DENVER — When I asked Tad Boyle why he is still the coach at Colorado, and not somewhere it's easier to win, his response was one of surprise.
"Why would I go somewhere else?"
It was a test. Like he’s done with virtually every test thrown his way in nearly three seasons leading the Buffs, Boyle passed like an A student in the CU honors program.
"This is my home. This is our home," Boyle, a Greeley native, told me in a recent conversation. “We’re trying to do something here that’s never been done. We haven’t done it yet, but we’re on our way. That’s all you look for in life, the opportunity to leave your mark.”
For the second straight year, our state placed two teams in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. Do you know how bizarre that is? No. 8 Colorado State opens against No. 9 Missouri on Thursday. No. 10 Colorado opens against No. 7 Illinois on Friday.
The reason the Rams and Buffs are on the game’s biggest stage is because of the men on the sidelines — Boyle at CU, Larry Eustachy and before him, Tim Miles, at CSU.
These are programs that must rely on a dynamic coach at the top — not tradition or a pipeline of in-state high school talent — to reach the NCAA Tournament.
These are programs that must watch their back when those coaches guide them to heights unseen. Just ask CSU, which wasn’t the least bit surprised to lose Miles to Nebraska.
Here is a dilemma to consider. Say the Bruins brass tires of Ben Howland’s quicksand basketball and the UCLA job comes open?
I can tell you Boyle would be a name on the list. The SoCal schools whiffed on Spencer Dinwiddie, a Woodland Hills, Calif., product. But a smart program will sniff around to gauge the interest of the coach who identified Dinwiddie's NBA-caliber talent.
I can’t tell you if Boyle would express a mutual interest.
Two years ago he was targeted by Texas A&M and didn't blink. Boyle is comfortable in Boulder. And I know enough college coaches to see when their eyes are peeled for a bigger job.
“One of the reasons that we can recruit is that we’re honest and we’re genuine people,” Boyle said. “And if you’re not honest and you’re not genuine, it’s hard to sell something you really believe in.
“If you do and then you just jump ship for a little extra money here or there, you’re a hypocrite. And No. 2, you’re not real. And that’s not to say coaches can’t change jobs. That’s part of the business. But for Tad Boyle, being a Colorado guy, that’s not me.”
College basketball is not what it was even 10 years ago. Instead of emphasizing the basic skills of the game — passing, dribbling shooting — there is a football mentality that promotes holding, clutching and grabbing. It evens the playing field but sucks the life from the game.
Here is a trend for the better: Coaches are not as inclined to leap at the first flirtation of a ready-made powerhouse. The win-at-all costs mentality I witnessed in the Big Ten and elsewhere can grind down a coach’s spirit.
When coaches scribble down a pros-and-cons list for their next job, one question should be this: How are you wired? One man's payday is another man's pressure cooker.
VCU prodigy Shaka Smart had zero interest in facing the over-inflated expectations at Illinois. It will take Duke or Indiana to pull Brad Stevens from Butler. Mark Few built a ready-made powerhouse at Gonzaga. Plus, the fly-fishing is better than Few would find at Arizona. A comfortable lifestyle still counts for something.
"It's all about finding the right fit for you,” Boyle told me after practice Monday.
To win at Colorado, one of the toughest jobs in major-college basketball, you must have that genuine appreciation for the university and the area.
And since most recruits still come from elsewhere, you must have a love for recruiting.
Boyle has both.
“The other thing, too, is that when they hired me, they hired me from Northern Colorado. This university took a chance on me,” said Boyle, who in 2010 was chosen over candidates Mike Dunlap and Steve McClain.
“There’s a sense of loyalty, a sense of appreciation that I have for (AD) Mike Bohn and (chancellor) Phil DiStefano for hiring me when they hired me. I wasn’t the biggest name or the most popular choice or whatever. But I think that plays into it as well.”
The Buffs playing in the NCAA Tournament again are no two-hit wonder. When a program can afford to redshirt a talent like Wesley Gordon, a Sierra alum, it is built for the long run.
“Wesley is going to be a very special player,” Boyle said.
Kentucky, Indiana, Arizona and their blue-blood brothers are special jobs. They are also jobs that can chew you up and spit you out.
Perhaps Boyle already has found his special job — the one he has now. The one at home.
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