Dear All,This article was originally published in blog:
Earlier tonight, I was asked a couple basic questions.
1. What do I think about the Embree hire?
2. What do I think about the CU administration?
As many of you know, I am often a cheerleader for the CU athletic department and some would say that I too often go as far as being an apologist.
So what I'm about to say may seem out of character coming from me. But I felt like it was time to stop pulling punches, say some things out loud that need to be discussed openly yet are too often kept quiet. Hopefully this will stimulate some dialogue and be some sort of impetus for building a future for CU athletics that we all know is possible if we would just commit to it.
I'm not a CU alumnus and I did not grow up in Colorado, so I have a perspective that's different than many of you. But I have been a CU football fan since the late 80s (for whatever reasons a teenager who has moved around a lot chooses a team) and I have lived in Boulder for over a decade so CU is a big part of the community I love and where I chose to locate my family.
In a way, maybe this is an outsider's perspective despite my being a season ticket holder in multiple sports, AD donor, attendee at numerous CU booster events, and someone who spends an inordinate (unhealthy?) amount of time discussing CU sports with all of my friends in our online communities. But I hope that what I present is more of a balanced view of someone who has just enough distance from lifelong indoctrination and enough experience around other college athletic departments in order to deliver that. At the least, maybe you'll want to shoot the messenger but the message will stimulate enough dialogue to get some things moving in the right direction.
With that said, let's return to the first question.
1. What do I think about the Embree hire?
I think Embree mostly got the job because it was an easy way to go, but not even the way Bohn would have chosen to go.
He came cheap, had the support of some highly placed boosters, and was one of the few choices that would shut up Coach Mac and his fossil fanboys who still think that a 70+ year old man who hasn't coached in almost 2 decades and can't speak without putting his foot in his mouth would have been the homerun hire of all homerun hires.
I love and respect Coach Mac, but it's 2012 -- not 1994.
I think Embree is a good man and a good football coach. I think he will build a solid foundation for CU. I think he's got good leadership qualities. It seems he is respected in coaching circles. I know he cares deeply about CU. I'm just waiting to see if he can run a college football program and make good in-game decisions.
When the hire was made, it was underwhelming nationally. (3-10 did nothing to improve perception.) Even much of the CU fanbase had no idea who he is. There was absolutely no cache to this hire with recruits and it is making things harder. Maybe he and this staff he has assembled are great talent evaluators that will be able to out-think and out-work other staffs (they'll have to), but betting those odds is playing the long shot.
Speaking of the staff, I think it's too old and the resumes are almost too stacked with NFL pedigree. We need some coaches in the under 35 years old group. 17 and 18 year old kids are not going to speak as openly and honestly to this staff.
One, they're a bit intimidated. It's like talking to your dad or your boss.
Two, it's not like anyone on staff listens to the same music, plays the same video games or has anything relatable to talk about outside of football.
When you talk about winning a national championship in the 1990 season, that's at least 5 years before these recruits were born. It seems recent to many of us, but I'm 39 years old and if you try to talk to me about something that happened in 1968 being relevant today in my business I'd tune you out. That is a major area where our staff is failing (including how the speech about state pride and what happened in 1984 was not well received by in-state prospects at Junior Day).
Will Embree turn out to be a good hire? I wish I had a crystal ball. I think the worst case is that he'll build a solid foundation, leave a roster than can compete, and set the table for someone else to come in and win quickly.
But the administration needs to be prepared to make a move in a different direction if we're not seeing the right signs with recruiting and the on-field record after 3 years. The administration also needs to be prepared to make some changes to give Embree all the tools he needs to compete on equal or favorable terms with the top BCS programs. We need to support him, but be prepared to thank him and move on too.
Now to the topic that I'm more heated about.
2. What do I think about the CU administration?
Here, we're really talking about two things: the athletic director and the positions of president and chancellor.
Mike Bohn is competent. He is passionate about his job. He cares. He is in a difficult position because CU is one of the worst athletic programs in the nation in terms of support. The state doesn't help much. The university doesn't help much. And there isn't much of a donor culture. On top of that, he arrived while the scandal was still smoldering and after Tharp had epically mismanaged the athletic department for years.
We had a basketball program that didn't have a place to practice, didn't have a dedicated strength & conditioning coach, had a court that was so old and damaged it wouldn't have been acceptable at the YMCA, and scoreboards straight out of a high school and that didn't even have video display.
We were down to only 1 sport above the minimum to be an NCAA member in D1 -- and we had to then cut men's tennis because we were still bankrupt and couldn't find boosters to come up with a couple million bucks to save the program.
We had a football program with nowhere to practice if we had bad weather, a stadium that had to rent lights in order to host a night game, scoreboards so old that the company that made them and the parts for them no longer exist, locker and team rooms that hadn't been updated in over a decade, and an entire Dal Ward facility that was begging for at least a coat of paint and some basic repairs to the doors and door frames.
We had a golf program that had produced 2 US Open champions but could only dream of having a home course. Etc., etc.
It was shameful to let an athletic department get to that state of affairs.
Bohn has done a great job of fixing the embarrassing stuff. He's also made some excellent improvements. Further, he's done a good job of making CU athletics more likable to the people of Colorado when the scandal plus Ward Churchill had put CU at an all-time low. He has done a lot of work to connect with alumni and boosters who live outside the state. Those are the positives.
I think Bohn was the right guy for the job we had. We had to build a new foundation. He did it in a way that was fiscally responsible and will fit better with the changing dynamics of how much outside support athletic departments around the nation will be getting. He has focused a lot of effort on building up traditions or starting new ones, supporting the band and other spirit squads at unprecedented levels in order to raise the "ra ra" atmosphere at games. He's gotten the students much more involved.
But while I think he has been the right guy for the job, I seriously question whether he's the right guy moving forward.
Whether he is talking about scheduling or expectations, the message is always about it being a marketable thing for fans. It's apparent that his focus is about the fun experience that sports is as part of the college experience and the money or exposure that can be gained from scheduling certain games. He never talks about winning championships. He talks about being competitive.
As many people have said, "You are what you emphasize."
What we are under Bohn's leadership is a collection of athletic programs that values positive cash flow, team GPA, Title IX leadership, APR scores, recycling programs and avoiding negative press at least as much as it values winning. That may please the non sports fans out there, but it doesn't fit with D1 athletics.
But, to reiterate, Bohn has done a good job fixing many of the embarrassments. It's why I have been a Bohn supporter.
However, now that all this foundational stuff is built or on its way, the mission has changed. Especially when Pac-12 revenue will essentially double our operating budget.
The mission is now to use that foundation, build upon it, and deliver champions. We should be talking about wins. We should be setting expectations for coaches. If I took over as athletic director tomorrow, my first order of business would be to call every head coach into my office and ask one question: "What do you need from me in order to win a national championship?". Anyone who couldn't answer that for me would be terminated. Anyone who said he/she has everything needed but has had years on the job without even sniffing a conference championship would be terminated.
The money will come. Look at the athletic departments that have ridiculous revenue streams and booster support. They got there by winning.
Further, we need more from the university.
Why not have a physical education major? We're a state university, physical education is an integral part of the state's public education system, but it's beneath us to educate people in it? This is a major reason why so few in-state coaches are loyal to CU -- they didn't attend CU. That hurts in-state recruiting so badly.
Why not have a general studies major? Does it really dilute the academic prestige of a university if students can design a course of study from among the courses you already offer? We make it too hard on our athletes. Cal and Stanford are more athlete-friendly in their curricula and they're legitimately western Ivy League universities.
CU needs to stop pretending that it's got an academic reputation to uphold that is not only unrealistic about CU's academic chops but is also completely out to lunch in terms of cause and effect vis a vis what enhances or detracts from the perception of a university's academic prestige.
On the subject of academic reputation, CU's ratings for undergraduate education and selectivity have been slipping despite so many new academic buildings and huge grants.
It's largely because our sports teams have sucked.
Athletics, the single best advertising for a public university, has been sending the message that we're cash strapped and not committed to excellence. Compare that to how Florida shot up the same rankings we have slipped in after they won multiple titles in football and men's basketball. Does Florida have better academics than CU? The ratings reports that high school students and their parents look at sure seem to think so.
We have an opportunity right now. New conference. New money.
The academic building project on the East Campus should allow us to develop new facilities on the South Campus for our field sports.
The Folsom renovation project can take us to the next level if done right (what an embarrassment our press box and Balch still are to visitors).
Basketball/Volleyball have a lot of what they need, but we need to start thinking about the future. What will they need? Can we see a day when we can increase revenue and be a basketball power by doing a new arena (or renovation to Coors) that gives us an upper deck, club seats, skyboxes and a center-court scoreboard?
Could our elite ski program be used like the golf program as something that could be taken to the next level with a home mountain partnership that gave us a resort for booster functions and also gave them the best training facilities in the nation?
Is Bohn thinking about these things? Maybe. But I don't believe that he's thinking about them in terms of dominating every sport in which we compete.
Are Benson or DiStefano thinking about these things? I made myself laugh just by typing that thought.
What we want for CU and from CU is not going to happen with the leaders we have in place. Our top administrators don't even seem to recognize that fighting at the statehouse for the ability to offer multi-year contracts to our head coaches and our assistants would be a good thing. They're hung up on the fact that they could end up having to pay double for a position if they fired someone and had to hire someone as a replacement before a contract was up. For them, that trumps the fact that attracting and retaining the best coaches will yield more wins.
Bohn's a good soldier, though, so I'm pretty sure he'd do a good job if he was given the right things as his mandate from a strong booster organization, a strong president and a strong board of regents. I think Phil would too. But neither are the types of leaders who are going to stick their necks out and commit to this direction.
Benson's about done and he's not going to change. We absolutely have to make sure the next president does see the light on these issues and sets the vision for our AD and chancellor on CU athletics. Without that, based on what I have observed, these two will not succeed where we want them to. A president who focuses on academe and takes a hands off approach to athletics will not get us there with these guys running the show.
So, where is this going?
I'm frustrated. I'm tired. I'm kind of pissed off. But I'm also hopeful because I see such a tremendous opportunity if CU will simply get its act together and commit to being all it can be. As I've said a number of times, what I want and expect from CU is for it to demand excellence from anything it endeavors to do. That means that just like how if we're going to have an engineering program, we should do what it takes to be the best in the nation -- if we're going to have a varsity sport we should do what it takes to win a national championship in that sport.
And it starts with Football, because that's the flagship sport that also pays the bills. Men's Basketball is second. Win championships in those and it will positively transform the entire athletic department as well as the university at large.
I'll continue to fight the good fight as "buffnik" on the boards and be a cheerleader for CU, our administrators, our coaches and our programs... but the truth is that I'm feeling more and more like we're the equivalent of Red Sox fans before new ownership came in, recognized the new dynamics of their league, and committed to winning championships.
A changing of the guard is coming. When it does, let's make sure we have the type of transformational leadership that the Red Sox had.
I don't want to spend the rest of my life feeling like we're the CU Cubs.