Earlier this year, I wrote an Open Letter to the CU faithful.This article was originally published in blog:
The focus of that letter was two topics:
1. What do I think about the Embree hire?
I think it's time for some adjustment.
My closing statement on the Embree hire was as follows:
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.
Hmmm. Where to start?
First, the call for 3 years can go right out the window. At the time I made that statement, the bulk of the criticism I received for the piece was over me being too harsh by not wanting to give Embree more time than that to get this house in order. Now I suspect the worm has turned.
Recommendation: Start the coaching search now. Don't make an announcement, but hire a firm to start talking to coach agents and line things up so that an announcement and a quick hire can be made after the final game.
Rationale: It's clear that the experiment is not working. Getting the gang back together played on the sentiments of the Buff faithful and got us thinking about recapturing the glory days. But the harsh reality is that we have a head coach who had never risen about TE Coach in his prior career, an offensive coordinator who was a career RB Coach, and a defensive coordinator who was a a career DB Coach with a year of sharing the DC duties for an Arizona program that had one of college football's defensive masterminds as the HC overseeing the effort. This staff is woefully underqualified at the top.
Further to this, there's a timing element. If my statement about the Embree "worst case scenario" is going to hold true, then it is imperative that a move is made quickly. He brought in a functional 2011 recruiting class, a very strong 2012 recruiting class, and has pieces from the 2013 class (verbal commits and grayshirt free agents from 2012) that must be kept in the fold. With a strong close to recruiting, the 2013 class could build on 2012 and set the table. The current staff will be incapable of such a strong close because they don't have the resumes or notoriety to overcome recruiting to a program that's on a downward trajectory after their 2nd year.
2. What do I think about the CU administration?
Here's some of the main points I made in the original Open Letter:
Bohn: 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.
Since writing that, I've had a small change of heart. The foundation is basically in place except in terms of delivering the football facilities necessary for our program to attract the right coaches, compete for the top recruits, and win championships. Bohn needs the full support of the Administration, the Boosters and the Fans in order to make that happen.
Without that foundation, CU football is not positioned to be anything more than somewhere between a doormat and mediocre.
Bohn's "architectural" work is far from done. In fact, it has entered its most critical phase. Football pays for everything and drives the AD bus.
Bohn/DiStefano/Benson: 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.
Frankly, I don't have much to add to this.
One thing that I have observed, though, is that when I have heard Bohn and DiStefano speak recently both have emphasized championships.
From Phil, as appropriate, it has been in relation to ensuring that Admissions and Academic Support are functioning the right way so that we are never looking at a post-season ban that would keep us from playing in a conference championship game or tournament or out of post-season play in general.
From Mike, as appropriate, he has integrated winning and championships into his message instead of focusing everything on college pageantry and a bunch of things that are important to his job description but don't sell tickets or motivate boosters (i.e., Title IX excellence, GPA records, graduation rates, green stadium initiatives, etc.).
Recommendation: Go "all in" on football facilities. From an indoor practice facility to an expansion of the weight room to a new sound system to a general seating increase to chairback seating to more premium seating to better bathrooms to better concessions to a state-of-the art press box to a complete re-imagining of Balch... it all must be done.
Rationale: A project like this tells coaching candidates, fans, advertisers, local businesses and recruits that CU football is committed to winning. This starts momentum as soon as plans are announced. This is the short-term gain. In the long-term, we have a football program that can dramatically increase its revenue while competing for championships instead of just hoping for bowl games. Every month that goes by without this announcement the hole we're in gets deeper and the path to greatness becomes more difficult.
Last, I want to make a case for Mike Bohn.
The fact is that the overriding problem with the CU athletic department is a financial issue. The program enjoys little support from the state/university, there isn't much of a donor culture along with an absence of lead rainmaker donors, there were large debt service issues from Tharp's stadium suite project and the scandal's legal costs, scholarship costs are incredibly high (CU was paying more annually than any other Big 12 program despite having the fewest scholarship athletes), and construction projects in Boulder have very high price tags.
All of this was made worse before it could get better with the move to the Pac-12. CU had to forfeit a year's worth of revenue from the Big 12 and then play a Pac-12 year without conference media revenue in order to make that move happen. That was close to $20 million in debt for an already cash-strapped AD.
These financial difficulties have been the root cause of pretty much all of the decisions that have pissed off me and other Buff fans:
The "lame duck" year for Ricardo Patton. Bohn wasn't going to extend his contract. Patton was not the future of CU men's basketball. But instead of firing him, the AD had to save money by letting him coach out his contract. The awful season, horrible recruiting, erosion of player morale, and loss of fan support that resulted ended up setting the program back years and made the rebuilding effort much more difficult.
Extending Dan Hawkins early in his 3rd year. Why do that? Because it looked like he had things rolling with his on-field and recruiting results, other programs were trying to poach him, he had the highest winning percentage among active college head coaches... and he was willing to lock in long-term at a low salary. If CU had been in a position to pay our HC the going rate of $2-$3 million for a successful BCS coach, the extension wouldn't have needed to be rushed.
Scheduling for Football. Whether we're talking about locking in the CSU game in Denver for another 10 years, allowing a tv network to move the CSU game to a Sunday, allowing ESPN to then move the following game at Toledo to a Friday after switching it from an easier opponent (Miami-OH), keeping Cal as a non-conference opponent on top of a 9-game Pac-12 schedule, scheduling a one-off game at Ohio State, doing a series with Hawaii to give us a 13th game in away years, or scheduling a one-off game at Michigan... these decisions all had one thing in common. The AD was forced to do it for the money. The only possible motivation for these calls was financial, no matter how the AD tried to spin it to fans. In order to keep the AD financially afloat, these decisions simply had to be made. With football the only performing asset on the balance sheet, the AD had no choice but to milk this cash cow for all it was worth.
Not firing Dan Hawkins after 2009. The buyout was too large to be paid by the AD. The university was involved in vitally important lobbying efforts at the statehouse in an interim election year. There was no way that move could happen without the university underwriting it and the will wasn't there to compromise political issues such as getting the state to not count international students toward the mandated in-state student percentage or having the ability to push through tuition increases or justifying major academic building projects. The AD simply did not have the money to pull the trigger and beggars do not dictate terms.
Making an "In-House" hire after 2010. Embree came cheap. His salary is significantly less than what CU paid for Hawkins 5 years earlier. Further, athletic boosters and major academic donors were firmly behind Coach McCartney's plea to restore the program by going back to his coaching tree (either through Mac as HC again with his hand-picked successor as the coach-in-waiting or through hiring a HC with ties to the program). Benson supported this agenda because he knew that it would hurt CU among high-level donors if it didn't happen. What resulted was a hiring process that was led by a committee and forced candidates to interview to that committee. With that type of process, no "name" candidates were willing to participate and the field was limited to the family. Due to financial pressures from above and outside, the AD had no choice but to go along with this.
Onward to Part II: The Case for Mike Bohn