – Steve Marshall

Why this was a good choice …  Steve Marshall has a lengthy resume, almost all as an offensive line coach. A graduate of Louisville in 1979, Marshall coached east of the Mississippi from 1979 to 1996, with stops along the way at such schools as Tennessee, Marshall, Louisville, and Virginia Tech. After stints at UCLA, Texas A&M, and North Carolina, Marshall joined the staff of Gary Barnett at Colorado for the 2000-01 seasons. In 2001, Marshall’s offensive line paved the way for a running game which produced 956 yards for Chris Brown and 953 yards for Bobby Purify. Of course, Marshall was there for the 62-36 win over Nebraska, in which Chris Brown rushed for a school record six touchdowns. From 2002-08, Marshall was an offensive line coach in the NFL, spending time with the Houston Texans and the Cleveland Browns. Marshall returned to the collegiate ranks in 2009, and was the offensive line coach for Cal the past two seasons.

Marshall clearly brings a wealth of experience, both at the collegiate and professional levels, to the offensive line. He also had a stint in Boulder, making him another “ex-Buff” on the staff. Buff senior guard Ryan Miller will be learning under his fourth offensive line coach in five years this year, but Marshall may well be the best of the lot.

Reasons for concern … At Marshall’s’ last stop, California, the offensive line was good, but not great. The Bears were 52nd in rushing in 2010 (CU was 83rd). Cal was 60th in sacks allowed (CU was 49th). In 2009, Cal’s offensive line was marginally better (37th in rushing; 73rd in sacks allowed), but certainly not scintillating. Colorado’s offensive line has under-achieved the past few seasons under Denver Johnson. The opportunity is there for a dominating offensive line, but it will need the right coach to make it happen. Is Marshall the answer?

Overall grade … B-plus. Based soley on his resume – which is what we have to go on – Rip Scherer seems to be a solid pick. He has a history of success on the field, including success in Boulder with the Buffs. He has coached the offensive line almost exclusively for 30 years, including seven years in the NFL. We’ll see if he can mold the Buffs’ offensive line into a cohesive unit which can protect the quarterback and create holes not seen in Boulder since … well, 2001.


Wide Receivers coach – Bobby Kennedy

Why this was a good choice … Bobby Kennedy has coached at Texas for the past seven seasons, and brings valuable recruiting skills to Colorado. Kennedy, a Boulder native, has known head coach Jon Embree for over 20 years, dating back to when Embree was at Cherry Creek high in Denver and Kennedy was at Boulder high. “With (Embree) playing (in Boulder), and me growing up here, it’s always been a place we’ve aspired to get back to,” said Kennedy. “Colorado has a lot to sell, Boulder has a lot to sell. Also, going into the Pac-12 … what an opportunity for kids to get in on the ground floor of that.” Before landing in Austin, Kennedy coached at Illinois, Washington, Wyoming, and Wake Forest. While at Texas, Kennedy annually recruited a top ten class. “I’ve always believed this: if you’re a good recruiter and you work at it, you can recruit anywhere,” Kennedy said. “What recruiting is is building relationships. Recruiting is listening to people and kids about what they’re really looking for, what they want, and also selling your program in terms of a way that presents opportunity to those young men – not only on the football field, but also academically.”

Reasons for concern … No doubt Kennedy has established himself as a great recruiter. Quick quiz: what position is Kennedy coaching again? Right. Wide receivers. There hasn’t been much mention of Kennedy as a position coach. Not to worry, says Embree. Kennedy is “a very good receivers coach,” said Embree. “He’s had a lot of success. He’s had very good players, but he’s also had to get those players to do that. He’s done it at Washington, he’s done it at Arizona, Wyoming … everywhere he’s been.”

Overall grade … A-minus. Many of us in the Buff Nation were anxious for this hire. Kennedy can recruit, and he can recruit in Texas. Even though Colorado is moving on from the Big 12 to the Pac-12, the state of Texas will remain an important recruiting area for the Buffs. The hiring of Kennedy and Kanavis McGhee only emphasize this point. The only issues for Kennedy are whether he can be a successful position coach at Colorado, and, if he is successful, how long will it be before Kennedy leaves Colorado for another school as an offensive coordinator or head coach?


Tight Ends / Special Teams Coach / Passing Game Coordinator – J.D. Brookhart

Why this was a good choice … Brookhart, 46, is a Colorado native, and was a high school friend of head coach Jon Embree. Brookhart played wide receiver for Colorado State, where he caught 111 passes for 1,873 yards. After a career in business, Brookhart took an unpaid position with the Denver Broncos in 1995. Two years later, he was hired to coach tight ends by the Pittsburgh Panthers. While with the Panthers, Brookhart also coached wide receivers (1999) and was the offensive coordinator (2000-03).

Brookhart was named the head coach of the Akron Zips in 2004, coaching there for six years. He accumulated a 30-42 overall record, with the 2005 team earning a trip to the Motor City Bowl. Brookhart brings to Boulder not only experience coaching tight ends, but experience as a head coach. He joins Rip Scherer as former head coaches who can assist Jon Embree in taking on that new role. He is also reportedly highly regarded by Mike Shanahan, who worked with Brookhart in Denver, and who – as the head coach of the Washington Redskins – was Embree’s most recent boss.

Reasons for concern … Just as was the case with Rip Scherer, a selling point for Brookhart is that he was a head coach … but he was not a successful one. His best year with Akron was a 7-6 team which won the MAC East division with a 5-3 conference record. Also, Brookhart has never coached in the west, and has not recruited at all for a BCS team since 2003.

Overall grade … B-plus. A positive grade, but still a cautious one. Brookhart’s father and brother have been successful high school coaches, so coaching is in his blood. After years away from the game making a name for himself in business, Brookhart talked his way onto Mike Shanahan’s staff in Denver. While at Pittsburgh, Brookhart coached two Biletnikoff winners – Antonio Bryant and Larry Fitzgerald. All good. But today is today, and Brookhart’s stay at Akron was not a great one. Perhaps, like Steve Marshall, Brookhart is best suited as a life-long position coach, and he can turn around two units – tight ends and special teams – which were unproductive in 2010.


Defensive Coordinator / Secondary Coach – Greg Brown

Why this was a good choice Greg Brown and the University of Colorado go back a long ways. Greg’s father, Irv, a Denver radio icon, was the baseball coach for the Buffs. After graduating from Arvada High, Brown attended UTEP, returning to Colorado for his first coaching jobs (Green Mountain High; Denver Gold of the USFL). Since 1984, Brown has coached with six different NFL teams and four college teams. Brown’s first stint with the University of Colorado came in 1991-93, when, as the secondary coach for Bill McCartney, Brown coached two Jim Thorpe award winners, Deon Figures and Chris Hudson. Brown returned to Boulder (from the New Orleans Saints) in 2006 to coach the secondary and act as the defensive pass coordinator.

In January, 2010, Brown left the Buffs to become the co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach for Arizona. This past season, the Wildcats were ranked 44th in the nation in pass defense, 37th in total defense, and 33rd in scoring defense. (Colorado’s numbers in those categories in 2010 were, respectively, 110th; 82nd; and 90th).

Brown brings with him credibility as a defensive backfield coach, having done so successfully at the highest level (In his final season with the Saints, in 2005, New Orleans was ranked 3rd in the NFL in pass defense). He is also familiar with Colorado, and recruiting in Colorado, Pac-12 country, and in Texas.

Reasons for concern … Brown is an established secondary coach, but he has only one year under his belt as even a co-defensive coordinator, and that was just this past season with Arizona. He is taking over the defense at Colorado without any defensive coaches who have been head coach or defensive coordinator (Brian Cabral’s three game stint as interim head coach notwithstanding). Can Brown handle the job as defensive coordinator?

Overall grade … B-plus. This was a “good get” for Jon Embree. Brown is familiar with Boulder, and the limitations – and potential – of coaching at Colorado. Brown has had success in both the collegiate and professional ranks, and is a well-respected recruiter. If Embree had head coaching experience of his own, hiring two first-time coordinators would be less of a concern.


Defensive Line Coach – Mike Tuiasosopo

Why this was a good choice … Mike Tuiasosopo, 47, has 21 years of coaching experience, the past seven of which have been spent at the University of Arizona. Tuiasosopo was born in American Samoa, and was an All-Conference tackle at Pacific Lutheran. His first collegiate coaching opportunity came in 1996, when Tuiasosopo was named the defensive line coach at Utah State. After four years in Logan, Tuiasosopo moved on to Nevada, coaching the defensive line for the Wolfpack for three seasons. After one year with Utah, Tuiasosopo earned a position with the Arizona Wildcats, where he coached from 2004-10.

Tuiasosopo has coached some familiar names in his time. While a high school coach at Berkeley High in California, Tuiasosopo coached Hannibal Navies and Rashidi Barnes, both of whom went on to play for the University of Colorado and in the NFL. Overall, Tuiasosopo has coached ten players who have played in the NFL, and he has been a great recruiter. His University of Arizona bio states that Tuiasosopo “has been a key to UA’s recruiting efforts in the Islands and on the west coast.” When teamed up with CU’s Brian Cabral (who recruited Navies and Barnes), Colorado’s presence in Hawai’i and the islands of the Pacific should only be enhanced.

Reasons for concern … Are hard to find. Tuiasosopo has made a career of coaching the interior defensive line and recruiting. This will be his role at Colorado. With the Buffs moving to the Pac-12, and with the Pac-12’s stated desire to enhance its presence in the Pacific islands and Asia, Tuiasosopo and Colorado seem to be a perfect fit. As a high school coach, he saw two of his players go on to play (and play successfully) for the Buffs, and he has spent his entire career coaching on the west coast. If Tuiasosopo has any aspirations of becoming a head coach (i.e., leaving Colorado shortly after arriving), his resume does not suggest that to be a near future possibility.

Overall grade … A-minus. Bringing in a coach for just two starters along the defensive line may may be seen as overkill, especially when the Buffs are losing out on a potential secondary coach (Ashley Ambrose). Tuiasosopo seems capable of coaching the entire defensive line, but the makeup of the coaching staff is not of his doing. Tuiasosopo seems like a great fit for Colorado – a successful position coach with great recruiting skills.


Defensive Ends / Outside Linebackers Coach – Kanavis McGhee

Why this was a good choice … … Wait, give me a minute … Okay, McGhee was a first-team All-Big Eight linebacker for the Buffs. He was half of the “Houston bookends”, teaming up with College Hall-of-Famer Alfred Williams to terrorize opposing offensese. He is most certainly a member of the “Buff family”. A second round pick in the NFL in 1991, McGhee played five seasons for three different teams during his career. McGhee does have – some – coaching experience, having coached high school in Houston and for the Amsterdam Admirals of NFL Europe.

Not a solid coaching resume. But McGhee disagrees. 

In addition to recruiting in the Houston area, McGhee feels he will be an asset to the coaching staff when it comes to dealing with the defensive line. Embree calls McGhee, “a heck of a teacher, just an unbelievable teacher.” Said Embree: “I know this: All he needed was an opportunity, and I guarantee you, him working with (Tuiasosopo), I’m going to have to find a way to keep him here in two years. I guarantee you he is going to be highly sought after.”

“I know the passion and I think I can share it,” said McGhee. “I know what it means to be an 18-year old kid whose coming to Boulder to be a CU Buff … I also think I know something about the position I’m going to coach. I know about being able to hold the edge and bring pressure from the outside. I think I can teach that.”

Reasons for concern … By a wide stretch, McGhee is the least qualified member of the Embree coaching staff. What’s more, he is coaching positions (defensive ends; outside linebackers) which could be covered by other coaches – Mike Tuiasosopo has 15 years coaching defensive lines; Brian Cabral has 21 years coaching linebackers.

Unfortunately, the only conclusion to draw here is that McGhee’s hire was a monetary necessity.  McGhee can help recruit in Texas, but could be covered with the hiring of Bobby Kennedy, who was a recruiting coordinator at Texas. Ashley Ambrose, who was not retained, was quickly developing a reputation as a good coach and a good recruiter (CU probably lost out on former Michigan defensive back recruit Vladimer Emilien, who said he would come to Colorado if – and only if – Ambrose was retained as coach … Ambrose eventually wound up at Cal; Emilien at Toledo).

There is also the Sports Illustrated story about paying players to play college football. McGhee was named specifically in a story by a former agent as a player who accepted money from him. McGhee has denied the story, but if there are any future repercussions, it could come back to taint the era of goodwill begun with the hiring of Jon Embree.

Overall grade … C-Minus. It is difficult to find a way to justify this is a great hire. McGhee will bring enthusiasm to the sideline, and certainly can focus attention on an area (rushing the quarterback) which will be paramount for Colorado in the Pac-12. Still, the upside to Ashley Ambrose was much higher, so this cost efficient move of hiring McGhee can only serve as a reminder of how far the University of Colorado has to go in the arms race which is modern college football.


Inside Linebackers Coach / Run game coordinator – Brian Cabral

Why this was a good hire … Other than the hiring of Eric Bieniemy as offensive coordinator, the only other “must get” on Jon Embree’s assistant coaches list had to be Brian Cabral. As a 21-year veteran of the sidelines in Boulder, Cabral is the bridge back to Colorado’s successful past. The longest tenured assistant coach in Colorado history, Cabrall has coached a “Who’s Who” of Colorado linebackers, including most of the leaders in all-time tackles (nine of whom have passed his career tackles total of 297, set when Cabral was a star for the Buffs from 1974-77).

What’s more, Cabral stabilized the program when Dan Hawkins was fired. Coming off an historic meltdown against Kansas, the Buffs could have gone south for the remainder of the season. A 3-6 record could have spiraled downward into a 3-9 record (and a six game losing streak to end the season, which would have hung over the off-season like a dark cloud). Instead, Cabral inspired the Buffs into two home wins, and hope for the future.

Reasons for concern … are few. Brian Cabral bleeds black-and-gold. Even though he was passed over for the head coaching job in favor of Jon Embree, it would be a surprise if Cabral did anything other than focus on his duties as linebackers coach. Teaming up with Mike Tuiasosopo, Cabral can make Colorado a force in recruiting Hawai’i and the Pacific islands. The lure of playing for Colorado, while still being on television as a member of the Pac-12, could prove to be an important bonus for Colorado in recruiting players from the west coast and beyond.

Overall grade … A-plus. The importance of retaining Brian Cabral as an assistant coach cannot be over-stated. Cabral did have what were described as “preliminary talks” with Northern Colorado as to taking the head coaching job in Greeley. Had Cabral left the Buffs, the positive energy created in the last three weeks of the regular season would have been lost. What’s more, Colorado would have lost a great recruiter and a great coach. Even in the down times of the program over the past 20 seasons, the linebackers could generally be counted on to be one of the premier units on the team. Colorado, and Jon Embree, are fortunate that Brian Cabral decided to stay.


Strength and Conditioning Coach / Malcolm Blacken

When he arrived in Boulder, strength and conditioning coach Malcolm Blacken wasn’t sure what cards he had been dealt with the Colorado football team.

He figured it would take about four weeks of work in winter conditioning to figure it out.

“My biggest goal over the next four weeks is to figure out what kind of team we have, what type of athlete is at CU: functional strength guys, weight room strength guys, do we have a track team? I don’t know,” Blacken said in an interview with shortly after his hire. (link)

While not critical of the strength and conditioning program of former coordinator Jeff Pitman (“I know ‘Pit’ did a very good job”), Blacken says that there will definitely be changes in the players’ workout routines. “The athletes here; their response has been positive,” said Blacken. “They want change, they need change, and it’s welcomed.”

Blacken is a big advocate of “core strength”. All of his workouts will begin with seven to ten minutes of back stability and abdominal work to reaffirm to the players that “all of your power is in your core … every athlete at CU will know at the end of this four-week (evaluation) period that engaging your core in exercise is huge. And we’ll do it year-round.”

The football team will be divided into four lifting groups a day, and Blacken wants position players lifting together. “I want them to compete. I want the O-line to see what the D-line is doing and vice versa,” said Blacken. “I want everybody to feel like they have to measure up … I don’t like it when DB’s are working out with the offensive linemen. Team camaraderie is good, and we can do that (at certain times). But in lifting, I like the groups that go against each other to work together. It’s competition, and that’s what everyone thrives on.”

Blacken intends to use resistance training and over-striding to help make the Buffs faster. “You can’t run fast unless you practice fast,” said Blacken. “You have to practice over-striding, running against resistance … there are certain things you have to do to run fast … There’s going to be some lateral movement, some broken tackles, some things that I have to mimic in the weight room that we can transfer to football.”

On gamedays, Blacken does not expect to be out on the field early. “I’ve always been a motivator; I’ve always been the guy, with all due respect to the head coach, left in the locker room when the O-line and the D-line are coming out last to warm up,” said Blacken. “I’m in there with those guys, in there with the big guys. That’s where we, as we say in our profession, get our minds straight.”

I am the first to confess that I do not have any insights as to whether Blacken’s methods are going to be better or worse than what we have seen over the past five seasons. I do know, however, that I do like Blacken’s 15 years of NFL experience in strength and conditioning.

And I do like his attitude.

“I will be wherever Coach Embree needs me to be (on gameday),” said Blacken. “I hold the sticks if he wants me to.”

Sounds good to me …

The 2011 Coaching Staff – Overall

Life is full of “what if’s” and “what could have been’s”. Was Colorado ever seriously in the running for Les Miles? For Mark Richt? Would Bill McCartney have sparked a resurgence in the program? Would Eric Bieniemy been a better fit?  Will Gus Malzahn and Jim McElwain become household names as star coaches at other schools down the road?

Questions which are impossible to answer.

While perhaps not the “home run” hire we all (yes, myself included) thought Dan Hawkins would be, we do know that Jon Embree fits the criteria for success in Boulder. He understands that Colorado wants to be a top-25 program without a top-25 budget. He understands that building a successful program begins with great recruting (and starting with retention of in-state talent). He has coached on both side of the ball, and done so successfully. He is a great recruiter, and has done so on the west coast. Embree sees Colorado as a destination, not a stepping-stone.

Embree has now assembled his staff. I would give the nine coaches an overall grade of B-plus. The hiring of Kanavis McGhee over Ashley Ambrose may have been a necessity due to Embree’s being cash strapped as to available funds for assistant coaches. Having Ashley Ambrose as secondary coach (and dropping McGhee) to me would have given the new staff a grade of “A”.

As it is, Colorado and its fans have to face reality. Colorado has a top-20 program in terms of historical success, but is also a program which aspires to be more than it can afford. Perhaps with the influx of Pac-12 television revenue, and a renewed enthusiasm for Colorado sports (baseball in 2020!; football in “Celestial Seasons Stadium”!), Colorado will return to new heights.

Jon Embree played for a Colorado team which went 1-10; he coached Colorado teams which won ten games a season. He knows the difference between the two results … and he has a blueprint for how to get there. “We have a good staff that can recruit,” Embree told the Longmont Times-Call. “We’re going to have good quality athletes that people can be proud of. I think we match up well in the conference we’re going into. Everybody (in the administration) it feels like is on the same page and going in the same direction. When you’re doing it like that, you’re going to be successful.”

When asked where he sees himself in ten years, Embree responded, “Right here, getting ready for another bowl game.”

Buff fans would like nothing more than to see that happen …




12 Replies to “Embree & His Coaching Staff”

  1. Stuart,

    I’ve read that coach Embree was waiting to fill the last open assistant position, i believe it is QB coach, until the end of the pro season. Speculation being that person was coming from a pro team. I have heard or read nothing about this hire and the regular pro season is over.

    Due you interpret this to mean his “guy” is with a team still in the play offs or is he having trouble filling the last coaching slot?

  2. Well, I do know of one state that has the same law as Colorado. It’s the state of South Dakota. I’m a graduate assistant in the University of South Dakota’s sports information department and in the time I’ve been here, administration and coaches of the revenue sports ( football, men’s and women’s basketball) have stated if they want to become a legit contender in Division I they need to be able to hire coaches to multi-year contracts. USD just lost its defensive coordinator to the head coaching position at Montana Tech, his name is Chuck Morrell. It’s not a secret that Sioux Falls University, which competes at the NAIA level, had a dynasty the past decade. A lot of people give credit to the former head coach who recently left, but it’s said around the program that Morrell’s defense is the reason why they were so successful. I know that there is a big difference in the talent level at a Division I level compared to NAIA and Division II, but Morrell is one of the coaches that could be a defensive coordinator at a FBS school in the future. Who knows, if USD was able to offer multi-year contracts he might have stayed.

  3. Stuart,

    It often comes up that CU is limited in getting top-notch assistants due to limitation on multi-year contracts. Can you tell me if CU is unique in this type of limitation? Do other state universities have similar type policies?

  4. I am psyched that Embree is on board and generally like his picks for assistants. One worry, though: special teams.

    it’s too important to be treated like an afterthought. Anyone else worried that Brookhardt has ZERO experience in this area? Mac thought that special teams were critical, let’s hope Embree determines what has gone wrong and has a plan to fix it; AND that Brookie is the guy who can get it done.

    As a parting note: Somebody go get Jonathon Drescher (class of 2011) for our next snapper. It’s in the genes.

  5. I think you might be a little harsh on Kanavis. To me, he seems like primarily a recruiting hire. Recruiting Texas kids to the University of Texas, like Bobby Kennedy has been doing, is one thing; getting blue chippers out of the state and on the Colorado football team is something completely different. I don’t know anything about Kennedy specifically, but I’d be skeptical about any recruiting accomplishments he has given that UT basically just gets to pick whoever they want in Texas, and the player will jump at the opportunity. Houston is a hotbed for prospects and getting top recruits out of there was key to the National Championship. Kanavis is a local legend, has a bunch of ties into the high school football community from coaching there, and can sell the players on the success he had making the decision he is asking them to make. Plus, he seems like a very charasmatic guy from what I’ve heard from him on the radio with Big Al. And because you’ve got overlap in the position he’s coaching with some very experienced coaches, you don’t have to worry about him learning some on the job when it comes to his coaching on the field. From 2006-2010, Colorado has successfully recruited exactly 0 out of 220 4 or 5 star players in Texas (according to Rivals). If Kanavis can improve on that, he’s an excellent hire. I’d say he’s more an incomplete than a D+.

  6. AZ

    Absolutely no problems with your post – no apology necessary.

    I appreciate your comments, and can’t say I disagree with your points. Jon Embree has put together – arguably – a much stronger staff than any than Dan Hawkins had. The lack of overall experience at the coordinator positions is a concern, but I don’t think CU fans could have asked for more in Bieniemy and Brown.

    Granted, assigning grades to a staff is entirely arbitrary at this point, but it does give us something to do while we wait to argue over the quality of the recruiting class 🙂

    Keep posting. It’s good to know that you’re out there!

  7. Stuart, I have had time to think about my post of 12/12 and would like to add the following: After reflecting on what I wrote I would like to apologize to you if my comments came across as somewhat argumentative, unappreciative. I truly do appreciate all the work you did with your analysis. I know it is a labor of love for the Buffs and I look forward to your reports. My point, which was poorly made, is that while some, which I assume would include you have made a judgement based on your opinions, I for one am not ready to go that far regarding this new coaching staff and grade them before the fall. I will reiterate that I think it is a great group, and because of the internet we are all paying more attention to the assistants now than back in the McCartney days. That being the case allows me to conclude that this is potentially the best staff and could be the best overall we have seen at CU. The McCartney staff over a period of time turned out to be excellent but before they were assembled and achieved their collective success the jury was out as it is now. Again thanks for the work on this site.

  8. Largely agree with the grades, but would give McGhee at least a “C”. I wouldn’t underestimate his coaching/teaching experience, and he is another asset with NFL experience. Just because others have decades of experience doesn’t always translate to more effective coaching ability. Plus, he’s a Buff through and through.

  9. I fail to see the downside on any of these coaches, and if assigning a grade could not use a letter but would more likely say pass or fail. All pass as the reason for that is no one has seen what their product will be as a collective group until next season. It really is not a total stand alone process but a collective one —- as Hillary Rodham has said “It takes a village.” While it is enjoyable to speculate and attempt to micro manage the hiring of these individuals, that is just what it is. These are Jon Embree’s hires and if any of us were running the show we would have our own ideas of whom to hire as seen in the above article. Therefore, I can’t truthfully say that this guy is the right guy or that guy is the wrong guy. Those decisions were made by Jon Embree and I have to assume the coaches are his picks. I can say this though, in my mind the quality of the new coaching staff and what is expected of them has risen over a 100% from the last 5 years. I feel that this will be a very good staff starting out. At some time there will be tweaks and subtractions, and additions, but that is the life of a college football program.

  10. Cabral is staying and it sounds like Ambrose is staying too. There is also speculation that Hagan will be contacted about staying as soon as he is able. He is grieving over the loss of his son. Thoughts and prayers are with him. Go Buffs

  11. I am very happy to have this resolved and I think this will turn out well, as an added comment…I strongly support keeping Brian Cabral and Coach Ambrose. I think Cabral has not only proven himself as a strong coach, but also a strong Buff booster. But he has also been pretty good on the recruiting front. Ideally, keeping Coach Kiesau would be good as well except that offensive coordinators are like the Highlander in one sense; there can be only one. I’m not sure he would want to take a step back to stay at CU when he could very likely find a coordinator job elsewhere. Overall, I’m please to have both of these greats of CU past. As Coach Cabral says, How bout dem Buffaloes?

    Boston, Mass

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