November 18, 2010
The first week of Colorado's search to replace ousted head coach Dan Hawkins turned up a few interesting names: Les Miles, Mark Richt, Mike Bellotti. All three are accomplished, championship coaches in relatively sweet gigs. They also all happened to make more than $3 million last year, even Bellotti, who didn't coach. Well, anyway, it was a thought.
The reality is that the same university that couldn't muster the funds to fire Hawkins last year and will need some help from the new Pac-12 to pay its exit fee from the Big 12 can't afford a splash hire: Its real list consists almost exclusively of retreads and up-and-comers. It also just finalized a seven-man search committee to fill the job that doesn't include a single member of the athletic department or anyone with a background in college football.
That's par for the course, according to Hawkins' predecessor, Gary Barnett, who went on Denver radio last week to curb the Buffs' enthusiasm about the kind of coach they're going to be able to attract:
There's a disconnect between what it takes to compete at that level and what's being done. I think what happens is nationally, on the outside, people perceive CU and Boulder to be like it is in Oklahoma, like it is in Nebraska, like it is in places where we have defeated programs and played for national championships and played for league championships. And in reality, we've scratched along and found a way to be competitive on those levels without having that same sort of culture and environment that other people have.
And as long as that culture and environment doesn't change and remains the same, then it's going to be a constant scratch and claw. Yeah, there's a disconnect between those that want and what the university is willing to do. And as long as it stays that way, there's going to be this constant set of expectations that are unrealistic for any coach that goes in there.
And that's what's really hard – on the outside the expectations are one thing, on the inside the expectations are something else. But you only hear the ones on the outside, and those end up being negative when the job gets harder to do and more complicated to do than you can perform or accomplish."
It's not only that Colorado hasn't won much of anything outside of a ten-year window in the late eighties and early nineties. The university is perpetually described as "cash-strapped." The facilities have earned it the title of "Bangladesh of the Big 12." Assistant coaches are limited to one-year contracts, at best (Barnett describes the contracts as "month-to-month"), with salaries expected to rank last among their soon-to-be conference mates in the Pac-12. By Rivals' count, the state of Colorado produced all of 16 four or five-star prospects during Hawkins' entire tenure, only five of whom signed with the Buffs, and only one of whom became a regular starter. CU spent less on football last year than all but one other Big 12 program, and less than eight programs set for the Pac-12.
The new name surfacing around the program today is Air Force coach Tim Calhoun, who's on the verge of taking his alma mater to eight wins and a bowl game four years in a row, the longest streak in academy history. It's no wonder, though, that the emphasis continues to fall on the patron saint of CU Football, 70-year-old Bill McCartney, the only coach anyone in Boulder remembers being really happy with – he rose the Buffs from the depths in the mid-eighties won three straight Big Eight championship and a national championship and left on his own terms in 1994. If Barnett's scandal-plagued string of Big 12 North titles over the first half of the last decade seem like a long time ago, the McCartney era barely qualifies as a memory: The vast majority of the current roster wasn't even alive when Colorado topped the AP poll in 1990.
But they do remember that "Mac" is the only coach of the last 30 years who managed to keep all the balls in the air for an extended period of time, and wasn't run out of town in ignominy. If they're after a "name" hire who may actually say yes, he's got the biggest name in town. As for the rest of it, it may take a little longer than he's got to give.
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Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.