CU Christmas: Buff fans get coal in their stockings – again

As a history/political science major at CU, there was many a time when I and my fellow classmates were asked to identify a “tipping point” in history. Those moments in time which, while they may have seemed relatively inconsequential in the moment, nonetheless had a profound impact on future events.

For the University of Colorado football program, it may have come when Gary Barnett, winner of four Big 12 North division titles in the previous five seasons, was fired over incidents which have been considered inconsequential in the SEC.

Perhaps it was the hiring of Dan Hawkins to replace Barnett, though in all fairness, Hawkins – he of the 50 wins in five seasons as the head coach at Boise State – was seen as a “splash” hire at the time.

The hiring of Jon Embree? Lamentable.

For me, though, it wasn’t the hiring of the wrong coaches which destined Colorado to be at this spot in 2021 – a spot where it is clear that the Buffs are not, in the present landscape of college football, capable to putting together a championship caliber team.

CU’s “tipping point” came when the present NIL and Transfer Portal realities made it painfully obvious the Buffs are not willing or able to keep quality coaches … and players.

Was it the loss of defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt after the 2016 season, when Oregon doubled his salary to move to Eugene?

Or when Midnight Mel bolted in mid-February of his first off-season, doubling his salary to move to East Lansing, Michigan?

Or was it the relatively minor move of cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin to Oregon, followed shortly thereafter by the move to the Transfer Portal by CU’s best defensive player – and perhaps best overall player – cornerback Christian Gonzalez.

You can certainly argue that the loss of a position coach and one player – at a position where the Buffs are fairly well positioned – is an overreaction.

You could even go so far as to say that the loss of coach Martin to another school is a positive sign for Karl Dorrell … Would you rather have a coaching staff which other programs are seeing good things? … Or have a program which has no other programs interested in your staff?

In my opinion, the loss of Martin and Gonzalez symbolizes the irrevocable shift in college football, where programs like Colorado can no longer field a championship caliber team … the Buffs have become a “have not”.

Blame it on the Transfer Portal, making it too easy for players to switch teams.

Blame it on the inability for the NCAA to produce national NIL legislation (and yes, CU’s Rick George was on that committee), leaving it to the schools and conferences to set their own rules on Name, Image and Likeness payouts … which, as it turned out, became the lack of consistent rules.

Think CU is going to lure a top Texas high school offensive lineman to Boulder? Think that the Flatirons will sell a recruit … when they can get paid $50,000 to play for Texas?

And now, with the Transfer Portal, even if CU were to find a diamond in the rough, the Buffs would only get him long enough for other schools to notice him – and pay him what he thinks he is worth.

College football is turning into major league baseball.

The “national pastime” is no longer baseball, and there is a good reason for that.

The Kansas City Royals won the World Series in 2015, and it was (rightly) seen as a fluke. Small market teams don’t win the World Series. In past 25 years, it’s been the Royals, the Florida Marlins in 2003 … and that’s about it. The rest of the time, it’s been large market teams winning championships.

Kansas City can have the greatest farm system on the planet, identifying and developing talent. But instead of being rewarded for their prowess, the Royals are just cultivating talent for the richer teams. The Yankees and the Dodgers don’t have to worry about molding stars … they just buy the other team’s stars.

The same holds true in the NBA, where the players run the show, and pick and choose which teams will be relevant in the playoffs.

The last holdout is the National Football League, which has worked hard to maintain parity in its ranks – and has been rewarded handsomely for doing so.

What was the statistic heading into last weekend? Of the 30 NFL teams, some 24 were still alive for a playoff berth with four weeks to go?

No such luck in major college football.

With money comes influence and power, and the the teams who can remain competitive in the 2020’s are dwindling.

What would the NFL be like if the Super Bowl champion got the first pick in the next draft, instead of receiving the last pick of the first round? Any chance at parity if Tampa Bay got the first pick of the 2021 NFL Draft, followed by Kansas City, with the likes of Houston and Jacksonville picking last?

Well, that’s what we get on Signing Day. The top teams get the top picks, with the struggling teams left to fight over the scraps.

That’s bad enough, but that’s the system schools have been dealing with – and overcoming – for generations.

What has kept college football over the years has been the ability for schools not in the upper echelon to build programs … Hire a savvy coach, allow him to bring in smart assistants who can also recruit. Build a culture; build a brand. Give recruits reason to come to your school and prosper.

Give your team a chance.

Sorry, but that just ain’t happening in this day in age. Cincinnati this year is the college football equivalent of the Kansas City Royals in the World Series – a fluke.

Schools like CU are just going to become feeder schools for the Oregons and USCs of the world. Instead of sticking around to make a name for themselves, and be leaders for the future of the program, players are going to bolt for the limelight – and the money – bigger schools can pay.

Which brings us back to Demetrice Martin and Christian Gonzalez.

CU was able to break through in 2016 with a roster heavily laden with senior leadership. Sefo Liufau and a host of talented defensive backs destined to play in the NFL said enough was enough, and took over a team which hadn’t posted a winning season in ten years, turning it into ten-win division champion.

Think that formula is going to work again in Boulder?

Not in the age of the Transfer Portal and NIL.

What would have been the chances of CU keeping those talented defensive backs on the roster for three losing seasons, hoping to break through as seniors?

Instead of being leaders for CU, players like Chidobe Awuzie, Ahkello Witherspoon, Isaiah Lewis and Tedric Thompson would have had the option of playing for better teams, teams with chances at titles … teams playing on national television.

We’ll never know what might have happened for the CU program had Christian Gonzalez chosen to stay, instead of leaving CU with three years of eligibility remaining.

Schools like Colorado are not completely out of options. There are players like Sefo Liufau and Nate Landman who will come to Boulder, buy into the program and culture, and refuse to leave.

But those types of players are hard to come by.

Perhaps the defections of Demetrice Martin and Christian Gonzalez will not, in retrospect, prove to be a tipping point for the program.

Perhaps Karl Dorrell will be able to identify other quality assistant coaches, and find ways to persuade them to stay in Boulder.

Perhaps Dorrell and his staff will find a niche for the CU program, a style of play and player which will allow the Buffs to find a way to be competitive on an annual basis, and not lose players to other programs.

Perhaps a sugar daddy will donate funds sufficient for CU to have a NIL program which will resonate with players, enough to keep CU viable in the new arms race.

Perhaps … but probably not.

Unless something unforeseen happens to make Colorado an attractive destination for coaches and players alike … this is the beginning of the end of any realistic hope of competing for titles.

Merry Christmas, Buff Nation … from the Haves.

Enjoy that lump of coal – good luck trying to turn it into a diamond.


35 Replies to “CU Christmas: Coal in the stockings (again)”

  1. Merry Christmas Stuart…thanks for all you do throughout the year to keep us informed.

    Not surprised Gonzales is transferring considering he was non-committal about it when asked prior to the Utah game.

    Regarding all the other stuff; NIL, HCKD and the recent hires. My grandmother told me “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”. So…

    Happy New Year – GO BUFFS!

  2. The DC says, “Per Colorado state law, CU and other schools in the state can’t help their athletes find NIL deals. In other states, the schools can do that — and that can create a major disadvantage to the Buffs in recruiting. ”


    1. Trax, reread the law. I posted a link to it the other day. I may be missing something, but I don’t believe it precludes schools from helping kids navigate nil. If I am missing something, please correct me.

      Thanks, and go Buffs.

      1. Thanks, “E” – I don’t read legal-eze very well. I get lost after, “See Dick, Jane, and Spot run. Watch Spot jump. Dick thinks Jane’s Hot.”

        Perhaps my LAWYUR can help. How about Stu ?


    So this wailing is because of CG entering the transfer portal?

    He was a midnight mel recruit…………….So there is that.

    Don’t care. Let em eat grouper.

    And the earache speculation mantra was spectacular. Especially I don’t know line.
    No pick on the ache-of-the-ear…………….it’s just him.

    Splash hire #1……………
    Splash hire #2………………fail
    Splash hire #3………………fail

    Above the 3 stooges played his son…..played his son…………snuck out of town.

    Note: Merry Christmas and I hope Stu’s lump of coal kept you warm

  4. College football…is circling the drain. The pro game is just better (as I’ve said here before). There are so many problems with the college version of the sport. Stuart references several here (and has hit on others in previous essays).

    I’ll always root for my alma mater, in all sports, but the college game is becoming a caricature.

  5. South Park Field, ok Stu I could handle that.
    How do we get those guys to care and step in ? 😉
    Can we organize the fan base and crowd fund or something ?

    Its been tough for us fans, especially for those of us that witnessed late 80’s and 90’s.
    Will keep my head up, but this transfer portal, NIL issue, with lame support from the University does feel like a steep iron.
    My hat is off to all the guys and gals that visit and comment here, here at this site that CUATG has so genernously shared with us.
    Black and Gold

  6. Agree with everything you said Stuart.

    And, most about the now and the future, but since this is on the “tipping point”, I’m going to go back to Mac leaving to do the promise keepers thing (and how did that end?). You see, if the tipping point isn’t the giant fall, but rather something before, then I say it was when Rick became the HC.

    CU had just won the NC and was still rolling with 10 wins seasons and a conference championship through Rick and Barnett, but the program started to stumble; the female (for publicity) kicker that Rick brought in that went bad and the recruiting scandal that would have been minor if handled better and had been in the sec… Or the “snack or food scandal”… oooh, so serious.

    I argue had Mac stayed just 1 or 2 more years (preferable 2) the replacement coach would have been better with the program still winning and Rick having moved on by then. If anyone on Mac’s staff that should have succeeded him, it should have been Simmons, but really with 2 more years of winning and brand building CU could have gone after someone bigger from outside of the program.

    Once CU became a rebuild project it lost everything Mac had built and in only ten years fell from a top 15 in wins, percentage or total with the other a top 25, CU fell out of the top 25 for both!

    I remember thinking back in the late 90s, around 98 or so, watching CU beat a team that went 5-7 yearly and thinking “man it would suck to go to a school that is always going to be bad in football (around 5-7) and try to be a fan.” it’s my fault! I jinx the team right then… As if I had that much influence on the universe… but it’s makes one wonder why it all had to end as fast as it got started?

    If CU, (with the national recognition that CU had back then) kept winning going into the PAC12 you know like Utah did, who has had the same coach for 12 years, where would we be?

    1. The ncaa has done nothing but run a basketball tournament for a long, long time. I have thought for a while, since at least the last realignment when the pac 12 expanded, that the top conferences will go super size to 16 and form their own league. And rules. CU can compete in there. If they think it important to do so.

      Go Buffs

  7. I agree with all. I would submit however, that it’s time to stop lamenting the futility of keeping up with the top tier, “haves” (at least for now) and focus on strategies to successfully compete with the vast number of schools who share challenges similar to us; yet overcome and still manage to put an effective product on the field. We can’t change the winds of these new circumstances, but we can certainly adjust the sails. Ok, I know that’s corny motivational rhetoric, but, it’s actually true. Just ask Utah, Utah State, Nevada, Western Kentucky, App. State, Coastal Carolina, Liberty and so many, many others. We definitely have some advantages over most of these schools.
    If they can do it… we can do it!
    Time to stop shaking our fists at the circumstances we can’t change and find real solutions. Yes… We will lose players and coaches to the top, “haves”, but that’s been happening since the mid-nineties. We’re just not in their category right now. The fact that all rosters have scholarship ceilings, limits the actual movement possible and then… we mid-level schools have to compete in this new environment.
    That’s where the real fight lies.
    That’s where we need to aim our energies for now.
    Let’s go!

  8. I think what is really crap is that now the Buffs have to play against Gonzalez during the regular season.
    The whole money thing is accelerating towards some even bigger changes. I see a super conference coming. They might even start paying their players an actual salary under a signed business contract as a replacement for the NIL and make it purely professional.
    The teams left behind who will probably reorganize the old conferences would be wise to do the same thing. With a typical business contract executed by the players or their guardians, they may be able to restrict any movement up to the super conference by their best players for a limited amount of time anyway? Maybe Stuart can comment on this being even legal. You would think schools would have done this by now with coach’s contracts…..which is another thing that will have to be reformed under the new lower conferences.
    The only NC game I have watched in the last several years was LSU’s win and the only reason I watched that was because of Joe Burrow and I was damn sure he was going to break the Clemson-Alabama strangle hold…temporarily for Alabama anyway. Will there ever come a point even an NC game in a super conference will lack fan interest?

  9. Perfect summation. Thank you for this. It’s not hopeless, but it’s pretty damn close. There is simply not sufficiently broad and deep support (financial, institutional, from the conference, and otherwise) for this program to survive in the current environment. Everything – NIL, transfer portal, conference realignment, TV rights, you name it – is stacked against us. CU is not alone in that regard, of course, As David said above, this is now “professional college sports”, and there is no salary cap. Only 10 -15 programs can reasonably compete. Every other program is, or will soon be, a permanent also-ran.

  10. To me, NIL is nothing new. It only illuminates the money that was already being thrown at kids. And, in some cases – for now – may increase it (at least we know of millions being thrown around now, were they before? Possibly).

    Either way, kids had “jobs” they didn’t need to show up for, they got cars, their parents got cars, and other nice benefits, etc. since way before when I went to college. I still think that’ll settle down a lot in a year or three (ie: high school millionaires will settle down, and $800k/yr for linemen etc.), as those tossing money around assess their return on investment (which certainly in some cases will have nothing to do with generating revenue in return for their investment – but, until NIL – it never was anyway).

    Now, the transfer portal? That’s a serious change. On one hand, it’s the right thing to do. Coaches have contracts, yet can move around as they see fit, why shouldn’t the players be able to do the same? College sports are not indentured servitude, or at least shouldn’t be.

    On the other hand, it does take away from the “shared experience” that was part of the magic of college sports. The players were us, but a little different. But there was some inherent camaraderie. Now, it’s certainly more mercenary. But to think that college football wasn’t an unpaid professional sport before NIL and the transfer portal with immediate eligibility? That’s crazy talk.

    So, where does that leave CU, and the Pac 12 at large?

    I actually think Kliavkoff gets it. The Pac 12 advisory panel is a great start. CU could take a page from that, if they haven’t already.

    To me, the Pac 12 is not, and never (never again) will be, a football factory like the SEC has become. But, that doesn’t mean the Pac 12 as a whole, and CU individually, cannot be consistently relevant, with occasional, or even perennial runs at national championships. USC may be doing just that w/ the hiring of Lincoln Riley (hat tip to Mr. Bohn). Suddenly, top rated recruits from LA want to stay in LA. Wow. Play for a winning program? Stay home? Get paid? Why not? Now, can Lincoln replicate his success from Norman to LA? We’ll find out. I think in most cases, people are putting odds on the belief that he can, and will. And if his recruiting stays at it is, I would too. That is good for the Pac 12. And, by extension, CU. You can sell the vision of playing against the best, not also rans.

    For CU, the focus has to be on finding and bringing in talented kids whose families value a more well-rounded college experience, and understand that football – no matter how great you are – has a horizon. I actually think the recruiting class Karl just signed fits that mold.

    For NIL, to me, that means building the resources that say “hey, we can get you paid, but more importantly, we have the systems and the people who will not only help you get paid, but we will teach you how to maintain and grow that revenue stream, and more importantly, manage that money and plan for the future. Buffs for life.” That will resonate with some kids and their parents. For many, it will only be about getting paid now. But, we know the NFL still struggles with teaching young men how to manage their money, so they’re not broke the day after their three years in the league ends. This can be part of the vision from CU.

    For Karl? The departure of Christian Gonzalez isn’t great. Will he end up at UO? We’ll find out. Either way, he’s likely going to the NFL after his next season. Would $50k have kept him at CU?
    Would $10k? Who knows? The question I have, is what was it that prevented Karl from selling the vision – which is the #1 job of a head coach, sell the vision – that he could see it and want to be part of it for one more year? Could be money. Could be winning. Could be wanting to follow his position coach. Maybe he just didn’t buy into what Karl was selling, at all? I’ve no idea. And, on the other side, can Karl et al find and get someone else’s Gonzalez to come to Boulder?

    That’s Karl’s challenge. Selling the vision to kids and their parents, and that never stops because you have to recruit, and recruit your own team, every day now. They can, and will, leave whenever they want. I think that will settle down a bit too, because there are going to be plenty of cautionary tales about the portal (as well as success stories) as examples. Rick and Lance’s jobs (and Phil’s and the President’s)? Give Karl the tools he needs to show those kids and their parents that the vision isn’t a mirage nor pipe dream, but tangible and achievable. 2021 did not help in selling that vision. 2022 better, or we’re probably looking for replacements for all of them in 2023 or 2024.

    And, if it’s CU as a whole that cannot navigate this evolving landscape, how is it that Tad and CU Basketball can, yet football cannot? Granted, it’s a lot easier to sell a vision to a team of 15-20 than 85-105, but still. It can be done. Hopefully Karl, and Rick and Lance, are the guys who can make it happen. My optimism waned significantly this year, but… it’s all we got. ‘Cause nothing’s changing w/ those three for at least 2022, maybe 2023. And, I’ll keep sending what I can. Not supporting my alma mater is not an option.

    Go Buffs

    1. “For Karl? The departure of Christian Gonzalez isn’t great. Will he end up at UO? We’ll find out. Either way, he’s likely going to the NFL after his next season. Would $50k have kept him at CU?
      Would $10k? Who knows? The question I have, is what was it that prevented Karl from selling the vision – which is the #1 job of a head coach, sell the vision – that he could see it and want to be part of it for one more year? Could be money. Could be winning. Could be wanting to follow his position coach. Maybe he just didn’t buy into what Karl was selling, at all? I’ve no idea.”

      Speculation………..then the truth

      sheesh Kizla just sheesh

      I have no idea”

      Buffs………………Some support……………some troll…………

      1. Classic Berliner trolling rant. Lots of words, not much substance.

        I support and contribute and share my opinions here, and elsewhere.

        So, what gives you confidence in your new found optimism and patience that Karl, let alone Rick and Lance, can right this ship?

        I hope they can, but the latest returns are not positive. What say you, anonymous poster boy?

        Go Buffs

        1. “And, I’ll keep sending what I can. Not supporting my alma mater is not an option.”

          Double negative……………..


          Note: Washington doesn’t need the cash

        2. Only a couple of those words were mine
          90% were your rant again against the Buffs
          So there is that.

          Note: What returns………………..yur like fake news.
          Note 2: Yur typical “But I really don’t know.”
          Note 3: Maybe Stu will let you in with a guest chapter in his next book.
          Note 4: Anyway have a prosperous and happy New year

          1. Why do you never answer direct questions with direct answers? Hiding. That’s why. But what’s to hide?

            And you had lots of words in a few posts that said not much, I just replied to the one directed at me. But you knew that. So let’s try this again: what gives you optimism Karl, Lance and Rick are the guys to right this ship?

            And all that aside, I hope you and yours, and everyone, have a great 2022 as well. Even ghosts of coaches and departing players past.

            Go Buffs

          2. Please provide your insight and returns that give you no confidence or optimism that Karl, let alone Rick and Lance, can right this ship?

            I mean you languished over that circulatory essay and then made you conclusion they cannot make it happen. Certainly you can come true with your sources (returns) and insight (opinions) that could really back yur babble. Ya see you never have facts but try and make it sound like you do have facts.
            But you appear fairly honest as you most certainly end your rumbling stumbling spiel with:

            “I DON’T KNOW”

            Note: Please answer the questions. And don’t take as long as you took to put out that abomination piece on” why you hate the Real Mac”

  11. I just want to go to a CU game on a gorgeous fall afternoon in Boulder and enjoy the tailgate, and the game. I am starting to think I wish the “haves ” would form a super conference and let us “have not’s” just play in lower tiered conference where we can have a little fun. More fun to play in the slimmed down Pac 12 and be competitive than be a triple A farm system for USC and Oregon and get hammered every week. Don’t even schedule games against them, let them beat up on each other. Can’t believe I just wrote that…….

  12. Why does the State of Colorado hate college athletes? The NIL legislation prohibits universities from helping their athletes find NIL deals while other states don’t have such restrictions. What kind of sense does that make? Ostensibly the idea behind NIL is to help athletes, so why throw up an obstacle to that end? There are 2 reasons, the politicians are idiots and they hate athletes. This extends to the administration at CU too. Common sense is not common to these folks.

    1. Hey 83, you made me curious. I’m familiar w/ CA’s NIL legislation, but wasn’t really w/ CO’s so I looked it up here:

      I may be missing something, but I don’t think CO’s legislation prohibits universities from helping athletes manage their NIL opportunities etc. Isn’t that what Buffs with a Brand is all about?

      Go Buffs

  13. Sadly, Nike wanted to move their corporate headquarters to Boulder. We would have had a Billion dollars of splash cash at CU, and would be competing for top recruits, transfers and National Championships… but the University administration and the city of Boulder shot it down. For some reason they didn’t want Nike to have it’s corporate headquarters next to the campus. Anyone that had anything to do with this administrative decision should be fired. Get these idiots and bureaucrats out of Boulder. Ultimately, we need a new industry to help us secure offensive and defensive lines. Shore up these two parts of the team and all your skill position recruits instantly become 20% better. Dear marijuana industry of Colorado… someone spear head paying offensive and defensive line pay… the free PR of having big guys (even though they can’t sample the goods) will be a PR coup.

  14. Hi Stuart, Buff Nation,
    Merry Christmas. For me, this post season was not the tipping point. It’s the straw that broke the illusion. As you likely intended to illustrate, a point is a chance occurrence. Two points, a line. Three a trend. And, boy are we beyond three. As fans we’ve been mislead and abused. CU Admin, RG and others, chose to lose games. Chose to lose. Chose to retain worst OC in CFB to save $. chose to schedule for gate at the door instead of wins and a chance at 6-6. faiked to maintain promises to a new HC who was bringing the mojo. Chose not to double down on a winner and winning set of coaches. Chose not to accept offers of help from known winners. Chose to leave hanging national personalities that used their influence to help build momentum. RG and others reap what they sow. been better served to tell the truth. I think we know why CU couldn’t hire out of the Alabama/Georgia/OSU/Clemson tree. I think we know why HCKD is mad at certain reporters that likely broke confidence to report the naked truth. Good people leave because they can and there’s a better place to go.

  15. Well said Stuart you summarized my thoughts and take on the current state of professional college sports. I have a hard time finding any silver lining in the current situation.
    Merry Christmas and thanks for all your hard work and time you put into cuatthegame.

      1. It’s been an in-patient ever since the flimflam man and the wacmac showed up.

        Buffs will be fine.

        The three you chastise will get it done.

        Be patient.

    1. Glad you said it! This sure felt like a lump of coal post with a pretty negative POV.
      No one who follows Collage Football doesn’t think the playing field has changed to favor the haves.
      But no one said the game is over and we should all take our ball and go home. Not the way I see it.

      Let’s see, I just looked and all the top 10 programs have a bunch of players in the Portal. So we lost 2 key ones, others that didn’t play much and majority who decided to stay. So I don’t see a CU alarm bell yet.
      We need to see who we get, that should be part of the equation no? Then we need to be realistic, we are not going for a national title at CU anytime soon. But can we be competitive and play in bowl games, I think so. So that is my expectation not your “Let’s beat Alabama or I’m out post”

      I’m optimistic we will have some good competitive teams in the next 5 years and I for one am not giving back my seats. Hoping you don’t either. Go Buffs

  16. The trasfer portal is what will kill teams like CU. This is far worse than free agency in the NFL, teams in the NFL sign players to contracts (usually 4-5 years) and they are locked in. The transfer portal is free agency every year for players. Great for them (NFL players would love that, 4 year deal with an annual player out clause), but very bad for competition. Maybe/hopefully this will evolve into the super university teams forming there own league and playing for there own national championship.

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