- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre skillfully sidestepped the question like a quarterback feeling the pressure from the backside -- which seems ironic -- since the team he inherits gave up 50 sacks last season.
Asked to compare the rebuilding project at Colorado to the one he undertook at San Jose State -- where he took a dreadful Spartans' program and turned it into an 11-win team in 2012 -- MacIntyre gave a pretty stock answer.
"I think they're both big challenges," he said. "Every school has a little bit different intricacies and a little different history. A little bit different pressure, so to speak. And I think that San Jose State was a wonderful place and we were able to do really well there and they'll keep doing well. Colorado is a phenomenal place that has had great history and it's our job to get it back to that. I think they are similar in ways, but there are different intricacies at both schools."
In other words, San Jose State was bad when I got there. Now it's not. Colorado is bad now. Hopefully in three years it won't be.
MacIntyre's Spartans won just one game in 2010 -- his first year as a head coach. But they improved to 5-7 in 2011 to 10-2 in 2012 under his guidance (note, MacIntyre didn't coach their bowl game, which they won, giving them 11 wins).
The statistical improvements were almost as dramatic as the overall record. Before he got there, the Spartans ranked 115th nationally in total offense, 118th in scoring offense, 109th in total defense, 109th in scoring defense, 80th in sacks and 103rd in tackles for a loss. By the time he left last year, San Jose State was a top 30 program in all those categories, including sixth nationally in sacks.
That's empirical evidence of a system that works on both sides of the ball. Remember back in the season opener of 2012? Everyone wanted to know what the heck was wrong with Stanford. After all, they only beat lowly San Jose State 20-17. Meanwhile the Stanford coaches were screaming at anyone who would listen that San Jose State was a good team. Turns out they were right.
SJSU's '09 numbers should sound familiar to Colorado fans, because they are strikingly similar. Last year Colorado was 116th in total offense, 117th in scoring offense, 117th in total defense, 120th in scoring defense, 87th in sacks and 60th in tackles for a loss.
Colorado fans are, naturally, cautiously optimistic. MacIntyre's first go-around as a head coach was outstanding. But with that optimism comes a need for patience -- something that wasn't granted to MacIntyre's predecessor, Jon Embree.
MacIntyre's first spring at Colorado was less about Xs and Os and more about finding out what's left in the cupboard. And he noted that from a personnel standpoint, things didn't look particularly crisp early in the process of transitioning to the pistol.
"The first part of it looked ugly, the first few practices and the first scrimmage and all of the different concepts that we're doing on offense and defense," he said. "We didn't put everything in, of course. You have to take it in stages. But I feel like at the end of the spring that we had understood the concepts that we wanted to get in and the kids felt comfortable with them on both sides of the ball and we started to see improvement.
"Then you're able to start coaching all the little fundamentals and intricacies that make the whole thing work. That's what we're in the process of doing. Hopefully they won't forget it all this summer and be able to do it when we crank it up back in August."
Like every team, the Buffs have on-going position battles and more than a little tweaking is needed to improve on last year's 1-11 season. But the new coach hinted at maybe the most important progress of all -- that his players are starting to enjoy football again. Something they probably weren't doing while being outscored, on average, 46-18 in 2012.
"I saw that as spring went along how our attitude changed from just grudgingly doing practice and meetings to enjoying practice and meetings and having fun with it," MacIntyre said. "I think if you don't have a passion for what you're doing, you don't have a chance to be successful. I think we built that building block this spring to have a little bit of a passion about what our kids are doing.
"I think we definitely have some players that can make plays. They've been improving daily. I feel good about the team. It's all relative until you get out there in a Pac-12 football game and see exactly where you stack up. But I feel that we do have some talent and that we need to utilize it correctly and make the most of it."
17hSam Khan and Greg Ostendorf