Cabral has Buffs on brink of bowl eligibility

Published Nov. 23, 2010 6:39 a.m. ET

The mere mention of the Colorado Buffaloes and their two-game winning streak sends interim coach Brian Cabral over the emotional edge.

The longtime assistant simply can't chat about his team without choking up.

Cabral's enthusiasm and energy have been infectious for the Buffs, who are on brink of bowl eligibility.

That seemed highly unlikely just three weeks ago when Colorado squandered a big fourth-quarter lead at Kansas, a loss that demoralized the team and cost Dan Hawkins his job.

With Cabral running the show, the Buffs (5-6, 2-5 Big 12) have beaten Iowa State and Kansas State at Folsom Field to recapture their swagger, cure their confidence.

Maybe once considered a dark horse candidate for the permanent position, Cabral is making a convincing case to be the next head coach, especially if his squad can knock off No. 16 Nebraska (9-2, 5-2) on Friday in Lincoln and become eligible for the postseason.

He certainly has the backing of the reinvigorated Buffs.


''If you don't take Coach Cabral as a serious candidate, there might be a problem,'' defensive end Josh Hartigan said Monday.

Cabral refuses to venture down that road. Even in his quiet moments, away from the field, he won't entertain such thoughts.

However, the 54-year-old will allow his mind to meander toward how much of an honor it's been for him to step in, even on an interim basis.

''I represent every Buff that wore that helmet, every guy that put on black and gold,'' said Cabral, who's in his 22nd season at Colorado after once playing for the team. ''I'm so privileged, I'm so blessed to have this opportunity. Where it goes from here, who knows? We'll see. That's out of my control. My goal, my purpose, is this team, this game, this time.''

So wrapped up in Nebraska week is Cabral, the sight of red has him seething. He even reprimanded a reporter at a news conference Monday for wearing a red sweat shirt.

Cabral has jokingly banned the color from the team's training facility as the two squads face off for the final time as members of the Big 12 Conference. Next season, the Cornhuskers will bolt for the Big Ten and Colorado will play in the Pac-12.

''It's unfortunate it has to end,'' said Cabral, whose team trails in the series 48-18-2. ''It's part of Thanksgiving tradition in Colorado.''

During his career, Cabral has won a Super Bowl title (with the 1985 Chicago Bears) and been part of a national championship team (as an assistant with the Buffs in 1990).

Know what's just as good as both of those?

''Winning in Lincoln,'' Cabral said.

Should he do that, his coaching stock may rise even higher.

Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn has encouraged Cabral to apply for the job, along with former CU coach Bill McCartney, who guided the team to its only national title in 1990 but has been out of football since 1994.

Other possible names surfacing include Air Force's Troy Calhoun and local high school coach and former Buffs standout Dave Logan.

Part of Cabral's success has to do with giving his coaches the freedom to do their jobs. Offensive coordinator Eric Kiesau has a free hand to run the offense as he sees fit, especially since Cabral isn't as well-versed on the schemes and formations after serving as the linebackers coach.

That freedom has led to back-to-back Big 12 player of the week honors, with Cody Hawkins taking home the distinction after the game against Iowa State and Rodney Stewart winning the award Monday following a performance in which he rushed for 195 yards and two touchdowns, along with throwing for another, in the 44-36 victory over Kansas State.

''Leadership is allowing guys around you to do things they're supposed to do, allowing them to do what they do best,'' Cabral said. ''I don't proclaim to have all the answers. I don't proclaim to be able to do it all. I've got guys around me that can. They've got answers. There's a lot of things they can do, if you allow them to do them. ... I can't be happier with the way our offense is progressing.''

Or the team, for that matter.

The Buffs are back to being the buzz around town.

And, for once, it doesn't center around a coach on the hot seat.

After a win over the Wildcats on Saturday, Cabral stopped by a local restaurant and saw quite a few former Colorado players celebrating. Alfred Williams, who will be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in December, was there, along with former linebacker Chad Brown and defensive back Deon Figures.

''It was like the Colorado Hall of Fame celebrating,'' Cabral said. ''They were all into it, very proud of this team, very proud of these players and what we've accomplished in the last two weeks.''

The streak has moved Cabral as well, who tears up whenever he talks about his team.

Anything he's learned about himself the past few weeks?

''I can lead. I can inspire. I can make a difference,'' Cabral said. ''If this goes nowhere, I can have the satisfaction of knowing that I've experienced everything that I thought I was capable of doing and capable of being.

''If it doesn't go any farther, I've had a wonderful, wonderful experience.''