Today I attended the annual University of Colorado recruiting luncheon at the Hyatt in downtown Denver. I've been to this lunch 3 times in the past (all under the Dan Hawkins regime). As you might guess today's lunch was a more upbeat positive event compared to those past lunches.
Pac 10 commissioner Larry Scott opened the lunch saying he was impressed with the enthusiasm of the CU fan base and that in visiting the other schools in the conference those schools are telling him CU is a great fit for the Pac 10. In the spirit of recruiting, he brought new CU head coach Jon Embree on the stage and gave him a Pac 10 hat to welcome Jon to the conference.
Next Eric Bieniemy, former great CU running back and current offensive coordinator, said a few words. EB said it was great to be back. He described his recruiting trip as a high school senior, where he came over the hill on US 36 to see all the snow and the city of Boulder with the Flatirons in the background. He knew then that this was the place for him, and over the years it became a special place. He said buffs "always run in packs" and "I was coming all along" if anyone doubted he would return to Boulder after missing out on the head coaching job. He then introduced Rashaan Salaam, CU's only Heisman trophy winner.
Salaam was soft spoken, saying he was not much a public speaker, but then he went on to give a moving account of his growing up years and recruitment to CU. He told of playing 8 man football in San Diego when coach Mac and Brian Cabral recruited him to CU. He read a letter that he wrote when he was a kid playing Pop Warner football. In that letter he said he wanted to win the heisman trophy and play for the LA Raiders for 16 years. He said in that letter he wanted to buy his mom's elementary school, turn it into a college, and put a statue of his Mom outside. Fast forward to the present day, Rashaan told how he can't wait for the alumni like himself to be more active in the program again. As part of the day's fund raising, people could buy a picture taken with Salaam and the heisman trophy. I thought bringing Salaam back was a nice touch to the luncheon, and keeping with the theme of the day of emphasizing the football tradition at CU.
No CU football luncheon would be complete without a speech by former coach Bill McCartney. Coach Mac was in fine form once again, saying that it was hard to contain the joy he was feeling, that the Buffs are on the verge of something great. Two things make him optimistic: joining the Pac 10 is a perfect fit for the program, and Embree and his staff are a great choice to lead the Buffs.
Coach Mac told a story that he liked to tell recruits in his day. He said a survey was done of all the universities in the country grading them on a 1 to 5 scale in 3 areas: social, academic, and quality of life. No school scored a 15. Four schools scored a 14, and CU was one of those. CU was the only school of those four that played Division I football. The message: this program has alot to offer recruits.
He then went on to say how Embree is the right man to lead the program. He told the story of how Embree was the leading high school player in Colorado, yet Embree turned down USC, UCLA, and Ohio State to sign with a then downtrodden Buff program. In his sophomore year Embree set a record for receptions by a tight end (51) including 8 in a game against UCLA. The next year, though, Coach Mac switched to the wishbone, an offense that does not feature the tight end. "Whatever is best for the team," was Embree's reply when Jon was told of his new role as a blocking tight end. Mac said that set the stage for Jon being a great coach, as a coach often has to emphasize the team over the individual in his players. Mac said the staff Embree has assembled "matches up" to any staff he had at CU (and as you know Coach Mac had some great staffs in the CU glory days)
Coach Mac finished comparing the state of the program to limestone, that with heat, pressure, and time limestone will be transformed to marble. He said the program is not ready to dominate the pac 10, not by a longshot. He encouraged those in the crowd to give the new staff time, to fill Folsom on Saturdays, and to help financially with the program.
Coach Embree was next, and he spent most of his time talking about his new staff:
Greg Brown - in the nfl 15 years, coached both of CU's Thorpe winners. The current DB's are excited to work with Brown as defensive coordinator
Tuiasosopo dline - coached with Meyer at utah, coached at utah state when they had great lines. Can teach, good at establishing relationships with kids
Kanavis McGhee dline - embree had his eye on kanavis as a coach for a long time, and had told Kanavis wherever he was a head coach, Kanavis would be joining him no matter what "even if it was at UTEP"
Brian Cabral linebackers run game coordinator - the only assistant to get a standing ovation, Embree complemented Cabral for "righting the ship" (his interim coaching stint) and told a story of Cabral's recruiting prowess in Hawaii.
JD Brookhart special teams, tight ends - grew up with Jon. JD was a successful businessman when he contacted Embree asking how he could get into coaching. Brookhart worked for Shanahan for 2 years, and at Pitt.
Steve Marshall - great at working with different personalities to get them to gel as a unit, like the 2001 CU offensive line that destroyed Nebraska 62-36. Worked in the NFL for 6 years and then at Cal.
Bobby Kennedy - Boulder native returning home, successful at Texas with Biletnikoff award finalists. Good recruiter.
Rip Scherer, qb coach - Embree said in looking for a qb coach he asked 5 of his contacts in the NFL for recommendations. Scherer was the only name on all 5 of the lists. It took awhile to get him to CU but he'll pay dividends - a great teacher of technique
Eric Bieniemy - Embree told how he got EB into coaching initially. He prepped EB for his interview with Barnett for the job as CU running back coach. Barnett was so impressed he stopped the interview after 10 minutes and told Embree "you set me up - you knew EB would be good". EB and Embree coached together at CU and UCLA. At UCLA they were coming off a 10-2 season when they both left for the NFL within 2 weeks. "Our goal was always to come back to Boulder together," said Embree
Jayshon Sykes - a great help in the transition between staffs
Darian Hagan - an example of a team player, Darian took the role of recruiting coordinator and played a big part in the successful recruiting of the current crop. Embree eventually wants to get Hagan back on the field coaching.
Embree then talked about his philosophy. He wants to change the standard of how "we do things. Instead of hoping to win, expect to win. Even next year." He wants to bring traditions back, such as putting a gold brick in the wall at Dal Ward when the Buffs beat a top 25 team (the brick is gold, the score is in black). He wants the first brick to be the win over Hawaii to open the 2011 season.
On the recruiting process, Embree said he spent the first 2 weeks meeting with every player to find out what the team had, emphasizing the weight training and academics for each player. He then spent alot of time putting the staff together and watching film of every game. He thought the current team was not balanced (with only 2 quarterbacks for example) and the goal of recruiting was to fix that. He told the staff on recruiting "we have 13 days to get this done and we can't miss." While there were 6 or 7 he wanted that the Buffs didn't get, "we flipped 7 commitments from other schools."
The class as a whole brings athleticism, speed, and toughness - three characteristics he wants to build in the Buffs. "Even the offensive guys will hit you" He didn't talk about the individual recruits much but singled out the 2 Colorado signees (Mustow and Daigh) and emphasized how he wants to do well recruiting Colorado in the future.
A highlight film, narrated by Buff announcer Mark Johnson, was then shown of each of the recruits. I was especially impressed with running back Malcolm Greer's balance on one run, and his stiff arm on another run. The sheer size of Stephan Nembot was also impressive.
To conclude the luncheon the new staff took the stage to sing the CU fight song with the crowd.
It was a fun and inspiring day for Buff football fans and an indication that better days are ahead. I attended Dan Hawkins first luncheon and I must admit I was fooled by Hawkins at first (thinking he'd be successful at CU). In comparing that lunch to Embree's today I would say Hawkins talked alot about himself. Hawk said during that lunch "you know who the division 1 coach with the best winning percentage is? You are looking at him!" Embree by contrast today talked about putting the team above the individual (also emphasized by McCartney). Bringing back successful coaches and players from Colorado's past to lead the Buffs into the Pac 10 is a good move. I expect next season will have its struggles, but as Coach Mac said I think the Buffs have the right leadership in place now and fans just have to give them time.