Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Coachpocalypse 2012: That's enough

So ... Jon Embree. Colorado surprised pretty much nobody other than Embree by firing him Sunday after a 1-11 season that could only have been worse in one way (that way should be obvious based on the record) and a two-year tenure featuring a cumulative record of 4-20. It didn't go well, and by "didn't go well" I mean "really couldn't have gone any worse."

And the problem wasn't really the lack of wins; the problem was that Colorado was terrible at literally everything to the extent that only a handful of games all year were even vaguely competitive, and one of those was a loss to an FCS team. The rest were just flat-out embarrassing: Oregon led 56-0 at the half, USC led 40-3 after three quarters, Fresno State (Fresno State!) led 55-7 at the half, Stanford led 45-0 after three quarters, etc. Colorado's average Pac-12 game this year was a 48-17 loss, and the only win required a 17-point fourth-quarter comeback against a Washington State team that was similarly awful and ended the year with one conference win.

A great line from ESPN's Embree postmortem:
With Colorado trailing Stanford 48-0 in the fourth quarter, radio play-by-play man Mark Johnson, looking to fill time, sent it down to his sideline reporter, former Buffs linebacker and NFL veteran Chad Brown.

"My mother said if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all," Brown reported. "Back to you in the booth."
Touche. The things to say/write are all terrible. Still, they exist.

Some more numbers: Colorado finished the season 116th in total offense, 116th in scoring offense, 108th in rushing offense, 118th in pass efficiency, 118th in total defense, 120th in scoring defense, 115th in rushing defense, 120th in pass-efficiency defense, 119th in turnover margin ... yeah. So Colorado was basically the worst BCS-conference team in literally every relevant statistical category. That is amazing.

The only comparable collection of awfulness I can find in recent history: the '09 Washington State team that didn't lose any conference game by fewer than 13 points, got collectively outscored 462-144 and got collectively outgained by 3,161 yards. To make that a little more interpretable, Washington State's "average" result that year was a 39-12 loss featuring a yardage differential of 512-249. Colorado's yardage numbers this year were slightly better; the score numbers were slightly worse, although Colorado did have a conference win and two conference games closer than 13 points. So this year's team might not have been the worst in recent Pac-12 history. Woo.

Last year's team was slightly better by default, going 3-9 and finishing 92nd in total offense, 109th in scoring offense, 102nd in total defense and and 109th in total defense. So still pretty bad; how Colorado managed to regress from that I will never know.

Embree's only plausible argument for sticking around wasn't a totally unreasonable one: Two years isn't a long time. And he took over a program that wasn't in super shape, having totaled 19 wins in four years under Dan Hawkins. Another line from the ESPN story:
When Embree arrived, he found only two quarterbacks, eight senior defensive linemen and a converted tackle for a tight end. Put it this way: Embree didn't start six true freshmen this season because he wanted to.
Eek. That said, even Hawkins managed to get that team to 5-7 in his last year, and this year's team added a couple viable quarterbacks in transfer Jordan Webb (a former Kansas starter) and transfer Connor Wood (a relatively big-time recruit who originally went to Texas). And even if the defensive line didn't exist, being able to coach around some personnel deficiencies enough to do better than 4-20 in two years doesn't seem like an unreasonable request. It's hard to get worse after winning 19 games over four years; Embree did so. Which makes this ...
Bill McCartney, Embree's coach at Colorado in the mid-1980s and a Buffs icon, pronounced that Embree didn't get the chance to complete the task of turning around Colorado because he is African-American.
... laughable. No. Just no. A responsive says-it-all quote from athletic director Mike Bohn:
''Jon's results were extremely revealing in a very short period of time, and the prowess of the Pac-12 conference revealed it a lot faster."
Revealing. Yes.

It's probably worth noting that Embree, formerly an NFL tight ends coach, had never been a head coach or coordinator at any level and hired two coordinators (Eric Bienemy on offense and Greg Brown on defense) who had never been full-control coordinators before, either. The results bore that out; again, Colorado did nothing better than anybody. If there was any single match that started the tire fire, that was it. It's hard to win with a staff of unprepared/not-really-capable assistants even if the personnel is good, which Colorado's definitely wasn't.

So it's mercifully over. The good news: There's nowhere to go but up. Seriously. The bad news: Having nowhere to go but up means the program currently is at rock bottom, as evidenced by Bohn's citation of a $2.6 million drop in ticket sales this year. Finding a legitimate coach (rather than another version of Embree) will require a lot more than the $700K Embree was making, but with the alternative being ticket revenue going further into the abyss, I'm willing to bet Bohn and/or some donors will find the money to make it happen. Accordingly, Bohn has gone on record as saying he expects the next coach's salary to be in the neighborhood of $2.5 million; that's serious money.

And there are already a couple names making the rounds on the interwebz, one of which is of the "O RLY" variety (via Tom Dienhart):
Talks between Colorado and Mark Mangino are continuing, a source close to the situation tells me. Parties expected to meet a second time.
O RLY? Considering what Mangino did at Kansas (taking a black hole of a program to an Orange Bowl in the span of six years), he'd make some sense as a put-the-pieces-back-together guy. BTW, he went 6-6 in his second year at Kansas, so it is possible to show some tangible signs of improvement in that amount of time.

The other name being cited by multiple national dudes: Gary Andersen, the Utah State coach who was Urban Meyer's D-coordinator at Utah before taking over a program that hadn't finished with a winning record in 15 years but has gone 17-8 over the last two years, with this year's team going 10-2 and winning the WAC. If the choice is between Mangino and Andersen, it's worth noting that Mangino is 56 whereas Andersen is 48.

An interesting tidbit from Colorado beat writer Kyle Ringo:
Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn says he has a favorite in mind for the job and it's a current college head coach.
Given that Mangino and Andersen are the only known candidates, that would imply that Andersen is (or at least was) the favorite. Beyond those guys, I'd assume Air Force coach Troy Calhoun would get a call since (IIRC) Colorado tried to interview him last time, and Colorado School of Mines coach Bob Stitt has won a ton of games in D-III while doing some Chip Kelly-like things offensively. Oh, and Jeff Tedford is out there; just sayin'.

As for Colorado, I'm not that old and can still remember when Kordell Stewart was awesome and Rashaan Salaam was winning the Heisman and Colorado was regularly finishing in the top 10. The Gary Barnett era had some, um, uncomfortableness but was pretty respectable on the field, at least kinda/sorta maintaining some of Bill McCartney's awesomeness; since then, Colorado has regressed from "meh" to "ugh" to "gack." But based on tradition and facilities and alumni support and all that infrastructure-type stuff, there's no reason Colorado shouldn't be at least competitive in the Pac-12. All it takes is finding a coach who can recruit without the Barnett-esque shenanigans and produce some wins.

When Embree got hired, the general consensus was that he got the job because nobody better wanted it; that seems doubtful in hindsight, especially if Mangino and/or Andersen are legitimately interested this time around despite the program being in worse shape than it was two years ago. Awful six-year stretch aside, it's still Colorado. Winning (maybe a lot) is possible, and if/when Chip Kelly leaves and Stanford regresses to its historical mean, being relevant in the Pac-12 North won't be that difficult.

With that in mind, finding a coach who can actually do so (like, now) would be a good idea, because another two/three/four years of awfulness would mean something like 15 years of big-picture irrelevance, and there's a point at which a program's continued irrelevance makes it less and less likely that a coach good enough to undo said irrelevance will be interested in trying.


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