BOULDER, Colo. (AP) – Jon Embree believes he’s the right fit to unite a frayed family.
A former standout tight end and one-time assistant at Colorado, Embree returns to campus to take over a struggling program. He has surrounded himself with coaches steeped in the Buffs tradition in order to restore the luster as the team starts a new chapter by joining the soon-to-be Pac-12.
Embree was officially introduced as the new coach Monday after accepting a five-year deal that’s worth approximately $1 million a season, not counting incentives.
He steps in for Dan Hawkins, who was fired after going 19-39 during four-plus underachieving seasons in Boulder.
Joining Embree’s staff will be another former Buffs stalwart, Eric Bieniemy, who will finish out the season as the Minnesota Vikings running backs coach before returning as CU’s offensive coordinator.
Brian Cabral, a longtime Colorado assistant who served as the interim coach following Hawkins’ departure, also will stay put, taking his name out of the running for the head coaching position at nearby Northern Colorado.
Not only that but former CU quarterback Darian Hagan said he plans to be back as an assistant in some capacity, too. Hagan served as the running backs coach under Hawkins.
This is all part of a plan to band together a bickering Buffs Nation fed up with losing seasons and a lack of discipline on the field.
“It’s a family affair and we didn’t want to provide any type of erosion of that family affair,” said athletic director Mike Bohn, whose school will leave the Big 12 after this season. “That was something we really worked hard at. We want to ensure we do everything we can to rally, because that is the most important thing for us to do. We’ve got to unite behind this coach, this staff and this program, and that’s going to allow us to be successful quicker than many people think we can be.”
Bohn said a national search was conducted, not just interviews with a who’s who among former Buffaloes. Although, it appeared that way.
The candidates included former CU coach Bill McCartney, who led the Buffs to their only national title in 1990 but had been out of football since 1994. Cabral and Bieniemy also were considered for the job before it finally went to Embree.
“I believe I’m the right fit,” Embree said. “That’s why I believe I’m going to have success.”
Once the decision was made to go with Embree, Bieniemy and Cabral said they had no bitterness and didn’t balk at jumping on board.
“I wouldn’t miss this for anything,” said Cabral, who went 2-1 filling in for Hawkins as team finished 5-7. “I wouldn’t miss working with Jon and Eric. That’s a dynamic duo without a doubt. I certainly want to be a part of that.”
Embree interviewed for the same position five years ago, but lost out to Hawkins, who was considered a “home run” hire by Bohn before eventually striking out.
This time, Embree dazzled Bohn and the search committee in his interviews.
So, how would Bohn classify this hire?
“The right fit, the right time, the right coach, that’s what it is right now,” Bohn said. “What you see is what you get — passion, competitive spirit, a great communicator.”
Embree has never been so much as a coordinator in his career. But he has been groomed by some of the best in the coaching business, studying under Herm Edwards while both were with the Kansas City Chiefs and Mike Shanahan in Washington. He also was mentored by McCartney, who basically launched Embree’s coaching career after his brief stint in the NFL.
“The great thing about this profession is there’s no formula,” said Embree, who left his position as the tight ends coach of the Redskins following their game against the New York Giants on Sunday to take his dream job at his alma mater. “There’s been plenty of former head coaches that have failed. There’s been plenty of guys who have never been head coaches who have succeeded. I’m not worried about that.”
What does concern him is restoring Colorado’s reputation.
An all-conference tight end for the Buffs in the mid-1980s, he’s taken the decline personally.
“It was hard watching what happened with the program,” said Embree, who will become the fourth African-American head football coach in Pac-10 history when CU joins the league in July. “I know in my heart Dan Hawkins did the best he could. I have nothing against Dan Hawkins.
“Honestly, we need to improve things. It was difficult seeing it like that. You know what it’s capable of and you know where it’s been. To see it not flourish was hard, because you helped build it.”
Embree has a blueprint for bringing the program back to prominence.
And it all starts with getting the players to buy in again.
“When I watched Colorado play, I told them I didn’t sense they really believed they could win. They hoped. But they didn’t believe,” Embree said. “I didn’t sense that competitiveness I was used to seeing in this great program.
“We’re going to change the way we see ourselves. We’re going to get the swagger back in this program.”
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