Paul Aiken/The Daily Camera
Paul Aiken/The Daily Camera
Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn famously called his first head football coach a home-run hire. Turns out, he whiffed on Dan Hawkins, then again on Jon Embree.
Bohn just might be down to his last strike. Miss again and he could find himself on the hot seat.
“I recognize the pressure,” Bohn said Tuesday. “The pressure’s immense.”
Hawkins was one of the hottest coaches in the nation when he took over at Colorado in 2006 after going 53-11 at Boise State. He replaced Gary Barnett, who lost his job after two scandal-plagued years and a 70-3 loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game in 2005.
Hawkins went 19-39 before getting the axe, and Embree was fired Sunday after going 4-21 in two seasons, including 3-15 in the Pac-12.
Despite Bohn’s first two hires combining for 60 losses in seven seasons and costing nearly $4 million in buyouts, Chancellor Phil DiStefano defended Bohn’s track record.
“It’s not an exact science, as far as hiring coaches,” DiStefano said. “If you look at coaches that Mike has had the opportunity to hire, especially in men’s basketball, women’s basketball, soccer and volleyball, there have been some extremely good choices there.”
Athletic directors, though, aren’t judged by the soccer coaches they hire but by the success of the man they choose to lead the football team.
“Right, and I have the same challenge that leaders across the country, general managers, presidents of professional franchises have,” Bohn said. “And when it doesn’t work out, it really is disappointing, and it hurts you; it’s frustrating and disappointing to all our fans, to all of us, and most importantly, to me.”
Bohn said it’s equally important, however, to recognize when a change, and not patience, is needed, “and we never want to be in a situation where we have to settle.”
Asked if Bohn is down to his last strike now that he’s whiffed on his first two football hires, DiStefano said: “To be honest with you, I think we all have to get this one right, not so much from the standpoint of having a job or not having a job. We have to get this one right because it’s important for the university. It’s important for our competition in the Pac-12, and so it’s not just that Mike has to get the right person or his job is on the line.
“I think the university has to look at our commitment to being competitive in the Pac-12 and athletically, and if that’s where we want to go, we need to go out and get the best coach, and I think it’s all of our responsibility.”
DiStefano demurred when asked if he was prepared to re-evaluate Bohn’s own job status at this point. “We do that on a yearly basis and will continue to do that on a yearly basis,” he said.
Bohn, who engineered the school’s relocation from the Big 12 to the Pac-12, a move that brings in more than $20 million in annual TV revenue, fired Embree two years into a five-year deal, meaning Embree is due a $1.65-million buyout, just shy of Hawkins’ buyout cost.
“Obviously, it’s significant when you have to buy out a head coach,” DiStefano said. “The only silver lining in all this is it’s a one-time thing.”
Bohn said he expects to have to pay the next coach more than the $3.7-million deal Embree received over five years but is confident the administration would step up and pay whatever it takes to get the right man to come to Boulder.
Bohn and DiStefano both added that in order to compete in the Pac-12, the new coach will need help with enhanced recruiting efforts and upgraded football facilities.
The quick hook Embree received points to an administration that will have little patience in turning things around even with a young team and a late start on recruiting.
Embree suggested he would have had to cut corners academically and athletically to engineer the turnaround his bosses wanted in the short time he was given.
“I thought he was being honest, and that’s what I respect a great deal about Jon,” Bohn said.
“Shortcuts are not going to be an answer, and we’re not going to hire a coach that expects to use shortcuts.”
Bohn bristled when asked if the pressure to win right away would put the program on a slippery slope.
“When you look at the trajectory we were on, we were already on a slippery slope,” he said. “So, at what time do we change that trajectory? And you look at the erosion of our fan base and the challenges that we’re having on the perception of the program, it’s difficult to change that. And often the best way to change that is to have a change in your leadership.”
Floyd Keith, executive director of the Black Coaches and Administrators, said Embree, who was the first black football coach at Colorado, should have received at least another year after taking over a program that had endured five losing seasons under Hawkins.
“They pulled the plug a little early on the guy,” Keith said. “Granted, they were getting beat pretty bad. But you have to have some wisdom to let him build it. He inherited three classes that had already proved they couldn’t win, and he was playing a bunch of freshmen and only had eight seniors.”
When asked what message Embree’s quick firing sent to minorities, DiStefano said diversity remained a priority at the school and in the athletic department.
“We didn’t hire Jon because he’s an African-American, and we didn’t fire Jon because he’s an African-American,” DiStefano said.
Embree, though, suggested he faces long odds in getting another head coaching job at this level, noting that of all the black head coaches in college football, only Tyrone Willingham, who went to Washington from Notre Dame, got another chance to coach in the FBS after getting fired.
“I made the comment to Mike, we don’t get second chances,” Embree said.
“Eventually, that’ll change. And that’s OK. Although I didn’t succeed, maybe I created an opportunity for someone else.”