by Chuck Sippl, Senior Editor

An “experiment” somewhat similar to that of Colorado in 2011 was tried the past few seasons at Minnesota, without great success. In Minneapolis, another former TE and recent NFL assistant (Tim Brewster) moved in as head coach of a college program without any previous head-coaching experience in either the college or pro ranks. Brewster lasted just 3½ seasons.

Now, back to Boulder. While it’s true that no coaching gig is the same, former Colorado TE and recent NFL assistant Jon Embree has landed his dream job, returning to his alma mater after previously spending ten years as an assistant in Boulder—two under Bill McCartney, five under Rick Neuheisel, and three under Gary Barnett. Embree’s last four years coaching were in the NFL.

What’s more, Embree’s arrival coincides with a transitional phase for CU, which is moving to the newly-expanded Pac-12 after more than six decades as a member of the Big XII and its forerunners. Initial indications are that Colorado “favorite son” Embree is in for some rough weather in the Buffs’ new conference before he can elevate the program in Boulder to the level of most of the Buffaloes’ new brothers.

Predecessor Dan Hawkins, who arrived at CU with a strong résumé built at Boise, failed to post a winning season in his five years despite Hawkins’ noted enthusiasm and innovation. Embree is more mindful of how his old coach and first mentor—McCartney—turned the trick during his regime, which saw Colorado win part of the national championship (with Georgia Tech) in 1990. McCartney was largely successful in convincing nearly all to the state’s top high school players (including Embree) to stay home and also in landing other key players from the recruiting strongholds of southern California (especially the San Diego area) and Texas. To his credit, Embree did score some recruiting victories when he took over in winter, but it’s going to be a season or two before those youngsters begin making a substantial impact.

As far as the upcoming season is concerned, the offense is in transition despite the return of sr. starting QB Tyler Hansen (a school-record 68.3% completions last season), sr. RB Rodney Stewart (1318 YR in 2010), three starters in the OL, a couple of established wideouts (sr. Tony Clemons & soph Paul Richardson), and a sr. TE (Ryan Deehan).

Despite the positives of that group, here as some of the potential negatives. HC Embree is changing the attack to his version of the West Coast offense (likely to be similar to that of former Broncos’ coach Mike Shanahan). Former CU star RB Eric Bienemy is a first-time offensive coordinator (although former Akron coach J.D. Brookhart is the passing-game coordinator). Hansen, despite his accuracy, had only six TDP LY (vs. 6 ints.), as his season ended after seven games due to a ruptured spleen. Overachieving RB Stewart is mini-dynamo who is only 5-6, 175, and his backups are scarcely any bigger. Sr. C Mike Itris—who suffered his second career torn ACL in the Buffs’ regular-season finale vs. Nebraska—has decided to give up football. That has left RS frosh Daniel Munyer and soph Gus Handler battling for the starting C job. Both are converted Gs.

There’s a similar story on defense, which was 110th vs. the pass, 83rd in total defense, and 91st in points allowed (31 pg) LY. New defensive coordinator Greg Brown (U. of Arizona LY) is junking Hawkins’ deception-oriented 3-3-5 scheme for an aggressive 4-3 alignment used by many teams in the Pac-12. It’s a plus that sr. DE Josh Hartigan (7 sacks LY) and decent group of competitive veterans return up front. And safeties Ray Polk (72 tackles LY) and Anthony Perkins (insert your own lame “Psycho” joke here) are experienced on the back end. But the LB crew is thin and lacks overall experience. The starting CBs are unproven, and they figure to be tested early and often in the pass-happy Pac-12.

The kicker is likely to be true frosh Will Oliver, who has impressed in August camp. But anything better than average will be an improvement for the Buffs, as PK Aric Goodman converted only 25 of 47 FGs tries in the last three years.

Summary...Embree faces a daunting schedule in his rookie season. Thirteen games in 13 weeks (no bye!) with a squad that is thin at virtually every position. Only five home games for a team that hasn’t won as a visitor since 2007 (17 straight losses on opponents’ fields). Facing (then) Pac-10 foe Cal LY in Berkeley, the Buffs went down 52-7 (trailing 31-0 at the H). Overall, CU was outscored 216-79 in five 2010 games as a visitor. Yes, my friends, Jon Embree has trouble “right here in Boulder city.” Too few playmakers; too tough a schedule. Unless Embree can pull a miracle à la Harold Hill in The Music Man, 2011 figures to be an “investment” season for Colorado, with Embree likely to be focused more on the future than the present by mid-October.
job, returning to his alma mater after previously spending ten years as an assistant in Boulder—two under Bill McCartney, five under Rick Neuheisel, and three under Gary Barnett. Embree’s last four years coaching were in the NFL.

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