Brennan Linsley/Associated Press
Brennan Linsley/Associated Press
BOULDER – A choked-up Jon Embree suggested Monday that the only way he could have turned around the University of Colorado’s flailing football program in his two years as head coach was to take shortcuts in the classroom and on the recruiting trail.
“If you just hire the next guy and say you’ve got two years, keep your fingers crossed,” Embree said at his farewell news conference a day after being fired.
Athletic director Mike Bohn, who fired Embree less than two years after he signed him to a five-year deal, said, “Shortcuts are not going to be an answer, and we’re not going to hire a coach that expects to use shortcuts.”
What he does expect is a quick turnaround from a free-fall that saw the Buffaloes thumped by an average score of 48-17 in the Pac-12 during a 1-11 season that was the worst in the program’s 123-year history.
In some ways, Embree’s quick hook might have had a lot to do with the administration patiently sticking with his predecessor, Dan Hawkins, through five losing seasons, resulting in the proverbial bare cupboard.
Bohn bristled at that notion.
“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,” Bohn said.
Embree, who gets a $1.625 million buyout, suggested he got a raw deal, pointing out he only got 1½ recruiting classes to turn around a program that had been down on its luck for several years.
Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano said he appreciated Embree’s passion for the program but said it just wasn’t working out.
“It’s performance and progress. And unfortunately, this year, we didn’t see either,” he said.
Bohn pointed to a program that was headed in the wrong direction both on and off the field, going 4-21 under Embree, with so many blowouts leading to too many empty seats, though he insisted boosters had nothing to do with this decision.
“Our boosters’ resources have never been a factor in my tenure,” Bohn said. “Although the erosion of our fan base and the ticket sales certainly doesn’t help.”
Bohn said he had no preferred candidate in mind but acknowledged the school would have to pay more than Embree’s incentive-laden deal that was worth $741,000 annually plus bonuses of up to $200,000 for reaching off-the-field goals and up to $1 million for meeting on-the-field benchmarks.
Bohn said he still was forming a search committee but wanted to make a hire as soon as possible.
Embree, a star tight end for the Buffs in the 1980s, was fired Sunday night, 48 hours after a 42-35 loss to Utah left them without a home win for the first time since 1920.
In a news conference at Folsom Field that lasted more than an hour, Embree began by addressing players who had packed the Varsity Room at the Dal Ward Center and telling them to keep up the good fight without him.
“You had the highest GPA the last three semesters that this school has ever had in the football program. You stayed out of trouble. You guys represented yourselves well,” Embree said. “You set a legacy and a standard, and as I told you guys when we’re going through tough times, you’re not judged by the scoreboard at the end of the day.
“I was. But you won’t be.”
Even though he’d been stripped of his powers, Embree still was coaching his kids, using the first seven minutes of the news conference to speak directly to them.
Asked if the next coach can win in Boulder, Embree retorted, “How long does he have?”
Embree embraced dozens of his players on his way out of the room and was followed at the microphone by Bohn and DiStefano with university President Bruce Benson listening in on speaker phone while on vacation.
“Jon is a dedicated alum of the university and the Colorado Buffaloes with a passion for his students and the athletic program as a whole,” DiStefano said. “And if this decision were based on passion for CU and dedication, there’s no doubt that Jon would be coach for life.
“But it also has to be based on progress and results, which we simply did not see enough this year,” DiStefano said . “And so we looked at the performance on the field and did not see the development and the cohesion nor progressive strategy that gave us confidence in the future, and that’s why this decision was made.”
Embree said six of his coaches offered to resign in order for him to keep his job.
He said he was disappointed because had been given assurances when he was hired that he’d be given the time needed to turn around a downtrodden program. He said that support changed suddenly Saturday night in a phone call with Bohn.
“All I was told (Sunday) was the trajectory of the program wasn’t what they wanted. And my response was, ‘Well, what was the trajectory of the program before I was hired?’” Embree said.
Defensive end Will Pericak said the players are angry over Embree’s dismissal.
“Not a fair chance at all,” Pericak said. “Embree needed another year, absolutely.”
Most players filed out after Embree left, but kicker Will Oliver stuck around and didn’t like what he heard when Bohn spoke about the importance of a third year in turning things around, a chance he didn’t afford Embree.
“It seemed like a lot of political jabber,” Oliver said. “I don’t know what I just listened to for 30 minutes, to be completely honest. He might figure this out. I guess we’ll find out soon.”
Embree had just eight seniors on this year’s team, and in addition to a staff makeover, he was planning to switch to a spread offense and tweak his defense next year.
“We went up against some really good teams that we weren’t quite able to match up with,” Embree said. “And some of it was just physical differences. We were young. Some of it, we had injuries. But at the end of the day, there was never any quit. They fought to the last play. They did a good job of not looking at the scoreboard.”
The administration, though, sure did.