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Ramsey: MacIntyre promises better football days ahead for CU

June 18, 2015 Updated: June 18, 2015 at 6:34 am
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photo - Mike McIntyre is beginning his third season as coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. Associated Press photo.
Mike McIntyre is beginning his third season as coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. Associated Press photo. 

Some people understand the value of history. And some people don't.

Mike MacIntyre is one of those people who find lessons, and encouragement, from the past. He's the football coach of the Colorado Buffs, who have stumbled to nine straight losing seasons.

It's been close to hopeless in Boulder since 2011 with the Buffs losing 39 of 49 games and 32 of 36 conference games.

MacIntyre clings to hope, largely because he understands CU history. He visited Colorado Springs this week for the Sports Corp.'s annual football luncheon.

Thirty years ago, coach Bill McCartney was sitting atop football wreckage. The Buffs had won 11 of their past 55 games, but McCartney stubbornly, and irrationally, believed good times were just around the bend.

He defied the odds. And won.

The Buffs roared to 17 winning records in the next 21 seasons, including a shared national title in 1990.

"There's unbelievable history here, and we can do it again," MacIntyre said.

Let's be clear: MacIntyre is not promising to alter history in 2015. He insists the Buffs will improve, but stops short of predicting a winning season. He's in the middle of a rebuilding process, not the end.

MacIntyre will soon begin his third season in Boulder. McCartney finished 1-10 in his third season. That was in 1984, the season before the Buffs awoke from a long football slumber.

"If you fix it in one year, it isn't worthwhile," MacIntyre said. "It's just a fluke. It takes time to build a program and establish it."

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The Buffs hired MacIntyre because he proved he could lift a program from the college football basement. San Jose State finished 2-10 in 2009, the year before he arrived as coach.

By 2012, MacIntyre had lifted San Jose State to a 10-2 record and a national ranking. He was preparing for a bowl game when he started receiving phone calls from CU leaders.

They offered a simple question:

Are you interested in coaching the Buffs?

No, MacIntyre said.

"I had a great thing going," MacIntyre said. "We had just built the best San Jose State team in the history in the school. It had been a tremendous amount of work."

His phone kept ringing. At first, MacIntyre looked at the reality in Boulder and saw what he calls "the worst BCS program in America."

But as he lingered on the view, he began to see the possibilities. CU leaders promised big changes and convinced him to accept the challenge.

CU leaders weren't making an empty pitch. MacIntyre works in a freshly built $156 million football complex with a 16,000 square-foot locker room and an 8,000 square-foot players' lounge.

"The best football facility in America," he said.

Gary Barnett oversaw the last winning teams in Boulder. He returned to the Springs this week for the luncheon. Barnett, 69, coached Air Academy's football team before his career as a college coach, which included an improbably successful run at Northwestern.

In 2012, the Buffs hit bottom, finishing 1-11. That descent humiliated anyone associated with CU, Barnett said.

"By receiving the national embarrassment that they did, everybody wanted change," Barnett said. "Academics. Administration. Everybody."

For decades, there had been serious apprehension in Boulder about truly embracing football.

That apprehension is gone, Barnett said.

"I think Mike has the best chance of any of us in the past 60 years," Barnett said. "We never had that continuity of support. He's got that now."

MacIntyre doesn't just talk about yesterday. He turns to the past when he needs a lift. McCartney still lives in Boulder, not far from campus, and is a frequent visitor to MacIntyre's office.

The two men travel back to some of the best and the worst days in CU's long football history.

McCartney talks about how he repaired a battered football program while MacIntyre, the man of tomorrow, intently listens.

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