BOULDER, Colo. – Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn famously called his first head football coach a home run hire. Turns out, he whiffed on Dan Hawkins and again on Jon Embree.
Bohn just might be down to his last strike. Miss again and he could find himself on the hot seat.
“I recognize the pressure,” Bohn said. “The pressure’s immense.”
Hawkins was one of the hottest coaches in the nation when he took over at Colorado in 2006 after going 53-11 at Boise State. He replaced Gary Barnett, who lost his job after two scandal-plagued years and a 70-3 loss to Texas in the Big 12 title game in 2005.
Hawkins went 19-39 before getting the axe, and Embree was fired Sunday after going 4-21 in two seasons, including 3-15 in the Pac-12.
Despite Bohn’s first two hires combining for 60 losses in seven seasons and costing nearly $4 million in buyouts, Chancellor Phil DiStefano defended Bohn’s track record.
“It’s not an exact science, as far as hiring coaches,” DiStefano said. “If you look at coaches that Mike has had the opportunity to hire, especially in men’s basketball, women’s basketball, soccer and volleyball, there have been some extremely good choices there.”
Athletic directors, though, aren’t judged by the soccer coaches they hire but by the success of the man they choose to lead the football team.
Asked if Bohn, the former AD at Idaho, is down to his last strike now that he’s whiffed on his first two football hires, DiStefano said: “To be honest with you, I think we all have to get this one right, not so much from the standpoint of having a job or not having a job. We have to get this one right because it’s important for the university.”
Bohn, who engineered the school’s relocation from the Big 12 to the Pac-12, a move that brings in more than $20 million in annual TV revenue, fired Embree two years into a five-year deal, meaning Embree is due a $1.65 million buyout, just shy of what Hawkins’ buyout cost.
Bohn said he expects to have to pay the next coach more than the $3.7 million deal Embree received over five years.
The quick hook Embree received points to an administration that will have little patience in turning things around even with a young team and a late start on recruiting.
Embree suggested he would have had to cut corners academically and athletically to engineer the turnaround his bosses wanted in the short time he was given.
When asked what message Embree’s quick firing sent to minorities, DiStefano said diversity remained a priority at the school and in the athletic department.
“We didn’t hire Jon because he’s an African-American and we didn’t fire Jon because he’s an African-American,” DiStefano said.
Former Buffs football coach Bill McCartney, who coached Embree in the 1980s and won a national title at Colorado in 1990, blasted Embree’s firing during an interview on 102.3 ESPN in Denver, saying the school didn’t give Embree as much time to succeed as it would have a white coach.
McCartney said the reason he was given more than two years was because he’s white.
“Men of color have a more difficult road to tread. It didn’t happen to me. Why should it happen to a black man?” McCartney asked.
McCartney went 7-25-1 in his first three seasons, including 1-10 in his third year, before turning around the program. He read a letter on air asking Buffaloes fans to ask the administration to bring back Embree.
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