Colorado faces steep climb to bring program back to glory days

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Longtime NFL linebacker Chad Brown owes a lot to the University of Colorado, his alma mater. He won a national title with the Buffaloes. He met his wife there. He also sent his children to school in Boulder.

That’s why going back there these days brings such a range of emotions.

Brown so badly wants to see the Buffs return to the glory of centuries ago, when bowl games were just a matter of which, not just hoping for a spot. But he also realizes it’s a kind of climbing Everest from a rockslide that has seen the program drop to 1-6 this season (all losses by 23 points or more) and cost his position at coach Karl Dorrell earlier this month.

The Buffaloes, who are 1-3 in the Pac-12, have plummeted near the bottom of the college football landscape, with CBS Sports ranks them as the lowest Power Five school (120th overall) this week.

“I look at life through black and gold glasses,” said Brown, who helped the Buffaloes win their only national football title in their second season in 1990 before the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in the second round. of the 1993 NFL Draft.

“It’s an incredibly difficult climb.”

For their recent fall from grace, there are myriad reasons. Partly the transfer portal (Colorado lost some of their players before this season). In part, the silver surrounding the name, image and likeness agreements (complicated by state policies). But perhaps more than anything, a not-so-clear understanding of precisely what it takes to win at Boulder.

At least that’s the opinion of former Colorado coach Gary Barnett, who is now a radio analyst at KOA in Denver. Since Barnett’s departure — he went 49-38 from 1999-05 — the Buffaloes have had nine coaches, including three interims (with Mike Sanford currently in charge). They will need to win the rest of their games – as underdogs, no less – to avoid a fifth losing season in six years.

“It’s more complicated, probably in Colorado, because the look of the outside is one thing. But once you get here and realize that it has its own set of values, its own set of things that are important, and if that wasn’t what you thought it would be, it’s easy resentment or feeling like no one is helping you,” said Barnett, who served as an assistant coach at Boulder for a long time before taking over at Northwestern and then returning to Colorado. “Fortunately, in my case, I had been here. I knew what to expect.

“You must have the right attitude when entering.”

Names mentioned as possibilities of becoming CU’s next head coach range from veteran coaches (Gary Patterson, Bronco Mendenhall) to newcomers ( Old Dominion’s Ricky Rahne ) to former Colorado players ( Ryan Walters, defensive coordinator at Illinois; Eric Bieniemy, offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs) to instant national attention (Deion Sanders, Jackson State).

Sanford also has a chance, if he can put the shocked Buffaloes back together. He’s 1-1 since replacing Dorrell.

Sanford pointed to what Oregon State has done as an ideal plan. The Beavers went 2-10 in their first season under coach Jonathan Smith in 2018. But after beating the Buffaloes 42-9 last weekend, they became eligible for a second consecutive season.

“A lot of these players who were playing against us on Saturday are guys who went through those tough years,” Sanford said. “They had continuity – how they were developed, the strength coach, the position coaches, all the way through. You see them grow into a team of veterans that felt like a real Power Five type team, from the top tier of the conference.

After this season, the Buffaloes could experience another exodus through the transfer portal, with players seeking a more stable environment, perhaps even an easier route load. Or more lucrative NIL deals, which is one area the Buffaloes are looking to be more competitive.

“I don’t think it’s about changing rules and policies,” University of Colorado Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano said when Dorrell was fired Oct. 2. “I believe you can have great academics and great student-athletes together. They are not mutually exclusive.”

In his day, Brown was a standout player in California who saw big names from his state heavily recruited by Colorado. This included Bieniemy and later quarterback Darian Hagan. It drew Brown to Boulder as the Buffs rose to prominence after going 1-10 under Hall of Fame coach Bill McCartney in 1984.

There was a game plan in place. The 1990 season culminated with Colorado winning a national title after their Orange Bowl victory over Notre Dame.

Conclusion: The next coach needs time to develop the program.

“If you have the right coach and he’s able to build his program, you can get back to respectability, and maybe even a few years to be part of the big national picture,” said Brown, a sports talk show host on 104.3 The Fan in Denver. “That’s my hope.”

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Ryan H. Bowman