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.

The hire

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.

The assistants

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 …

Recruiting rankings

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 …



12 Replies to “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”

  1. I am excited given the utter futility under Embree. After JE was fired it dawned on me that Bohn realized sometime this fall that he had made a mistake and another year would have been wasted similarly to the fifth year given Hawkins (yes I know there were other considerations.) But high level football is a “not for long” (NFL) business. Yes, there is nepotism but most of the time, teams want to win regardless of the circumstances. JE should have been hired only if he had coordinator experience. The fact that he was hired means that there was a reach. But that was the past. I think the experience that this staff brings to CU is really going to help. The offense will be light years better than the last two years. Defense will be improved. Better schemes. I am believe that there will be a minimum of 4 wins next year. The future is going to be better.

  2. good piece, Stuart.

    certainly, hiring decisions and tenures range from suspect to awful, but the key factor, as the article states, the one constant over that time, is the lack of support from ‘the administration’ – chancellor, president, regents, et al. unless and until the administration places cu athletics on the same plane as its conference peers with respect to admissions, courses of study and other support, cu will max out as a .500 team. few, if any, coaching staffs could succed under those circumstances. cu needs to get over itself.

    is gordon gee available?

    the long-awaited announcement of facilities improvements?

  3. I don’t know if I can totally agree with half full, empty analysis regarding the coaching class. The previous staff was comprised of coaches, many with NFL experience and the rest except for Kanavis, had coached at quality BCS schools. Just off the top of my head I think that Utah was in the WAC or whatever when Urban Meyer and many of his coaches moved on to Florida. Many of the new coaches although they come from a WAC school have also coached at other schools. Just because you coached at a non BCS school doesn’t mean you can’t coach. I think if I were a coach I would rather live in San Jose and coach for a good head coach (MacII) then live in Ames, or Waco or whatever and coach under someone like a John Macovic or that ilk. That would just be my preference.

    I too have experienced a number of coaching changes while a Buff fan and remember the excitement after some years of Bill Mallory mediocrity when Fairbanks was hired. Also I think everyone was pretty excited when Hawkins, with his record was hired after the humiliating defeats toward the end of GB’s tenure, and yes there was a collective sigh of relief and unbridled optimism when Hawk was let go and we hired JE. This time around we just want to peel one potato at a time.

    We may remain a little more subdued right now, but if the Buffs have the look of a team that seems to look like they know what they are doing and some of these kids that already are present start to blossom, we win the first few games, there will be a more vocal enthusiasm as the season then progresses.

  4. Thanks Stuart, I think, for tempering my enthusiasm. Actually not even the mouth breathing Mark Kizla, who has already puked up a column expecting MacII to fail, can do that. I will always be mixing up a pitcher of koolaid for my alma mater.

  5. Nice piece, Stuart. There’s a definite “non-buzz” around the the rank n file BuffNation. BTW, don’t know if he still qualifies as a high profile hire but Mike Leach was hired by Wazzu not Utah.

  6. We tried to find a coach who had previous head coaching experience, which seemed to be important at this time in view of the Jon Embree fiasco. Embree , of course, was nothing more than a position coach prior to being hired by C.U.
    I questioned the importance of hiring a coach with previous head coaching experience. We did very well with previous hirings of coaches who had been only assistants prior to becoming head coaches at C.U. There was Dal Ward (from my days at CU), Eddie Crowder, Bill McCartney – they all did very well here in Boulder. At this point we have to hope that we chose well this time. So far, I am satisfied and somewhat optimistic.

  7. Nicely written opinion piece. You express the silent hopes of probably thousands of thirsty Buff fans that Coach Mac will fill the other half of the glass. One correct5ion -Baer coaches defense, Lindgren offense.

  8. Of whom are you speaking when you say people’s reaction to Coach Mac’s hire was tepid?? I’ve been a Buff since 1959 (54 yrs thank you) & bleed silver & gold & I’m ecstatic at his hire! He is the perfect hire! How can you not be enthused when you look at his record! He has proven he can “do it”. What do you want??
    Go Buffs!

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