BOULDER, Colo. — “First off, thank you to the players…”
That was as far as former University of Colorado football coach Jon Embree made it before a battle against his own tears began.
The CU Buffs made it official Monday morning, announcing the firing of the 23rd head coach in the history of the program, who led the team for a mere two years.
Despite how bad things got for the Buffaloes on the field — they had a 4-21 record in the last two years and 1-11 this past season, the worst mark in school history — Embree insisted that he did the job he was asked to do.
What job was that? Shoring up a program that has made much more noise off the field in the past decade than it has on it, Embree claimed.
“I’m obviously disappointed sitting here today,” Embree said. “But I did things the right way. I don’t care what they say or what anyone says. We’ve had the highest GPA the last three years out of any time in the program. We’ve stayed out of trouble.
“We’ve set a legacy and a standard.”
CU athletic director Mike Bohn and chancellor Philip DiStefano agreed that Embree did great things with CU’s student-athletes, as far as the student part of that designation goes. But they felt differently about the legacy Embree was leaving behind in terms of the product on the field.
“We did not see the development and cohesion that made us confident in our future,” DiStefano said.
Citing an inability to connect with assistant coaches — both on his staff and in terms of attracting new talent in that department — Bohn and DiStefano talked about an football program entering a crucial year in Embree’s tenure with no real direction.
“If you don’t have the momentum that is vital to transcend in the third year, you start thinking that you haven’t made the adjustments quick enough,” Bohn said.
While Embree was long-winded to thank the rest of his staff and players at CU, he was brief in thanking that aforementioned coaching staff.
“You did the best you could,” Embree said, speaking to his assistant coaches. “And I appreciate that.”
Embree did make an effort to stand up for those maligned coaches, however, saying six of them offered to tender their resignation if it meant Embree could keep his job as head coach and keep the rest of his staff in place.
“Those are the kind of guys I work with,” Embree said.
A theme for Embree in his portion of Monday’s press conference was “in spite of,” and he said he used it as a rallying cry for his team this year.
It might as well have served as a theme for the entirety of his short tenure as a head coach in Boulder.
For starters, Embree acknowledged the fact that he was the first African American head coach in the history of CU’s football program, and one of 15 African American coaches among the 124 programs in Division I college football.
This is in spite of the fact that African Americans make up the majority of roster spots in the game of college football.
“You have no idea know how many coaches had to take terrible jobs just for me to get this opportunity,” Embree said. “Even though I didn’t succeed, maybe I created another opportunity for someone else.”
There was also the fact of economics.
CU was still paying two other head coaches when they hired Embree — his predecessor, Dan Hawkins, whose contract extended through 2012, and Hawkins’ predecessor, Gary Barnett, who was still receiving payments this year as part of a $3 million settlement he was awarded when the university forced him out in 2005.
With that being the case, Embree was offered $720,000 per year to lead the Buffaloes as part of a five-year deal. It made him the lowest-paid coach in the new Pac-12 conference, which Bohn still insisted the Buffaloes have their sights set on winning Monday.
When he hired Embree, Bohn acknowledge the university was strapped for cash and that Embree was chosen because of his and his staff’s strong ties to the university.
So what direction will the Buffs go now?
In spite of that fact that the Buffaloes will now have to pay off the remaining three years of Embree’s contract (just over $2 million), Bohn and DiStefano continued insisted the Buffaloes will spare no expense in bringing in “the right” head coach this time around.
Bohn did acknowledge, however, that finding the money to do so won’t be easy — yet again.
“We’re in a tough spot,” he said. “We’re in a very tough spot. We’re going to need to find a way to galvanize some (funds).”
Rumors have already begun circulating as to possible replacements for Embree.
Those reports have pointed to Fresno State’s Tim DeRuyter, whose Bulldogs beat Embree’s Buffaloes 69-14 this year, Air Force’s Troy Calhoun, who reportedly balked at an opportunity to coach CU before Embree was hired, and Jeff Tedford, who was recently fired at the University of California, another Pac-12 school.
DeRuyter, who received a base salary of $650,000 in his first year at the head of a college football program, was the only one of those three coaches who did not receive a higher salary than Embree last season.
Tedford, on the other hand, had a 2012 base salary of $2.3 million, more than three times the amount Embree received.