From the Ground Up

When he introduced his 60-year old rookie head coach Thursday, Denver Bronco general manager John Elway explained why he chose Vic Fangio over other potential candidates.

“I believe football is still built from the ground up, and I think Vic is built from the ground up,” Elway said. “Now, what do I mean by that? Discipline. Accountability. He holds his team to high standards. Emphasis on teaching technique. Fundamentals. Blocking. Tackling.”

Fangio echoed the thoughts of his new boss.

“I’m a fundamentals coach,” Fangio said. “I think the game of the NFL, everybody thinks has changed and it’s a high-scoring league, etc. But fundamentals are still what wins in this league. I’m going to stress those. We’re not going to cut any corners, there will be no death by inches”.

A short drive up the turnpike in Boulder, new Colorado head coach Mel Tucker faces similar challenges.

Tucker inherits a CU team which had potential, but failed over the final two months of the season to live up to that potential. Now, with Mike MacIntyre taking his talents to Ole Miss, Coach Tucker, like Coach Fangio, is tasked with producing a winner. Not just a team which is capable of winning, but will actually produce victories … and in short order.

Tucker, like Fangio, promises a return to fundamentals in Boulder.

“You’re going to see a team that has a tremendous foundation,”  Tucker said in his introductory press conference. “First and foremost, we will be best conditioned. In order to win big, you’ve got to play harder and longer. We will be technically sound and fundamentally sound. It’s not just about the Xs and  Os. We’ll always be able to rely on our technique and fundamentals, on both sides of the ball and on special teams. We will play smart. We won’t beat ourselves. We’ll be able to come through in the clutch, in the red zone, short-yardage, goal line, two minute, all of those critical areas.”

Attention to detail, according to Tucker, will produce wins in the fall.

“You will hear me use that word, process, quite a bit,” Tucker said. “Everyone wants to win, but how do you win? There is a process of winning. If you do things the right way each and every day and the standards and expectations are high and the environments are right, then you can achieve success. But there is a process. We will work that process day in and day out. All of the great coaches I have been around have had a plan. They have had a process that they implemented and haven’t wavered, and have gotten great results.”

The Buff fan base – if message boards are any indication – do not believe the CU football program is all that far off from returning to winning games on a regular basis.

There are two common themes to these threads:

  1. That the Buffs were thisclose to being successful in 2018. Had the Buffs not suffered an meltdown for the ages against Oregon State, Colorado would have had six wins and bowl eligibility heading into November. With six wins and a bowl game already in the bag, the November games against Arizona, Washington State, Utah and Cal could have – perhaps would have – had different results. The same roster which limped to a 5-7 finish would have had a 7-5 or 8-4 regular season record, and a springboard to a great 2019; and
  2. The Pac-12 sucks. Did you see that joke that was circulating in Santa Clara during the week leading up to the national championship game? “What’s the only thing worse than Pac-12 football?” … “Pac-12 basketball”. The Pac-12 finished the 2018 season with only two ranked teams (Washington State and Washington), with traditional powers USC (5-7) and UCLA (3-9) suffering difficult seasons. The Pac-12 South finished with a cumulative record of 34-41, with four of the six teams finishing with losing records (and Arizona State limping home with a 7-6 record after a Las Vegas Bowl loss to Fresno State).

Valid arguments, if you look at the world through black-and-gold colored glasses.

It is certainly true that had the Buffs taken care of business against Oregon State, and headed into November with a 6-2 record, that there would have been every reason to believe that the Buffs would have been competitive in their remaining games (with wins over Arizona and Cal far from an unrealistic expectation).

It is also certainly true that the Pac-12 is down as a conference. It’s so bad that Jon Wilner at the San Jose Mercury News felt compelled to put together a piece entitled “The conference needs USC football to get its you-know-what together” this week after the Kliff Kingsbury debacle. Wilner’s point was that, while other schools in the conference may take solace in the sufferings of the Trojans, the Pac-12 as a conference needs USC to be a national player for the conference as a whole to succeed. 

So, with a vacuum at the top of the Pac-12, and a Colorado team just a few plays and a few players away from greatness, what’s not to love about the 2019 CU football season?

Well, apparently a great deal, if the rest of the nation has anything to say about it.

Going from worst-to-first-to-worst-to-worst hasn’t given national pundits any reason to believe in a resurrection of CU football anytime soon. Here are two end-of-season national rankings …

CBS Sports 1-129

The Pac-12 … 

  • No. 10 … Washington State
  • No. 13 … Washington
  • No. 23 … Utah
  • No. 31 … Oregon
  • No. 32 … Stanford
  • No. 43 … Arizona State
  • No. 55 … Cal
  • No. 67 … USC
  • No. 90 … Arizona
  • No. 91 … Colorado
  • No. 95 … UCLA
  • No. 112 … Oregon State

The Athletic 130

From the Pac-12 … 

  • No. 12 … Washington State
  • No. 15 … Washington
  • No. 28 … Utah
  • No. 32 … Stanford
  • No. 34 … Oregon
  • No. 43 … Arizona State
  • No. 67 … Cal
  • No. 81 … USC
  • No. 83 … Arizona
  • No. 97 … Colorado 
  • No. 99 … UCLA
  • No. 105 … Oregon State

Humbling, no?

And it’s not as if the 2019 schedule is doing the Buffs any favors, either.

After the “Georgia coordinator bowl” (CSU’s Mike Bobo was the offensive coordinator at Georgia; Tucker the defensive coordinator), the Buffs face a Nebraska team which finished 4-8, but which won four of its last six. If you check out some of the “Way Too Early” Top 25 projections, Nebraska will be a ranked team next fall). The non-conference schedule wraps up with a tough game against an Air Force offense that no Buff player has played against … and must do so a week after the emotional game against the Cornhuskers.

The Pac-12 slate is a bear, with back-to-back mid-October road games against Oregon and Washington State (recall CU was 5-0 last October before back-to-back road losses against USC and Washington sent the Buffs down a different path). The home conference schedule includes USC, Stanford and Washington – good for ticket sales; not great for the home team’s chances.

Tucker, for his part, remains undeterred.

“Obviously the expectations are high,” Tucker said. “We’re here to win championships. I’ve never been in a game, as a player or a coach, that we weren’t expecting to win. Ever. So there’s one thing that I can tell you, there’s no one on this planet that can put more pressure on me than I can put on myself. The expectations I have for this university and this program are extremely high. We’re going to start working today to get this thing going in the direction it needs to go.”

Tucker’s recruiting to date has emphasized increased size and depth along both the offensive and defensive line.

It’s a good first step, though it may take longer to bring about success in the win column than Buff fans are willing to accept.

As coach Tucker said, it’s a process. It may take another 5-7 season before the hopes of CU fans are realized, and the Buffs are Pac-12 title contenders once again.

Tucker & Co. are tasked with rebuilding the Buffs … from the ground up.

And it may take more than one off-season to get there.


8 Replies to “From the Ground Up”

  1. It’s all sunshine and rainbows, until someone hits you in the mouth. Or something like that…

    Bottom line, we won’t know much about this staff for probably two or three years. It’s just how that seems to go, regardless of year 1 results. We’ll have glimpses of insight based on recruiting, 2019 play/performance, etc. but… mostly operating w/ guarded optimism for a while, I figure.

    Go Buffs

    1. returning to fundamentals……..I guess Mel didnt see many of those in the game tapes of the last couple of years. I will always be worried about the offense. The new OC is credited with haveng an “explosive offense” at his past stays. Listening to Mel it sounds like “a cloud of dust” (more than 3 yards a pop?)
      Either way its going to be a chore with the current O line…..unless they gain a bushel basket of fundamentals in Spring and fall practice.

      1. It is interesting, because a lot of what we heard from other coaches, commentators, analysts etc during the last six years was that at least the Buffs were fundamentally sound, well coached and didn’t make too many stupid mistakes (turnovers, penalties, etc). In my estimation, that’s largely true. But, with the exception of 2016, they were just never able to recover from the ill timed mistakes they did make. Or, is my faulty memory creating revisionist history?

        Go Buffs

        1. Coaches and commentators and analysts oh my.

          Oh wait, I get it you are talking about all the coach speak from other coaches about the teams they play in like the press conferences etc. Which goes in all directions all the time.

          Go Buffs

          1. Good morning, anonymous poster. I hope the new year is treating you and yours well.

            It’s funny, because as you already said, it doesn’t matter if a coach speaks highly of the Buffs’ prior coach’s team’s fundamentals, effort, etc., like Chris Petersen: or because you’ll discount that as coach speak, being falsely complimentary. Never mind Lake’s recent blast of Leach.

            And, if I point you to something from Yogi Roth and Curtis Conway (or any analyst) like this: you’ll say they’re filling time, or they don’t know what they’re talking about, but you do.

            Or, if it’s something from a former player, like Joel Klatt, or coach like Gary Barnett, etc. Or, any of the comments made by broadcasting teams during the last 60-70 games CU played.

            Nor is it helpful to highlight some of the things that can be coached, discipline (on the field and off), reduced fumbles, reduced penalties, and effort. Players still have to win their one on one battles. Better players usually win those.

            Were there enough wins? Nope. That’s why the new crew are getting their shot.

            Here’s to hoping they can continue elevating the program back to consistently winning, and being relevant both in the Pac 12 and nationally.

            Signing day’s right around the corner, and spring ball not far behind, so we’ll continue getting tiny snapshots into those efforts.

            Keep on keepin on.

            Go Buffs

        2. “your estimation” is still slanted almost vertically during the whole MM debacle.
          My estimation on you is RG was insane to fire him
          If it wasnt fundamentals I guess its was that wildly diverse playbook and the incredibly intelligent play calling

  2. “the Georgia Coordinator Bowl” –Great line! I made a wiseacre remark a while back about CU not hiring Jimmy Carter as head coach (“Our Long National Nightmare is Over.”)

    Lo and behold we emptied half the peanut state to get CU’s staff. Too funny.

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