Restoring Hope at Colorado

Hope has been a consistent theme for my Essays this year.

Or, more precisely stated, how CU was, both on and off the field, depriving its fans of having any hope.

Any hope for the present; any hope for the future.

In May, I posted an Essay entitled, “In the Age of NIL and the Transfer Portal, CU needs to Sell Hope“, with the following:

College football fans live on hope.

There has to be the hope that the team will be competitive, that the team has a chance. That’s the reason we follow the teams; that’s the reason we go to games.

You take away the hope … you take away the reason to remain a fan.

Colorado went 4-8 last season, and then promptly lost two dozen players to the Transfer Portal. Now, some of the players were not going to be starters (and have struggled to find new Power Five homes), but others were not only starters, but stars.

The hope that Buff fans have been sold in the past decade plus is that CU can recruit and develop players. The Champions Center opened in 2016 on that premise; Karl Dorrell is preaching that this spring.

The problem is, with the Transfer Portal and NIL, is it even realistic to hope that CU can keep players around long enough to develop into a championship quality roster? The 10-win 2016 team was made up of seniors, who, for a lack of better phrasing, were fed up with losing. They refused to listen to the pundits, and went out and won the Pac-12 South, going worst-to-first.

If, however, CU identifies and develops young talent, only to lose it through the Transfer Portal, what’s the game plan?

CU would have – should have – had one of the best defensive backfields in the Pac-12 this season. Cornerback Christian Gonzalez was one of the best in the conference, and perhaps the best overall player on the team. Instead, Gonzalez is gone, playing now for rival Oregon, while his backfield mates, Mark Perry (TCU) and Mehki Blackmon (USC) will also play for opponents this fall. Instead of relying on the secondary to be the backstop for an improving defense, Buff fans are left wondering if the unit will be an exploited liability this fall.

If you take away our hope … what’s our incentive for sticking around?

That was May, before the Buffs on the field started the 2022 season with an 0-5 record, prompting the unceremonious dismissal of the head coach.

The weekend after Karl Dorrell was fired in September, my Essay for the off-week was entitled “Five Hours of Hope“:

Now, it wasn’t like we were happy when the story came out. It’s never a fun time to see a coach get fired. At the end of the day, Karl Dorrell – and defensive coordinator Chris Wilson, who was also let go – are good people. They wanted to win, and surely spent long days and sleepless nights trying to figure out a way to get their band of 85 scholarship players to win games. Yes, they are walking away with wheelbarrows full of cash, and are not in need of a pity party, but it was not really a time of celebration.

It was more like … relief.

The healing process had begun.

That’s what it felt like being a Buff fan this past Sunday afternoon. Not euphoric, but relieved. Not ecstatic, but, perhaps, invigorated.

The possibilities were out there. It was no longer a matter of dealing with the past, but looking toward the future. The long lists of potential candidates could be created and debated. It was no longer about suffering through the 2022 season, but dreaming about what 2023 and beyond had to offer.

We understood CU had a long road back to respectability and success, but at least the first step had been taken.

There was reason for hope again.

That hope, for me at least, lasted … about five hours.

The rest of the Essay was about how the press conference conducted by CU athletic director Rick George and Chancellor Phil DiStefano took the wind out of our sails. Hope had been generated, but, just like that, was taken away again, with the Chancellor DiStefano having this to say about CU’s transfer policies:

“I don’t think it is a matter of altering any of the rules and policies. I believe that you can have excellent academics and excellent student-athletes coming together. They are not mutually exclusive.

“On the transfer piece, it is just based upon the degrees we offer. And the way that faculty own the curriculum, they own the degrees so when a student wants to transfer, for example, we do not have physical education here, and we do not have general education, and to be honest, that’s not going to change.

“What we must do is go and recruit those student athletes coming from junior colleges who can play for us and can transfer in the credits. It may take a little bit more work, but I have confidence in our coaches to be able to do that. I mean we have brought in transfers and that has worked. And I think we will continue to bring in transfers, it is just the transfers must have the transfer credits that will transfer.” 

Buff fans, who were given a brief glimmer of hope about the future with the end of the Karl Dorrell tenure in Boulder, were gut-punched by the Chancellor just a few hours later.

We were back to square one. If CU wasn’t going to alter its transfer policies, and there was no NIL money to be used as incentives to lure recruits and transfers, there was no reason to believe that the product on the field was going to improve.

And, after an unlikely overtime win over Cal, the Buffs on the field reverted to form. After the win over the Bears, the Buff defense gave up 42, 42, 49, 55, 54, and 63 points in ever-increasingly lopsided losses.

There was no hope for the present; there was no hope for the future.

Then …

The tide began to turn, at least off the field.

After waiting some 20 months after the options for an NIL Collective became legal, Buffs4Life finally came on board. The Buffs4Life Collective offered a platform for raising money to lure and retain talented players, and while it was frustrating that there was no news on how much seed money had been raised, or how what fundraising goals were set, it was helpful to know that there was now a means by which fans could help keep the roster from being poached.

Meanwhile, the CU coaching search remained below the radar. CU athletic director Rick George said he would remain silent until he had something to say, and he remained true to his word. First impression candidates, such as Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun and Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy were quickly discounted. Speculation then centered on candidates with head coaching experience, with names like Bronco Mendenhall and Tom Herman being bandied about. These were names which were considered “quality” hires, hires with defendable pedigrees, but not names which were revving up the fan base.

Then, almost imperceptivity, the focus began to shift, with Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders entering the conversation. “No chance“, we thought. Not that CU wouldn’t want Sanders, but that there was no chance that Sanders would consider Colorado. The CU program was too far west, too far north … too far gone for Prime Time to consider the Buffs.

But then it became “Deion or bust”. Other schools became options for Sanders, but, one by one, they fell away. We were told that Sanders would not make an announcement until after Jackson State played in the SWAC championship game. We were told that we would have to be patient, that “no news is good news”. And we waited … and sweated it out. But, as we fretted during that final week … hope began to grow. Hope that it was going to become real … that Sanders really wanted to be CU’s head coach.

And then … it happened. As Jackson State took care of business, winning the SWAC title, we were “primed” for an announcement. When it finally came, the Buff Nation went bat crap crazy. It was real! Colorado had a nationally recognized head coach, a coach who would not only bring attention, but would bring Power Five talent to Folsom Field.

And then … it got even better.

Coach Prime not only won the press conference, he crushed it. Neill Woelk, Contributing Editor for CUBuffs.com, who has been covering Colorado football for decades, put it this way: “He seized the moment, made it his — and took all who watched or listened along for the ride and left them yearning for more. It was, quite simply, a press conference the likes of which Buffaloes faithful have seldom — if ever — seen in CU history.”

But that wasn’t the only good news which came out of the press conference. Chancellor DiStefano, who two months earlier had said there would be no changes to CU’s transfer policies, said: “I’m happy to announce that, in coordination with our faculty athletics representatives, we have initiated a pilot program for transfer credit review that facilitates the expedited review of the academic credits from other institutions in order to assess their acceptability at CU Boulder as electives”.

Translation: The University of Colorado was going to join the rest of the Power Five world (this side of Stanford and Vanderbilt) when it came to admitting transfers. It was unlikely that DiStefano changed his mind – he likely had his mind changed for him. While we can’t know for sure, it certainly seems likely that President Todd Saliman deserves a great deal of credit in making this “pilot program” a reality (not to be too cynical, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the “pilot program”, upon the retirement of DiStefano, will just become “the program”).

So … since the firing of Karl Dorrell and the announcement that CU’s transfer policy was just fine as it was …

  • CU has had not one, but two NIL Collectives formed (with Reimagine Athletes recently being launched, joining the Buffs4Life Collective);
  • CU has instituted a policy whereby transfers can actually gain admission to the school; and
  • CU made national news with the hiring of Deion Sanders.

The past week has been a whirlwind, with CU receiving more positive national attention in seven days than it had in the past two decades. Buff fans are taking their CU gear out of the closet. Ticket sales are going through the roof; CU merchandise sales are setting records; national pundits are talking about the CU program … and not about their 2022 woes, but about their prospects for the future.

Will Coach Prime be able to deliver quality recruits to Boulder? Will he be able to assemble a coaching staff which can compete in the Pac-12?

Those questions remain open. Expectations may not be met.

But, as we sit here, one week into the Deion Sanders era at the University of Colorado, one fact is undeniable:

Hope has been restored …

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13 Replies to “Restoring Hope at Colorado”

  1. It’s time Deion meets CU’s star-Stuart! Would love to see Stuart get a Deion interview, especially for all you do.
    I will say after all the down times, I always came back to this site for hope and enlightenment, and Stuart you always provided, I mean you really did, even thru the worst of times.
    A few weeks ago, we were headed lower than any bottom I could’ve imagined, and then a 2nd 64 yd HAIL MARY!!! I hope Deion finds his way to cuatthegame.

    1. Thanks for the kind words.
      I would love to interview Coach Prime, but I doubt that will be happening in the foreseeable future. I’m not credentialed media, and I imagine Sanders is getting dozens of media requests daily.
      My only interview with a CU head coach while in office was with Mel Tucker … not sure we want to risk me having an interview with Coach Prime!

  2. i think prime scared off the 5 stars with the off season comment.

    “We are going to try and break you”

    They don’t like that ego stuff..

  3. The coaching staff Coach Prime is assembling, together with elite players, from across the country,
    may, in time, become a national powerhouse! Someone has said that CU will be America’s team!

  4. Great essay Stu. I would add in that since taking the job 1 week ago today Sanders has brought in a 4 star recruit, a recent commit of Norte Dame, as well as 2 3 star recruits. He has hired the former head coach of Kent State, known for his high scoring and very fast offense. And it is rumored he is bringing on Kelly as his defensive coordinator, the associate defensive coordinator at Alabama with experience as the sole DC at Florida State. When Sanders was mentioned as a head coach I did some research and I felt the only risk was will he and his staff be able to coach at the p5 level right away. I thought he would bring nearly his entire coaching staff with him and many of them would be learning p5 football on the job. Well worth the risk in my mind. But looking at this staff I have more hope than ever that CU will be back, and back faster than we could ever have 3coected to hope for.

    1. This has been one of the best weeks of my life as a buff fan, and we were not even playing! It’s great to feel pride in wearing my Buffs gear again. I never stopped wearing it, my loyalty is that deep, but I can’t help but only wear my Buffs gear now. And I keep hearing go Buffs everywhere I go. It’s been a while since that has happened which says something given I live 20 minutes from Boulder. It’s a dream come true. Go Buffs!!!

  5. Very nice read and so true. Hope…. a word I’ve become all to accustom to over the years, whether it was a promising freshmen, or 1 game, but all to be crushed later. But this time feels different.

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