Slimmer MacIntyre hungry for CU wins

August, 7, 2014
8/07/14
4:00
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Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre dropped 55 pounds of chub during the offseason. Buffaloes defensive end Derek McCartney has put on 25 pounds of muscle since he signed in 2012.

Trimming the fat and building the muscle. That's two ways programs rebuild.

[+] EnlargeMike MacIntyre
AP Photo/Rick BowmerMike MacIntyre lost 55 pounds in the offseason, and the slimmed-down Colorado coach is hoping for less in the loss column in 2014.
Another way is remembering the difficult path to past glory in hopes of rekindling it. McCartney's last name surely will help Buffaloes fans do that. His grandfather, Bill McCartney, once led the program on its greatest run -- a split national title in 1990 and three Big 8 titles.

First-year athletic director Rick George was McCartney's football operations director a quarter century ago. He remembers the glory days. He's also become informed on how and why the Buffaloes have fallen behind in the present. He and MacIntyre have been paired to restore a football program that hasn't produced a winning season since 2005.

"You've got "Mc 1" [McCartney] and "Mac 2" [MacIntyre]," George said. "You see a lot of similarities."

MacIntyre took baby steps in that direction on the field last season, leading the Buffs to a 4-8 finish after things bottomed out at 1-11 in 2012 under Jon Embree, a former player for McCartney who lasted only two seasons. George is handling the infrastructure. The school began the first phase of $156 million facilities project this spring -- the estimated cost bounced up $13 million this month -- while George has been relentlessly roaming the fundraising circuit, hitting up boosters for "north of" the $47 million figure he announced in June. That's an unprecedented total for a fanbase not known for its generosity.

"I think it's because there's a plan and a vision that they can invest in," George said. "Our base is really rallying around the direction we are heading."

Upward mobility, however, won't be easy to obtain in the rugged Pac-12 and the suddenly deep South Division. Colorado is playing catch-up with talent and facilities while other teams in the conference appear to be simultaneously advancing in both areas. It's more than a question of improving, which MacIntyre's depth chart suggests is highly likely this fall. It's about identifying whom the Buffaloes can step over to advance out of the basement.

"We'll move up eventually," MacIntyre said. "I hope it's this year. But we'll keep moving up."

A decisive step forward would be two more wins compared to 2013, which would earn bowl eligibility. That would require two more Pac-12 victories, as the Buffs were 3-0 in their nonconference slate last year and only beat woeful California in Pac-12 play. Colorado faces the Golden Bears, who also should be much improved, on the road in week five, and host Utah in the season finale. The other seven Pac-12 games are against teams that finished with winning records last season, five of whom are ranked in the preseason coaches poll. Gaining ground won't be easy.

Meanwhile, patience with rebuilding isn't what it used to be. McCartney survived a 1-10 regression his third season in 1984, but MacIntyre, despite getting his contract extended through 2018 in February, probably can't afford too many perceived backward steps. It will be about wins and losses, and there will be little sympathy afforded to a "the Pac-12 is just too hard!" sentiment.

The Buffaloes were far more competitive in 2013 than they were in 2012, and the roster has matured despite the loss of a handful of key players. Fifteen starters and 50 lettermen are back, including sophomore quarterback Sefo Liufau.

"I think we'll be improved everywhere," MacIntyre said. "Now we just have to get a lot of those games into the fourth quarter and win them in the fourth quarter."

For motivational purposes, MacIntyre has made up black bracelets with the word "Uncommon" inscribed in gold on them. He wants his players to aspire to more than common things, on and off the field. On the more practical side, he's eyeballing third down and the red zone on both sides of the ball as critical areas that need to improve.

Colorado ranked 11th in the Pac-12 in third-down conversion percentage on offense last season and was eighth on defense. In the red zone, the Buffs' offense converted 32 trips -- fewest in the conference -- into just 14 touchdowns, by far the worst percentage in the conference. With red-zone defense, opponents scored touchdowns on 43 of 64 drives, putting the Buffs in a near-dead heat with Cal for the worst percentage in the league. It didn't help that those 64 drives inside the 20-yard line were 13 more than any other team yielded.

One or two plays per game on third down and in the red zone can make a huge difference.

Emotions and stat analysis will only go so far, though. MacIntyre needs talent, as in bigger, faster players. For one, he needs to stop the flow of the best high school players out of state. Just two of the state's nine players in the 2013-14 recruiting class rated with three or more stars signed with Colorado, and neither of them ranked among the top six. He also has to re-establish a foothold in California and take his shots at Texas when it makes sense, just as McCartney did when he built an NFL pipeline.

The new facilities should help recruiting, but winning with new facilities is the only way to ensure a steady flow of talent.

MacIntyre's health kick started because of personal adversity. During the 2013 season, he moved his aging parents, who live in Nashville, into a nursing home. His father, George, who won the Bobby Dodd Coach of the Year Award at Vanderbilt in 1982, suffers from multiple sclerosis. The 49-year-old son then took a personal inventory, which included a 3 a.m. reckoning with a mirror.

"I just kind of had an experience that I'd better get my act together," he said.

It was a quick and dramatic transformation, particularly for those who hadn't seen MacIntyre since the 2013 season. He is hoping for the same with his program this fall.

"All of a sudden," he said, "you'll get a win you weren't supposed to get. Then the next thing happens and the next thing happens..."

Ted Miller | email

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