Regardless of the record, CU’s two-year football coach showed no progress

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University of Colorado head football coach Jon Embree was fired Sunday after just two years as head coach, and many feel his dismissal was unwarranted.

For me, the 1-11 season says it all.

When Embree was hired, he stepped into a program that had been struggling for several years, and his job was to rebuild it. Embree and his supporters have argued that two years was simply not enough time to fully rebuild a program, and I think they’re right.

Still, that argument is only valid if at least some progress was shown on the field over the course of those two years, winning record or not.

Embree has been head coach for two seasons, and the team’s record continues to worsen. The Buffs went 4-21 over Embree’s two seasons as head coach, going winless at home this season for the first time since 1920.

More importantly, the losses the team endured this season were not small slip-ups. The Buffs were blown out in nearly every game they played. From the embarrassment of Sacramento State, to the cringe-inducing USC rout, to the Homecoming shutout against Stanford, the Buffs were never robbed of a win. They were never even in contention.

During Dan Hawkins’ five-year tenure, he never posted a winning season and went 19-39 overall, yet his team showed some signs of improvement along the way. Hawkins’ first season as head coach ended with a 2-10 overall record, a big drop from 7-6 the previous season under Gary Barnett. However, in Hawkins’ second season, the team improved to 6-7 overall, just one win away from a winning record.

The next three years: 5-7, 3-9, 5-7. Hawkins was never a hugely successful coach, but he bounced back from rough seasons and showed the CU community that all hope was not lost. Hawkins was eventually fired for failing to break the .500 mark, but CU gave him more time than they gave Embree because he arguably showed a bit of promise. He also never went winless at home.

The Buffs got worse during Embree’s second season, dropping from a 3-9 record in 2011 to the dismal 1-11 of 2012. The scoreboard didn’t lie: Embree showed the opposite of improvement.

Another defense made by Embree supporters is that progress has been made off the field. Embree said his biggest accomplishment as coach was changing the culture of the football program: raising the GPAs of his athletes and making sure they stayed out of trouble.

However, using the improved GPA’s of Embree’s athletes as an excuse for their poor performance on the field is a disservice to the players. Student-athletes at CU and across the country are able to perform well on the field and improve their level of play while maintaining a high GPA and staying out of trouble. The Buffs football players are perfectly capable of being good students and good athletes, given a capable coach.

Embree mentioned that he could have taken the easy way out, simply using players for their talent without holding a high standard of academic performance. He could have recruited the best talent in the country for a year or two, taken time away from their classwork to focus on football, and turned a blind eye to poor grades and low graduation rates. This comment by Embree made him seem like an either-or coach — one who expects academic or athletic progress, but not both.

In the end, it’s not a question of whether or not Embree deserved to be fired after two years — it’s a question of whether or not he should have been hired in the first place. Embree is an honorable coach, and his players’ dismay at his firing show that his relationship to the team was a good one. His experience both at the collegiate and professional level and his commitment to the University of Colorado are undeniable. He simply didn’t deliver on the field.

Time will tell whether or not the CU football program can be fixed with the hire of a new coach. Change won’t happen overnight, and the rebuilding will still take time. But on the field, one thing is true — there’s no way to go but up.

 Photo credit: (James Bradbury/CU Independent)