NCF Nation: Jon Embree

There is no sugarcoating Colorado's 2012 season. So quarterback Connor Wood won't even try. It was miserable.

But misery teaches more lessons than easy comfort and success. Those lessons aren't fun. But they can have great value. At least if they are assiduously applied in the future.

[+] EnlargeConnor Wood
AP Photo/David ZalubowskiColorado quarterback Connor Wood believes last season's adversity will benefit the team this season.
"As a quarterback, I've learned that no matter what the score was the previous week, you've got to come in -- no matter who you are playing -- and have the mindset you are going to win the ballgame," Wood said. "No matter if the score was 50 to nothing last Saturday, you've got to come in on Monday ready to go to work. And that's week after week after week.

"No matter if you get your gut kicked in, as a leader of the team, you've got to have your head held high and have that face of confidence for the team. I think that can be in business or with your family. Even if you're struggling, you're the head of the house and you have to have the same mindset. Even if you just got fired."

Wood is the front-runner to be the starting quarterback in coach Mike MacIntyre's first season in Boulder, and that might have been true even if Shane Dillon and Nick Hirshman hadn't transferred or Jordan Webb didn't blow out his knee. Sure, he could be challenged by touted incoming freshman Sefo Liufau, and Jordan Gehrke, a transfer from Scottsdale (Ariz.) Community College who signed after spring practices, might be a wildcard.

But Wood sees the starting job as his.

"That's exactly how I am," he said. "My attitude going into fall camp is I will be the starter. You've got to have your mind thinking that way. It's how you work. It's how you talk to your teammates. That's my mindset. That I'm the guy here."

That sort of talk should be encouraging for Colorado fans. The Buffs need leadership. They need confidence. They need the moxie to want to spit into the eyes of those casting them as one of FBS football's worst teams.

There isn't anyone predicting more than a couple of wins this season, much less a bowl game. Colorado might be better, the general offseason consensus goes, but that's pretty much based on it being inconceivable that things could be worse.

Wood, much like his team, had a poor 2012 season. He saw spot action and made one start, and his numbers were bad: 50 percent completion rate, four interceptions, one touchdown. A 6-foot-3, 230-pound former Texas signee, he looked the part. Only he wasn't playing it.

And, yeah, it was hard for a guy who had been a high school superstar and a celebrated Longhorns signee to flounder.

"Confidence was an issue for me -- in my throws, in my decision-making. It was declining," he said. "But that's something I learned as well for this upcoming season. No matter if you throw an interception or two interceptions the previous game or on the previous series, you have to be mentally tough to be confident in that next throw, and be sure what you see."

If you listen to Wood and other Buffaloes players, you sense that they are swallowing what MacIntyre is spooning them. That's relentless optimism and hard work. Such notions, of course, are a sliver away from cliche and certainly won't launch a revolution in coaching philosophy, but they are a critical foundation for a potential Colorado rebirth.

Nietzsche noted "That which does not kill us makes us stronger," but that's not entirely true. The lessons from adversity must be applied. And not just one weekend. Over and over, in every practice as well as games.

"I've grown so much since I've been here," Wood said. "I've been tested on so many levels. If you want to talk about football specifically, I've been tested with perseverance, with a program that has been down for years, being a part of the season we had last year. The lessons that I've learned this past year and a half have been priceless.

"I'm so much of a better quarterback and better man because of my being here and the experiences I've had."

Now the question for this fall becomes how do those experiences translate to more success on the football field for Wood and the Buffs?
The Pac-12 features three new coaches: California's Sonny Dykes, Colorado's Mike MacIntyre and Oregon's Mark Helfrich.

Each faces distinct challenges. We break those challenges down.

CALIFORNIA: Sonny Dykes

Who he replaced: Jeff Tedford (82-57, 11 years)

Who is he? Dykes, 43, went 22-15 in three years at Louisiana Tech, where he was hired after coordinating Arizona's offense for three seasons.

Why he's there: After Tedford built Cal into a Pac-12 and national power, the Bears plateaued and then regressed his final three seasons, going 15-22. It's also noteworthy that the team declined significantly on the academic side of things.

What's the good news? Dykes didn't inherit a team devoid of talent or one that can't remember winning. Further, he's going to benefit from massive facilities upgrades that were only completed last year. The Bay Area is a pretty fair place to live.

What's the bad news? Well, Dykes inherited perhaps the nation's toughest schedule, which will make it tough to produce an immediate turnaround, even if the Bears play much better. It's also tough playing in the Pac-12 North where Oregon and Stanford have dominated play of late. Oh, and it's an issue that Big Game partner, Stanford, shows no signs of slowing down.

How can he make fans happy in 2013? If Dykes can somehow squeeze six wins out of this schedule, thereby earning a bowl berth, his fans should be thrilled.

COLORADO: Mike MacIntyre

Who he replaced: Jon Embree (4-21, 2 years)

Who is he? MacIntyre, 48, went 16-21 in three years at San Jose State, resurrecting the Spartans to a 10-2 finish in 2012. Before that, he was defensive coordinator at Duke for two years.

Why he's there: Look at Embree's record.

What's the good news? Sorry for saying this again, Buffs, but MacIntyre would be hard-pressed to make things any worse. The roster also looks stronger than the 2012 version, most notably the return of receiver Paul Richardson. Last year, the Buffs played a lot of young players, who weren't ready for Pac-12 play. Those youngsters should be better and more prepared this fall.

What's the bad news? This team isn't big enough or fast enough to compete in the Pac-12. The fan base is put off by the program's slide over the past decade. Oh, and athletic director Mike Bohn was just controversially fired.

How can he make fans happy in 2013? The bar isn't very high for MacIntyre in Year 1. He could double the Buffs' win total and that would just mean two victories. The biggest thing is being more competitive. Going 3-9 wouldn't be a disaster if those nine games aren't dropped by an average of 30 points. It's also important to win at least one conference game.

OREGON: Mark Helfrich

Who he replaced: Chip Kelly (46-7, 4 years)

Who is he? Helfrich, 39, was the Ducks' offensive coordinator for the past four years under Kelly. Before that, he was offensive coordinator at Colorado.

Why he's there: After leading the best run in school history -- four consecutive BCS bowl games and three Pac-12 titles -- Kelly bolted for the Philadelphia Eagles. Helfrich then was promoted, as Kelly had been under Mike Bellotti, and Bellotti had been under Rich Brooks.

What's the good news? Helfrich inherited a well-oiled machine with a lot of talent, starting with quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Ducks are widely viewed as national title contenders, even without Kelly. They are favored to win every game. Further, Helfrich knows his school, his team and his staff, considering eight of nine assistant coaches are back.

What's the bad news? The bar couldn't be higher. A disappointing season for Oregon now is two losses. The only way Helfrich can exceed Kelly is by winning a national title. He falls short by going 11-2 and winning the Alamo Bowl. Oh, and there's the pending ruling from the NCAA on L'Affair de Willie Lyles.

How can he make fans happy in 2013? There's only one way he can thrill them: 14-0. They'd settle for 13-1 if that includes a national title. A Rose Bowl win would be considered OK.

Mike Bohn out as Colorado's AD

May, 28, 2013
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Mike Bohn's sudden resignation as Colorado's athletic director Tuesday is a bit of a surprise. Apparently it was even to Bohn himself, who texted Denver sportscaster Vic Lombardio that he was "floored."

Mark Johnson of 850 KOA first reported Bohn's departure.

So resignation or firing -- semantics! -- the end-result is Colorado is looking for a new athletic director after: 1. Colorado gave Bohn a five-year contract extension in 2011 that ran through 2017; 2. Bohn fired coach Jon Embree after just two seasons and hired Mike MacIntyre away from San Jose State to replace him; 3. The school announced a $50 million facilities fundraising campaign for a $170 million multiyear upgrade of the school's -- read: football's -- athletics facilities.

So a lot is going on at Colorado as it concludes its second year in the Pac-12.

“Mike Bohn led CU-Boulder athletics in a time of great transition and change,” Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano said in a statement released by the school. “We are grateful to him for his vision, passion and commitment, and for his key role in revitalizing men’s and women’s basketball, helping us to join the Pac-12 Conference, and in taking important steps to upgrade athletic facilities at CU-Boulder. We wish him well.”

Bohn's resignation is effective June 3. DiStefano said he will in the coming days appoint a search committee to conduct a national search for Bohn’s successor.

What will Colorado be looking for? Here's a guess, inferring a subtext within the school's official release, is there's a major sense of urgency about fundraising.

From the release:
DiStefano said the university will be seeking “a dynamic leader” as athletic director -- someone who, he said, “can focus on our key goals of fundraising, building a dynamic organization, and creating long-term sustainability in the athletics mission.”

A couple of take-aways here.

First, football rules. While Bohn made a seemingly savvy hire of Tad Boyle to resurrect a poor-to-middling men's basketball program, his two football choices before MacIntyre -- Embree and Dan Hawkins -- produced a 23-60 record.

Second, now MacIntyre will be working for an athletic director who didn't hire him. Most coaches find that worrisome, though that connection failed to help Embree. And winning solves everything.

The timing here, of course, feels strange. Perhaps there's more to the story that will come out in the next few days.
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."

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley"I saw that as spring went along how our attitude changed from just grudgingly doing practice and meetings to enjoying practice and meetings," new Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre said.
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."
Colorado defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe doesn't want to be like Felix Hernandez or Brandon Jennings. Or Barry Sanders or Dick Butkus. He doesn't want to be a good player on a bad team. He doesn't want folks to feel sorry for him. He'd just like to win a few games before his career in Boulder is over.

Uzo-Diribe, cousin of former New York Giants star and new Atlanta Falcon Osi Umenyiora, probably has an NFL future, but you may know little about him because he played on the nation's worst defense in 2012. That defense was attached to probably the worst AQ conference program.

He labored in anonymity, recording seven of his team's 19 sacks and 10 tackles for a loss, for a defense that yielded 5.9 yards per rush, the worst run defense in program history. He will be a three-year starter for a team that won nine games during that span, including just one last year.

[+] EnlargeChidera Uzo-Diribe
James Snook/USA TODAY SportsColorado's Chidera Uzo-Diribe has used his athleticism effectively to make up for a lack of overall football experience.
A good player getting lost in that miserable shuffle, which included the firing of coach Jon Embree after just two seasons? Yep. But a competitor can't think that way.

"I definitely felt that, but I've never had it affect my game," the 6-foot-3, 254 pounder said. "I always came out and did my best regardless of what the outcome was. My film is my résumé and I want to put my best things on film."

Of course, there's new hope in town for Uzo-Diribe's final season. Coach Mike MacIntyre came to town bubbling with enthusiasm with a message that he can transform a flagging program that not too long ago was in the national championship mix, at least if you don't consider "Home Alone," "Dances with Wolves" and Madonna ancient cultural artifacts.

"These guys bring a whole lot more energy than the last staff," Uzo-Diribe said. "That's been the big difference this spring."

The Buffaloes are now eyeballing the offseason after the spring game on Saturday and a final practice Tuesday. Without question, they have a long way to go, but after 15 practices there were whiffs of hope that the program could trend up this fall.

Uzo-Diribe is a rare bird on one of the nation's youngest teams: He's a respected and productive veteran. While looking back over the rotten entrails of the previous three seasons isn't very pleasant, it also might help because whatever the Buffaloes did during that slog, they should be advised that the opposite course is likely better.

"I can't pinpoint one thing that did it," Uzo-Diribe said. "I feel like the biggest thing with a new coaching staff is getting everyone to buy in. I think we didn't have a buy-in with the last staff. That's a big thing we have to do with Coach MacIntyre. We have to buy in with what they need us to do."

Talking about enthusiasm and "buying in" are canned responses that every team tends to give when there's a new coach. The Buffs did it when Embree was hired. But there is one specific attribute MacIntyre's staff can point to that distinguishes it from Embree and his staff, or even Embree's predecessor, Dan Hawkins.

MacIntyre knows how to lead a program out of the muck.

"Seeing what they did at San Jose State, we feel like they can do the same thing here," Uzo-Diribe said. "That right there helps me get ready to play next season."

Uzo-Diribe, a son of Nigerian immigrants, is new to football. He didn't start playing until his junior year of high school. He's still learning the nuances of the game, and that still shows up on film, most often against the run. But he's an outstanding athlete with great quickness and ability to change direction for a 250-pounder. That alone will get him drafted in 2014.

It should help him this fall that his position coach, Jim Jeffcoat, knows more about getting to the quarterback than probably any college coach. The 15-year NFL veteran recorded 102.5 sacks in his career, which ranks 26th in NFL history.

Uzo-Diribe knows NFL teams will judge him, not his teammates. But a great defensive player makes guys around him better. If the Buffaloes defense improves dramatically next fall, that would put a check mark in another box for him. And if the defense improves dramatically, the Buffs have a shot to win a few more games and surprise some folks.

That no one expects that to happen is something that Uzo-Diribe and his teammates are well aware of.

"We have to use that as fuel," he said. "We know where we were last year and we definitely want to improve. We need that to help fuel us, to motivate us, to better ourselves each and every practice."
Colorado's most explosive player sat on the sidelines last fall stewing with a knee injury. He watched his teammates get stomped on a weekly basis. He heard the catcalls in the stands. He saw the smirks from opponents. It wasn't fun.

"Excruciating is a good word for it. It was pretty painful," Buffaloes receiver Paul Richardson said. "All I could think about last season was what I could have done or how I could have helped."

And Richardson knows exactly what people think of Colorado as the calendar flips into 2013.

[+] EnlargeColorado wide receiver Paul Richardson
AP Photo/ Matt McClainColorado's Paul Richardson is optimistic as the Buffaloes work to rebound from an awful season.
"I expect nothing less than for people to sell us short or pick us to finish last," he said. "I even joked before in another interview that if there was a spot below last they'd pick us there as well. But you never know what will happen in the Pac-12."

That last part is true. Still, there is a high degree of confidence out there that Colorado will again inhabit the Pac-12 basement. Sure, it should be improved compared to 2012, but that's largely based on the belief the Buffaloes were one of the worst teams in conference history last fall. It feels like things can't get any worse. So there's that.

And yet ... maybe there's a little more than that.

The Buffaloes welcome back 18 starters from an absurdly young team. They played 22 freshmen, including 13 true freshmen last fall. Some teams played more, such as Texas, LSU and Ohio State, but those teams are recruiting different sorts of players, elite prospects with no assembly required. Colorado was forced to play guys who were not physically ready for Pac-12 play. And it showed.

At the very least, they will be more ready this year. If the Buffs get a breakthrough at quarterback -- redshirt freshman Shane Dillon, a former Elite 11 quarterback? Incoming freshman Sefo Liufau? -- Richardson is a game-changer with the ball in his hands, just ask California, which yielded a school-record 284 yards receiving to him in 2011.

While many only see the mess that former coach Jon Embree presided over, Richardson sees the potential improvement new coach Mike MacIntyre inherited.

"I don't think Coach MacIntyre is in a bad position at all," he said. "I think he was given an opportunity to move up to this coaching job at a really good time. We're going to have some key players back and our young guys are going to have experience. To me, he came at a perfect time."

Embree, who was fired after just two seasons, is a sore subject for many Buffs, including Richardson. While the team is going through spring practices preaching optimism and looking forward, looking back still evokes grumbles.

"I was very upset to say the least [at Embree's firing]," Richardson said. "It was very surprising. I had a really good relationship with coach Embree. It caught us all off guard. Some of us were pretty bitter."

He then adds, "But we've grown from that. I miss Coach Embree. I miss [offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy]. I miss the staff. But all we can do is go forward. We've got to turn this program around and start winning some football games."

A 6-foot-1, 170-pound junior from Los Angeles, Richardson was second on the team in receiving yards (514) and touchdowns (6) as a true freshman in 2010. He looked like a potential All-Pac-12 performer in 2011 before a knee injury sidelined him for four games. His 2012 hopes were dashed when he tore his ACL the final week of spring practices.

The only question with Richardson, who has good speed and reliable hands, is health.

"I feel incredible," he said. "I know I'm more explosive than I was before. I know I'm faster than I was before. I'm more mature. I'm stronger. I'm a better leader. Conceptually, I'm grasping the offense and I'm able to pull guys along with me."

Asked if his "pulling guys along" includes figuring out who will be throwing him the ball, Richardson is noncommittal. It's too early to make a call at quarterback, though MacIntyre has said he plans to narrow the competition to three guys before spring practices hit the half-way mark on March 22.

"It's a healthy competition," he said. "There are kids people expect to start, but every day somebody is showing something different. I can't tell you who is winning the race."

Richardson's career has been star-crossed thus far. But if his luck changes, so might the Buffs' fortunes.

"I think we'll be .500 or above," he said. "The best thing I can say is don't sleep on Colorado football. We're a work in progress, but it is progressing over here."
Nothing so represents the bravado of football than a team running out of the stadium tunnel to a pregame eruption of cheers or -- on the road -- boos and catcalls. It's a moment of machismo and chest pounding, as two groups of young men attempt to exude confidence and swagger under a scoreboard reading 0-0.

So just imagine what it was like for Colorado over the final third of the 2012 season.

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/Brennan LinsleyCoach Mike MacIntyre has re-built programs before, and Colorado proves to be no different in 2013.
The Buffaloes would sprint onto the field ... and ... and ... be a punchline. It was impossible for them not to know this. They'd take the field and know they were terrible and about to get pushed around.

Not exactly why an athlete dedicates so much time and sweat to an enterprise.

The Buffs ranked 120th -- last -- in the nation in scoring defense in 2012. They were 117th in scoring offense. They "led" the nation with a negative-28.17 scoring differential, despite playing four games decided by a touchdown or less, one of which was a loss to FSC Sacramento State.

This is the mess new coach Mike MacIntyre inherited. It will not fix itself overnight.

"It's a process -- daily," he said. "It's not waving a magic wand. It's an all-the-time thing."

Part of the reason MacIntyre was hired after Jon Embree was controversially fired after just two seasons -- albeit miserable ones -- is that he's coached a team wallowing in the mire before. He took over a San Jose State squad that went 2-10 in 2009 and, well, he went 1-12 in 2010.

But then he went 5-7. This past fall, the Spartans were one of the season's feel-good stories, going 11-2 and winning a bowl game, while only losing to Stanford and Utah State.

He has a blueprint for how to rebuild a program, though obviously he's in the Pac-12 now, where there won't be as many Texas-San Antonios, Texas States and New Mexico States propping up the win-loss record.

It starts with small goals -- weight lifting totals, body fat percentages and running times. Then it moves onto the field, as it will when spring practices start on March 7. The Buffs have a lot of questions, a lot to work on and a few supporters who believe much good is going to happen in 2013.

Ah, but that's where MacIntyre's blueprint comes in. He's going to bang a relentless drum of positivity, while trying to push a team to reach his expectations.

Positive, mind you, isn't soft. Nor is it easy. MacIntyre wants to convince his players that focus, intensity, attention to detail and the daily exhaustion their pursuit demands are a sweet nectar worth seeking at every moment. Or something like that.

"I think it's positive and firm at the same time," he said. "Some people think when you say, 'Positive,' that you're saying that we're just going to look at everything and be happy and everything is going to be OK. It's positive and firm. And what I mean by firm is if you're supposed to do it a certain way, you do it that way. You don't demean them. You keep pushing them. And all the sudden the light goes on."

While there are questions all over the field, including a lack of overall team speed and massive issues with the defensive front seven, quarterback will be front-and-center for most fans. MacIntyre will bring in a new pistol offense for what figures to be a wide-open competition.

Spring practices will be wrapped around spring break, so it basically works out to two sessions. MacIntyre said the first session will be basic in terms of implementing his offense. He wants to see what each of his six QBs has to offer. They will be evaluated during the break, and the coaches will make a depth chart, with the intention of narrowing the race to three candidates.

"Then we're going to let them compete the last half of spring," he said.

And the true freshman Sefo Liufau arrives in the fall to perhaps thicken the plot.

As for the rest of the team, MacIntyre makes no secret that he's a bit of a mad scientist in terms of evaluations. He'll see a guy playing receiver and say, "tight end." He'll see a tight end and go "offensive tackle." Or he'll switch defensive backs to receiver. And vice versa. He likes to move guys around, particularly when the switch improves the athleticism at the new position. For example, he already plans to move junior D.D. Goodson from running back to receiver this spring.

But, really, the new Xs and Os and present talent aren't going to make things easy. As MacIntyre said, there's no magic wand on hand. While a new coach typically brings an uptick in enthusiasm for a program, the reality is the nattering nabobs of negativism aren't going to say or write many nice things about the Buffs this offseason. MacIntyre's biggest challenge is rebuilding his team's confidence and psyche.

"We can let the outside affect us," he said. "But that's hard because they get bombarded when things aren't going as well."

The offseason question will be how much legitimate belief can MacIntyre instill in advance of Colorado running out of the tunnel on Aug. 31 against a Colorado State team that established for the Buffs a pitiful trajectory for the 2012 season.

Considering the college coaching churn

January, 17, 2013
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When Jeff Tedford was fired after 11 seasons at California, the Pac-12 lost its coach with the longest continuous tenure.

And when Chip Kelly opted to leave Oregon for the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday, it meant the Pac-12 would have its seventh new coach since the end of the 2011 season.

Mike Riley is now the Pac-12's longest-tenured coach. He's been Oregon State's coach for 12 total seasons over two tenures, including 10 consecutive seasons. Kyle Whittingham has been at Utah for eight years.

After them? Washington's Steve Sarkisian, whose four years in Seattle give him the third spot.

Yes, college football coaches make good money. No, it's not the job you want if you're into security.

Here's the list.
Pac-12 Coaching tenure (seasons, first year)

Mike Riley, Oregon State (12, 1997 & 2003)

Kyle Whittingham, Utah (8, 2005)

Steve Sarkisian, Washington (4, 2009)

Lane Kiffin, USC, (3, 2010)

David Shaw, Stanford (2, 2011)

Rich Rodriguez, Arizona (1, 2012)

Mike Leach, Washington State (1, 2012)

Todd Graham, Arizona State (1, 2012)

Jim Mora, UCLA (1, 2012)

Sonny Dykes, California (0, 2013)

Mike MacIntyre, Colorado (0, 2013)

NEW COACH, Oregon (0, 2013)

Of course, the Pac-12 is far from alone. Here's an interesting look at coaching tenures before Kelly's became the 31st job out of 125 to turn over in the past year.

Some interesting notes:
  • Frank Beamer has coached Virginia Tech for 26 seasons. He is the nation's longest-tenured coach. Troy's Larry Blakeney is second with 22 seasons. Mack Brown is third with 15 seasons at Texas.
  • After just three seasons, Kiffin is the 53rd-longest tenured head coach.
  • The median hire date of a current FBS coach is Dec. 25, 2010, according to Patrick Steven's D1scourse.com blog.
  • In terms of continuous tenure, Riley is tied for 10th with Central Florida's George O'Leary. Whittingham is tied for 11th with South Carolina's Steve Spurrier, BYU's Bronco Mendenhall and Ohio's Frank Solich.

 

Final Pac-12 2012 power rankings

January, 8, 2013
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These are the final 2012 power rankings.

If you don't like where you finished in the power rankings, you should have played better.

See the pre-bowl-season power rankings here.

1. Stanford: Oregon received a higher final national ranking, and you could make a decent challenge in favor of the Ducks. They didn't get upset by Washington, didn't play a lot of close games and beat a top-five team in the Fiesta Bowl. But, on Nov. 17, the Cardinal went to Eugene and took care of business. Stanford is the Pac-12 champion, and Oregon is not. Ergo, Stanford sits atop the power rankings. And 2013 looks pretty darn good, too.

2. Oregon: The cherry on the top of another special season for Oregon is the return of coach Chip Kelly. And we're of the mind that, if not for the slip against Stanford, Oregon would be sitting atop college football this morning after a fine evening of frolic in South Florida. The Ducks and Stanford will be national title contenders again in 2013. And guess which two teams are going to top the first 2013 power rankings?

3. Oregon State: The loss to Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl was baffling. The Beavers were a superior team that seemed to be looking for ways to lose in the fourth quarter. The quarterback carousel needs to be resolved. But the Beavers still won nine games, and their 6-3 conference record overcomes UCLA because of a head-to-head win on the road. Nice bounce back after consecutive losing seasons.

4. UCLA: Yes, the Bruins flopped in the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl against Baylor, but it's impossible not to see Year 1 under Jim Mora as a success, made even more notable by USC's flop. Like last season, the Bruins won the South Division, but this time they earned it.

5. Arizona State: The Sun Devils won their final three games for the first time since 1978. That's how you go into an offseason with optimism. We hear a lot about "culture change" from programs with new coaches. The Sun Devils' culture change under Todd Graham was made manifest by what happened on the field.

6. Arizona: The Wildcats did better than expected in Year 1 under Rich Rodriguez, and the season would have been a complete success if not for what happened against that team from up north. That loss hurts, but quality wins over Oklahoma State, USC and Washington, as well as an overtime game with Stanford, show this team competed better than in recent years.

7. Washington: The Huskies finishing 7-6 against a brutal schedule probably was close to preseason expectations. But the two-game losing streak to end the season, which included a dreadful meltdown in the Apple Cup to Washington State, quashed the momentum a four-game winning steak from Oct. 27 to Nov. 17 had built. Perhaps that will make the Huskies hungrier in 2013, when they have a nice array of talent returning.

8. USC: The Trojans' season was a complete disaster. USC started out at No. 1 but turned in a white flag performance while losing a sixth game in the Hyundai Sun Bowl to a middling Georgia Tech team. The Trojans were eclipsed by rivals UCLA and Notre Dame while wasting the much-ballyhooed return of QB Matt Barkley. Coach Lane Kiffin will be sitting on one of the nation's hottest seats in 2013. We've been over this a few times.

9. Utah: The Utes' move up in class from the Mountain West Conference is proving tougher than some imagined. Utah missed out on playing in a bowl game for the first time since 2002, and there were issues on both sides of the ball. The Utes need an upgrade in talent and overall depth, sure, but consistent quarterback play would be a good place to start. Therein lies hope with promising freshman Travis Wilson.

10. California: A dreadful 3-9 finish ended Jeff Tedford's tenure in Berkeley after 11 seasons. In early October, after consecutive wins over UCLA and Washington State, it seemed as though the Bears might be poised for a rally. Alas, they lost their final five games, including a horrid performance in a 62-14 drubbing at Oregon State. Sonny Dykes has enough returning talent to produce significant improvement in the fall.

11. Washington State: New coach Mike Leach's season was bad on the field and off, but it ended on a notable uptick with an Apple Cup win over Washington that included a comeback from an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit. Still, 3-9 took a bite out of the enthusiasm Leach's hiring initially generated.

12. Colorado: A horrid 1-11 finish that was capped by a controversial firing of Jon Embree after just two seasons. The Buffaloes are probably the worst AQ conference team over the past two seasons, and that is the considerable mess new coach Mike MacIntyre was hired to clean up. Of course, MacIntyre put together an impressive turnaround at San Jose State, so he looks like a good choice to bring the Buffs back to respectability.

CU needs MacIntyre's passion, enthusiasm

December, 10, 2012
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Mike MacIntyre's first news conference as Colorado's coach wasn't filled with details and information -- few introductory pressers are -- but it did present a man who is clearly thrilled to be in Boulder. His enthusiasm probably matters more than it would at most places because things have been pretty dreary for the Buffaloes for some time now.

"I think as you get to know me, you'll say one thing about Mike MacIntyre," he said. "He has passion."

That passion was one of the big reasons he got hired to be San Jose State's head coach three years ago. The reason he's in Boulder now is his plan to transform the Spartans from a college football afterthought into a ranked team worked.

Said Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn, "There is no question that we have hired a football coach that all Buffs can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with."

MacIntyre, 47, whose San Jose State team finished 10-2 and is preparing to face Bowling Green in the Military Bowl on Dec. 27 in Washington, D.C., acknowledged that Colorado has a ways to go to become competitive in the Pac-12. Colorado hasn't posted a winning record since 2005. It has won three or fewer games four times since 2006. And the program has been doing a bit of morose navel gazing since it controversially fired Jon Embree, a former Buff player, after just two seasons and then was publicly spurned by its first choice, former Cincinnati coach Butch Jones, who's now at Tennessee.

MacIntyre's enthusiasm might part some of those dark clouds.

"Yes, we've got a long way to go," he said. "But I've been there before and I know what to do."

Some hits from the news conference.
  • MacIntyre said he's going to run a pistol offense and a 4-3 defense that spends a lot of time in a 4-2-5 set against spread teams. He said the offense wants to incorporate a downhill running game that facilities an effective play-action package, and he compared his defensive scheme to TCU's.
  • He said he's going to bring a number of his coaches from San Jose State, but he will also interview the Buffs' current staff left behind after Embree's firing. He left open the option of retaining coaches who were with the program this year. He also strongly implied he's got some guys in mind who aren't on either staff.
  • He met with the current team for the first time on Monday. "I could tell they are hurting," he said. "And they should be."
  • He signed a five-year deal to coach the Buffaloes. He will make $2 million a season, which is more in line with Pac-12 coaches. Embree was the Pac-12's lowest paid coach at about $750,000.
  • MacIntyre also said that certain guarantees were made about facilities upgrades, though he provided no specifics. "Everything is in [his contract]," he said. "There has been a commitment made to do that and it will happen."
  • He said his recruiting focus will be in Colorado and California. He was less enthusiastic about Texas.

Cal, Colorado coaching updates

December, 5, 2012
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Cincinnati coach Butch Jones remains Colorado's top choice to replace Jon Embree -- he reportedly has a firm offer from the Buffaloes -- but his decision might have been delayed by the surprise opening at Rose Bowl bound Wisconsin.

Jones is a Midwest guy, and the departure of Bret Bielema to Arkansas might intrigue him enough to pass on the Buffs.

What might be the Plan B? From the Boulder Daily Camera:
Sources said they wrote at least one new name down on a dry-erase board. CU officials would be interested in talking with Fresno State coach Tim DeRuyter, San Jose State coach [Mike MacIntyre] and at least one other possible candidate whom they only began to consider Tuesday.

CU has either ruled out or been told there is no reciprocal interest from candidates such as Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, Brigham Young coach Bronco Mendenhall and Utah State coach Gary Andersen.

As for California, the lead name is Louisiana Tech coach Sonny Dykes, the former offensive coordinator at Arizona. There have been reports that he and San Jose State's MacIntyre interviewed with Cal officials over the weekend. The Bears also reportedly talked to Kent State coach Darrell Hazell, but he's been hired by Purdue.

Of course, as Arkansas has taught us, don't be surprised if names that aren't bouncing around in media reporters suddenly appear when the ink dries on new contracts.

 

 

2012 Pac-12 regular-season wrap

December, 5, 2012
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The Pac-12 -- again -- produced national title contenders but not a team playing for the crystal football when the final bell rang. Further, for the first time since 2008, the conference didn't provide a Heisman Trophy finalist.

A short summary of the regular season: It was pretty good but could have been better. But it was definitely surprising.

Better? If things had fallen the right way, seven Pac-12 teams could have been ranked in the final regular-season poll. USC began the season as a national title contender only to yield that spot to Oregon. Then Stanford ended the Ducks' hopes on Nov. 17 with a 17-14 overtime win in Autzen Stadium.

So the conference streak without a football national championship extends to eight seasons.

Surprising? UCLA won the South Division over rival USC, and Stanford beat out Oregon in the North by virtue of the aforementioned win in Eugene. Neither was tapped in the preseason as the conference champion by any of the 123 media members who voted.

Surprising? USC quarterback Matt Barkley topped just about every preseason Heisman Trophy list. He didn't even make first- or second-team All-Pac-12.

Surprising? Three of the four new coaches turned in strong seasons. Start with Jim Mora, who led the Bruins to the Pac-12 championship game and a national ranking. And, a year after USC beat UCLA 50-0, the Bruins prevailed, 38-28.

Sorry for bringing that up, USC.

Both Arizona's Rich Rodriguez and Arizona State's Todd Graham finished 7-5, though Graham handed Rodriguez his fifth defeat in the Territorial Cup.

Sorry for bringing that up, Wildcats.

The new coach who was expected to make the most noise -- with both his mouth and his team -- was only 1-for-2, and it wasn't Mike Leach's team doing the talking. His Cougars finished 3-9 and recorded just one conference victory. Of course, that lone Pac-12 win was over Washington.

Sorry for bringing that up, Huskies.

The good news is a record eight bowl teams, including a third consecutive season with two BCS bowl berths, which means an extra $6.1 million for the conference to split up.

The bad news is two more coach firings: Jeff Tedford at California after 11 seasons and Jon Embree at Colorado after just two. That means half the teams in the Pac-12 will have changed coaches over the past two years.

Further, USC's disappointing season lands Lane Kiffin on the 2013 hot seat, the only Pac-12 coach who will be stuck with that designation heading into 2013.

What about some highlights? Well, here you go.

[+] EnlargeWill Sutton, Corbin Berkstresser
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonArizona State's Will Sutton averaged almost a sack per game this season, including one at Missouri.
Offensive MVP, Marqise Lee, WR, USC: Not only is he the most dominant wide receiver in the country, he might also be the most dominant player. Heisman voters say otherwise, but we in the Pac-12 know just how dominant he can be. His record-setting season should be more than enough to earn him the Biletnikoff Award for the nation's top receiver. And if he has matching numbers on a nine-win USC team, he's in New York this week.

Defensive MVP, Will Sutton, Arizona State: The numbers alone paint a pretty good picture of just how dominant the speed-rushing defensive tackle was. He led the conference in tackles for a loss per game and averaged almost a sack per game. He was a wrecking ball -- the kind of player offensive coordinators design their game plan around.

Newcomer of the year, Marcus Mariota, Oregon: In a year in which redshirt freshmen quarterbacks became all the rage, Mariota stood out with his efficiency as a passer, his athleticism as a runner and the speed with which he commanded Oregon's offense. His presence assures Oregon will continue to be one of the best offensive teams in the country in the coming years.

Biggest surprise: A school not named USC or Oregon is going to the Rose Bowl. In fact, neither team played in the Pac-12 championship game -- which many thought was as foregone conclusion before a single ball had been hiked. Stanford and UCLA were surprises -- but they also earned it.

Biggest disappointment: USC's once-promising season first got hijacked at Stanford. And from then on the Trojans were swimming in concrete shoes. After starting the season No. 1 in the AP poll, the Trojans became the first such team since 1964 to end the year out of the Top 25. The contrarian opinion Kevin Gemmell offered up back in March came to fruition. And it was a complete disaster. And, yes, even worse than Ted Miller's "Worst Case." And that's pretty bad.

Best game: Depends on where your tastes lie. If you like defense, then it was Stanford's performance at Oregon, where they held the Ducks to fewer than 200 yards rushing and won in overtime. Jordan Williamson's 37-yard kick sent shock waves throughout college football. If you like offense, you have to look to the Nov. 3 shootout between Oregon and USC. The stakes weren't as high as we all thought a few months ago, but some of the league's premier offensive players showed up as the teams combined for 113 points, 68 first downs and 1,145 yards of total offense.

3-point stance: McCartney misguided

November, 29, 2012
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1. Just warning you: If you’re an unaffiliated college football fan who wants a ticket for the BCS National Championship Game in Miami, then root for the Georgia Bulldogs. At the TeamTix website, where fans reserve seats at market prices to see their team in the postseason, Notre Dame tickets Wednesday were offered at $1,190, Alabama tickets at $950, and Georgia tickets at $300.

2. Bill McCartney feels that his protégé, Jon Embree, was wronged by Colorado. I get that. Embree didn’t get a fair shake. But racism? McCartney said that since CU gave Dan Hawkins five years to succeed, Embree should have gotten five years. Hawkins getting five years is the exact reason why Embree wasn’t going to. It had nothing to do with race. Southern Mississippi fired Ellis Johnson after one season. He’s white.

3. The rain is settling in Palo Alto, Calif., and it isn’t supposed to stop before the Pac-12 championship game Friday evening. That means wet, mucky turf for No. 8 Stanford and No. 16 UCLA. Both teams are effective on the ground. But the job that Cardinal offensive-line coach Mike Bloomgren has done in developing freshmen Andrus Peat, Kyle Murphy and Josh Garnett into 20-to-30-plus-play guys means that Stanford is two deep along the front in what appears to be a grind-it-out game.

Poll: Grace period for new coaches

November, 27, 2012
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The decision to fire Colorado coach Jon Embree has drawn mixed reviews. Surprising to some. Not so much to others.

Some laud the decision, saying there was no sign of progress and a change had to be made after the win total dropped from three last year to just one this year.

SportsNation

How much time should a coach be given to turn a program around?

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    1%
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    6%
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    47%
  •  
    38%
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    8%

Discuss (Total votes: 8,963)

Others contend he got a raw deal and that two years wasn't enough to turn things around. Further, the fact he was a dedicated alumnus made the decision that much more bitter for those who were Embree believers.

So your poll question for today: How much time should a coach be given to turn a struggling program around? This is a numerical poll, so Oregon is not an option.

As crafty, veteran Pac-12 blogger Ted Miller pointed out in his post on Sunday, patience is a thing of the past in today's college football. Obviously, circumstances are different at every school -- as are resources, facilities, etc. Whoever steps in at Colorado is probably looking at a longer rebuilding process than whoever steps in at California.

But expectations are high -- especially in one of the premier conferences in college football. And if the results aren't there, athletic directors have shown they will take the steps to find someone who can get results (or go into a vicious cycle of hirings and firings). Even winning a national championship doesn't buy you the grace period it used to. Just ask Gene Chizik.

Some believe progress should be immediate. Others submit that a full four- or five-year recruiting cycle is the only way to truly evaluate a coach.

There is a lot of work to be done in Boulder, Colo. The question is will the new guy in charge be given the time his predecessor wasn't?

Colorado, Embree have awkward goodbye

November, 26, 2012
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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."

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