Jon Embree didn't win many games as Colorado's football coach, but he won the news conference Monday that formalized his termination.
Fired after just two years leading the Buffaloes, Embree, fighting off tears throughout and picking his words carefully, cut an effectively defiant and sympathetic posture, while athletic director Mike Bohn and chancellor Phil DiStefano struggled to articulate not only their reasons for firing Embree but also why anyone would want to replace him.
The latter part is the biggest issue going forward. Colorado will be hard-pressed to lure a top candidate to Boulder, and not only because of its quick trigger here. Colorado lags behind other Pac-12 teams in terms of facilities and has limits on multi-year contracts for assistant coaches due to state law. Further, Embree was the conference's lowest paid coach by a wide margin, his $725,000 being pretty much less than half of what every other coach in the conference was making annually.
And it was less than a third of what the top coaches were making.
Further, Bohn, aggressively cross examined by reporters, struggled to avoid making the job sound like an uninviting one.
"We've had headwinds with this program for quite some time, and we continue to have them," Bohn said.
Embree said stories that he was fired because he wouldn't let go members of his coaching staff were untrue.
"That's one of those Internet rumors," he said, adding that six assistants had offered to resign if that helped Embree's own cause.
Embree, who went 4-21 over the past two season, repeatedly defended his rebuilding job, saying that the program was vastly improved in every way but the scoreboard. He talked about "doing things right" versus going for the quick fix.
"There are a lot of things you can do that circumvent doing it the right way," he said, noting that some coach would resort to recruiting "mercenaries."
The issue of race also was part of the news conference. Embree said he noted to Bohn, "[Black head coaches] don't get second chances."
As for what reason he was given for his firing, Embree said, "All I was told was the trajectory of the program wasn't what they wanted."
In his opening statement, Bohn, after a heartfelt acknowledgement of the difficulty of the decision -- "We desperately wanted it to work," he said -- then awkwardly described the decision in business school jargon.
"In the end, it's about our functionality and the way our enterprise is run and the proactive approach we are trying to take to try to be competitive," he said.
He also spoke about the program's lack of momentum and the erosion of the fan base.
Awkward, in fact, describes the news conference perfectly.
Embree is a former Colorado player, yet he was coldly cast aside after being told that his job was safe. He feels wronged. And for good reason. He clearly has the sympathy of his current players, many of who attended the news conference to show support, according to reports.
Now the pressure moves to Bohn, who will be hiring a third coach since 2005. One side of the Buffaloes fan base is angry at him for dumping Embree after just two years, and the other half is angry at him for hiring a coach he'd have to fire after just two years, thereby inviting nationwide criticism.
Embree, of all people, perhaps provided the most optimistic footnote to the uncomfortable afternoon.
He said, "We're going to be -- I still say we -- we're going to be a good team next year."