Mike MacIntyre’s inaugural meeting with his new team lasted just long enough to leave his players with this thought: He’s turned around one downtrodden program and he can do the same at Colorado.
Not someday, either, but starting next season.
The 47-year-old coach revived a San Jose State football team in short order. Now, he’ll try to fix the beleaguered Buffaloes, who are coming off their worst season in the 123-year history of the program.
”We’ve got a long way to go. But I’ve been there before and I know what to do,” MacIntyre told a room full of boosters and media on Monday night after agreeing to a five-year deal worth $2 million a season. ”There’s no reason Colorado shouldn’t be at the top of the conference and competing year in and year out.”
His hiring ends a two-week search by Colorado that included a rejection by its first choice, Butch Jones.
MacIntyre inherits a squad that’s coming off a 1-11 record this year that led to the firing of Jon Embree. MacIntyre’s first order of business was giving his new players a quick pep when he met with them at Folsom Field.
”He won a lot of guys over in his confidence, with what he did at San Jose State and what he can do now,” quarterback Connor Wood said. ”He said we have a lot of talent here and can do the exact same thing. We believe it.”
And yet the past remains fresh for players such as defensive back Parker Orms, who was recruited by former CU coach Dan Hawkins, played for Embree and now will learn a new system under MacIntyre. Like Wood, he fully believes things will be different in Boulder next season, but he wants to see the progress on the field, not just talk about it.
”I came in here (to Colorado) with different expectations,” Orms said. ”I thought I would be with Hawk the whole time, thought we’d be competing for a national championship. That didn’t happen with Hawk. Embree came in and I felt the same way. I really liked both of those coaches.
”I was down a few weeks ago; just another bump in the road. But I met with (MacIntyre) today and he seems like a well-rounded guy. I have a good vibe.”
That’s a step in the right direction, MacIntyre said.
”I can tell they’re hurting a little bit and they should be,” he said. ”They want to prove themselves. … I saw the same thing at San Jose State.”
The Spartans (10-2) are ranked No. 25 in the BCS and are heading to the Dec. 27 Military Bowl in Washington, D.C. to face Bowling Green (8-4), two years after a 1-12 showing in McIntyre’s first season. This is the first 10-win season in a quarter century for the Spartans, who are ranked 24th in both the AP and coaches’ polls.
MacIntyre, the son of former Vanderbilt coach George MacIntyre, was 16-21 in three years as a head coach at San Jose State after serving as Duke’s defensive coordinator and working as a secondary coach for the Dallas Cowboys and New York Jets.
He took over a Spartans program still reeling from limited scholarships following academic penalties by the NCAA stemming from problems before previous coach Dick Tomey arrived. After the 1-12 season featuring a heavy schedule of ranked teams, the Spartans went 5-7 in MacIntyre’s second season.
And now they’re on the right track.
”Mike provided us with a nice model moving forward for our next head coach to follow,” San Jose State athletic director Gene Bleymaier said.
Unlike at San Jose State, though, the pressure may be ramped up. After all, the Buffaloes gave a quick hook to Embree.
”There’s’ always a sense of urgency. But the word I use instead of patience is perseverance,” said MacIntyre, who’s undecided on whether he will coach the Spartans in the bowl game. ”Even at San Jose State when we were 1-12, which was tough, I could see us improving in every aspect.”
So, will the administration give him more leeway to get things straightened out?
”He’s not going to be able to turn things around immediately, but I think what we’ll see is steady progress and good recruiting, getting ready to make that push,” school chancellor Phil DiStefano said. ”As far as a competitive athletic program, a competitive academic program, and a coach to put those two together, I think we hit on the right person.”
After missing on their first option.
Last week, Jones rejected a five-year, $13.5 million offer that would have made him the highest-paid coach in CU history, and instead took the vacant head coaching job at Tennessee. Jones also had been promised upgrades at Folsom Field and the team’s training center, something MacIntyre has been guaranteed as well.
”Our resolve is undeterred. Our resolve has been escalated,” athletic director Mike Bohn said. ”We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
This marks Bohn’s third head coaching hire since he fired Gary Barnett in 2005. Embree had three years remaining on a five-year contract when he was fired after going 4-21.
MacIntyre may have made a good impression on Bohn, but he’s got his work cut out from him in winning over some prominent alumni.
Denver Broncos defensive lineman Justin Bannan, who criticized Bohn for not giving Embree more time to turn around the program, said he wasn’t sure what to make of MacIntyre’s hiring.
”I just got hit with the news, so I’m not sure what to think quite yet. So, I’ve got to find out who this guy is and what he brings to the table and figure it out from there,” Bannan said.
The Buffaloes job isn’t a glamorous one, with sub-par football facilities and a fan base and booster pool disenchanted by the seven straight losing seasons.
The new coach faces a truncated recruiting season and must try to keep defections to a minimum from a roster that’s loaded with freshmen. Still, MacIntyre is confident things can change in a hurry.
After all, he did help recruit San Francisco linebacker Patrick Willis and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning to Mississippi when MacIntyre was an assistant at the school.
”If you don’t believe you can win, you’re not going to win,” MacIntyre said. ”You know how when you go swimming and you kind of stick your toe in the water and you go, `It feels good, I’ll jump in’ or you go, `It’s cold?’
”Sometimes, football teams do that. They stick their toe in and think, `I don’t know if I can play with them.’ We’re not going to do that. We’re going to dive in and go play.”