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Monday, March 18, 2013
New coaches, different challenges

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

It's too bad that the Discovery Channel cancelled the show "Dirty Jobs" last season. Host Mike Rowe would have felt right at home in the coaching shoes of Mike MacIntyre.

On "Dirty Jobs," Rowe tested shark repellent, cleaned septic tanks and took on a lot of other tasks so difficult to stomach that viewers tuned in for eight seasons. By college football standards, MacIntyre took on one of those gigs last December when he left San Jose State to try to rehabilitate the Colorado Buffaloes.

The program that shared the 1990 national championship and won the Big 12 North Division as recently as 2005, has fallen off the edge of the world. In the seven seasons since that 2005 title, Colorado has won 25 games.

Mike MacIntyre
Mike MacIntyre turned San Jose State around. He'll try to do the same at Colorado.

Last season, the second under head coach Jon Embree, the Buffaloes started as many as six true freshmen. They finished in the bottom five in the FBS in eight different categories, including total offense, total defense, scoring offense and scoring defense -- the complete set. It may be redundant to say Colorado went 1-11.

MacIntyre may be Southern by background -- his father George was the head coach at Vanderbilt (1979 to 1985), and MacIntyre coached at Ole Miss and Duke for David Cutcliffe -- but what he has found on the Front Range of the Rockies looks familiar. MacIntyre took over a San Jose State team that went 2-10 in 2009. Last season, the Spartans went 11-2.

"Every person, when I told them I was thinking about taking the job," MacIntyre said of San Jose State, "there wasn't one person, not one person out of the 100 I asked, who told me I should take the job. And then when we were successful, I had people call me and tell me, 'I thought we'd never hear of you again. I thought your career would be over as a head coach when you took that job.'"

There are different kinds of tough jobs in college football. MacIntyre is starting from the bottom up. But his biggest problems are within the football building. There is no outside pressure -- Colorado fans shed contempt a long time ago for the relative comfort of apathy. The minute that Colorado shows any life, the fans may come back.

Butch Jones doesn't have that luxury at Tennessee. Jones won at Central Michigan and he won at Cincinnati (50-27, .649). But Jones inherits fans who still think of their program as a traditional power, even as the Volunteers haven't won more than seven games since 2007. Not only that, a Tennessee team playing under its fourth head coach in six seasons faces a schedule with five top-10 teams (at Oregon, at Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, at Alabama).

But Jones had his choice. He said no to Colorado before he said yes to Tennessee.

A few rungs above Jones on the success ladder is Gary Andersen at Wisconsin. Andersen takes over a program that has won three consecutive Big Ten championships and played in three consecutive Rose Bowls. While the Badgers can improve -- they went 8-6 in 2012 -- there's a lot more room below than above.

Andersen replaces Bret Bielema, who coached for seven seasons as the hand-picked replacement of athletic director Barry Alvarez, who coached for 16 seasons before that. Andersen's schemes are different than what the Badgers know. He has spent the bulk of his career west of the Rockies and has no recruiting ties in the Midwest. Andersen, in other words, has a tough job.

But he, too, spurned Colorado.

MacIntyre stepped forward where several coaches feared to tread. He chose the classic task of rebuilding. If there were a Hall of Fame for Starting Over, it would include Ara Parseghian at Notre Dame in 1964 (from 2-7 to 9-1) and, perhaps more analogous to MacIntyre, Bear Bryant at Alabama in 1958.

When Bryant arrived in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide had won four games in the previous three seasons. According to Tom Stoddard's book "Turnaround," which chronicled Bryant's first season at his alma mater, the pre-spring roster listed 94 players. The roster for the season opener against LSU had half as many.

Bryant, who inherited a veteran team that lacked discipline, practiced the Crimson Tide so hard he wanted to see who would quit. MacIntyre inherits a young team that, as one would suspect, lacks confidence.

Gary Andersen
New Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen, left, replaced Bret Bielema, who guided the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls.

"The kids walk by a national championship [trophy] every day and they walk by a Heisman Trophy [Rashaan Salaam, 1994] and a lot of other situations," MacIntyre said. "So there's a lot of history here that I think puts a little bit of pressure on these young men. It's a good thing but sometimes when it's not going good can be a bad thing."

The Buffs also lack togetherness, the kind of glue that Elmer's doesn't sell. MacIntyre has begun to develop that singular identity by demolishing the last of the old divisions. He has divided the team into nine "families," each of which has members of every class and every position group. They meet together. They perform community service together. And when one of them misses a class, all of them run sprints after practice.

"I just think that sometimes when you're not being successful in any business or any organization, you kind of isolate and make assumptions about other people," MacIntyre said. "I think in any business or corporation or team, once you knock down barriers and knock down walls, and start being vulnerable, then you can grow. And that's what we are working on now."

Vulnerability is a trait that Bryant and every other old-school coach wanted to see on the other sideline. But this is 2013, and MacIntyre, a guy with a degree in management from Georgia Tech and a master's in education from Georgia, is trying to build trust.

"If they really grow as people, they don't have a lot of issues in their own life," MacIntyre said. "Then, when they come to football practice, they can focus. When they get to the football game, they can focus, and you get a better product. You get a better player and you get guys who will live and die for each other on the team and for you as a coaching staff. I saw that happen at San Jose State, and so we're implementing the same thing here. And it's genuine."

The Buffs will invest sweat equity into their program. Football success doesn't exist without it. But MacIntyre's rebuilding work is focusing on hearts and minds, too. It's a dirty job but someone has to do it.