- Kevin Gemmell, ESPN Staff Writer
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Colorado football coach Mike MacIntyre joined the family business in 1990.
He spent two seasons at Vanderbilt playing for his father, George, before finishing his career at Georgia Tech. In 1990 the younger MacIntyre joined the coaching staff at Georgia as a graduate assistant. But it’s not what you think. Simply being a football coach isn’t the family business.
The MacIntyres are in the business of building. They are masons with playbooks as blueprints. They take on challenges that seem daunting and in the process build the confidence and trust of those they coach.
Mike MacIntyre saw this firsthand when he watched his father turn Tennessee-Martin from a 2-8 team to an 8-3 team in three seasons. And then again when he took a Vanderbilt team from 1-10 in 1979 to 8-4 by 1982.
“I saw the way the young men change, how they treated people and all the different things they did and they keep in touch with my dad to this day," MacIntyre said. "Watching him, he was always the same person. He was always positive. He was a great coach. Very intense. He was a great recruiter and people could see he was genuine. I watched him do that and I watched him stay after it and keep pushing. A lot of times people get so negative, it’s hard to keep pushing. ... He kept climbing that mountain. I learned a lot from him.”
MacIntyre’s apprenticeship took him throughout college football and the NFL, where he studied under coaches such as David Cutcliffe and Bill Parcells. In December 2009, he was named head coach at San Jose State. The apprenticeship was over. He had a rebuilding project of his own. It was his time to run the family business.
“He was real aggressive with what he wanted,” said San Jose State senior linebacker Keith Smith. “He really had his vision and he had a set way of how he wanted things to be done, so he was real thorough in his direction and real strict at first. He’s an emotional guy. And he instilled that in us. Once we started bonding and playing for each other, it all started to work out.”
San Jose State’s turnaround under MacIntyre is well documented. He took over a two-win team and by the third season the Spartans were 10-2 and ranked in the AP Top 25. SJSU was about to enter the Mountain West -- arguably the most respected of the non-AQ conferences. But MacIntyre, a man of devout faith, prayed about the decision and couldn’t turn down the opportunity to coach in the Pac-12.
“Looking at everything, I thought it was the best opportunity,” he said. “San Jose State was awesome to me. I loved it there and a lot of great people are there. That’s just the way it worked out, and in my heart I felt like this was the best decision.”
Colorado was reeling. More than two decades removed from its 1990 national championship -- the same year MacIntyre entered the business -- the Buffaloes have descended to the lowest of tiers in college football. Colorado enjoyed a golden age under Bill McCartney, who compiled a 93-55-5 record in 13 seasons, the likes of which it hadn’t seen since Fred Folsom turned the page on the 1800s.
But five seasons under Dan Hawkins and the subsequent two years under Jon Embree left the Buffs 23-60 during that stretch. Embree’s harsh criticism on his way out embittered the program even more.
In comes the rebuilder.
Colorado enters Week 10 with a 3-4 record, though 0-4 in Pac-12 play. Two of the Buffs' victories have come against FCS teams. Change won’t happen overnight.
“You can’t sacrifice certain things to get quick results,” MacIntyre said. “You have to work for the long haul. You have to work for the process of it. We always talk about the process and the people and developing them. I truly believe if you do that, the success will come.”
But he also knows this is a results-based business. Just as he saw his father guide Vanderbilt to an eight-win season, he also saw a coaching change when his dad couldn't maintain the results. Therein lies the challenge of those looking to rebuild and change cultures. Once the culture is changed, how do you keep it that way?
“He had built the Vanderbilt program from a horrendous program [to an eight-win team],” MacIntyre said. “In his fourth year he won a bunch and went to a bowl game. He built a stadium while he was there. But as it goes, you have to win football games, and we didn’t win enough.
“It made me realize that you definitely have to be successful to keep going. But all of your self-worth can’t just come from winning football games. You look around, almost every coach ends up getting fired. I never want to be fired. There’s no doubt about that. But you'd better keep the right focus on what the right things are and always remember it’s about building young people. It’s about caring for people. It’s about helping them growing and mature and get the fundamentals together as a person to be successful, and I think you can teach that through football.”
Throughout his career, MacIntyre has often turned to his father for advice. It’s become harder in recent years as George MacIntyre battles multiple sclerosis. On game day, he still carries the commemorative coin his father received for being named the 1982 Bobby Dodd National Coach of the Year. And he remembers the process his father used to rebuild teams.
“Firm and accountable,” MacIntyre explained. “These kids hear negative all the time. It’s in the papers, when they go to restaurants and from other students. You have to be firm and make sure they do certain things, but you also need to be positive with young men so when they come to the practice field and meeting room and weight room, it’s a place they want to be and grow and thrive. It can’t be a negative place. They have to know you’re in there with them.”
And now, as Colorado begins yet another rebuilding process, the hope is that the MacIntyre family business will keep booming.