One of the players I contacted was Eric Bieniemy, the Buffs' all-time leading rusher who played for McCartney from 1987-90. Because of his busy schedule as the running backs coach for the NFL's Kansas City Chiefs, Bieniemy and I connected too late to get his comments in my story on McCartney. He also had not heard about McCartney's diagnosis until I told him.
Although the McCartney story was already on its way to the press, I wanted to share Bieniemy's thoughts with CU fans. When Bieniemy was the offensive coordinator for the Buffs from 2011-12, I always enjoyed when I had a chance to talk to him, and this was my first opportunity to speak with him since CU parted ways with him, head coach Jon Embree and the rest of that staff after the 2012 season.
Since I had him on the line, I took the opportunity to talk to him about not only McCartney, but a few other topics, as well. So, here's my conversation with one of the greatest players in Buffs' history.
Buffzone: What are your thoughts as you hear about coach Mac dealing with Alzheimer's?
Bieniemy: First of all, it's tough, because obviously having a great deal of respect for who coach Mac is and what's he's done - not only for me as a person, and as a player, and as a role model - a person who has been heavily involved in my life, as well as my former teammates' lives, it's tough to imagine him having to fight such a tough issue.
Buffzone: The McCartney family has seen his memory slipping the last couple of years. Did you see any of that when you filmed the 30-for-30 special?
Bieniemy: I didn't notice anything. If you had told me then that something was wrong, I probably would have never, ever knew there was an issue. Sitting in that room, sharing that time with him and hearing him talking about us in the different situations and all the different games that we participated in together, I would have never known that. ... Sometimes you just want to remember all the good times and not want to know the bad about anything. Maybe I just didn't see it.
Buffzone: What did you like about having Mac as your coach?
Bieniemy: First of all, he was a big-time motivator. What he did for our program, recruiting all the different people from all the different parts of the United States, bringing us together collectively as young men, and getting us to understand his vision and making everything that he said that would happen come to light. Being with coach Mac was a special time in all of our lives. You're talking about young men between 18 and 22 years old having a strong mentor, a strong disciplinarian head coach, also a motivator, and on top of that, a man of his word, a God-fearing man, and a man who was set on his convictions of being a Promise Keeper. All those things tie in together, and you think of all the good that you shared with him ... it was a great time in our lives. Think about the things we experienced, and those things happened for a reason. Without them, we wouldn't have had the great story we had together.
Buffzone: You had a chance to come back and coach at CU (in 2001-02 and 2011-12). What were your impressions of being around McCartney in a different stage of your life and a different stage of his life?
Bieniemy: Well, I had plenty of experiences of being a mature adult and hanging with coach Mac, whether it was coming back as a player when I was playing in the (NFL), coming back when I retired and was going to school. Just spending time with coach Mac, I've seen the evolution of him from my time (as a freshman) in 1987. All of those experiences have been great ones. He would always share a joke here and there, especially with me putting on some weight now. He'll let you know, "Hey, you don't look like that young, spry runner that was recruited out of Bishop Amat High School many moons ago."
Buffzone: Do you have a favorite McCartney story?
Bieniemy: I don't know if there's really a favorite story. Just sharing the history that I've had, the opportunity to spend time with him, it's all been a great experience. Coach Mac gave me an opportunity to go to school, earn a degree, and he gave me an opportunity to pursue my dreams of playing football. That, more than anything, stands out. Obviously, he's helped shape and mold my life from the time that I first encountered him. It's all been great, it's all been good, and that's the thing I can say about coach Mac. Coach Mac is a great man. You know, he had to put up with some characters with all of us. To his credit, he understood all the different personalities and he did an outstanding job of managing young men. Not only managing young men, but also managing and handling his coaching staff in the utmost professional way, and also making sure that his players understood what it was going to take to be great in anything they wanted to achieve in life.
Coach Mac is a special man, and he always will be. He did a great job not only recruiting, but also he did a great job of helping young kids mature into men in every phase of their lives. That's all you can ask for in a head coach at that level. That's the love and respect that I know I will always have for him. He gave me an opportunity. That opportunity paved the way to help me achieve the goals that I've accomplished today in life. I'm sure every player that has played for coach Mac has a similar, successful story.
Buffzone: Since I have you on the line, I have to ask, how are you doing as you enter your fourth season with Kansas City?
Bieniemy: I'm a football coach and I'm very blessed and fortunate to be in the situation that I'm in. I'm working for a great organization, a great head coach and a great coaching staff. There's nothing like coaching. I'm very blessed and fortunate to be affiliated with football since the age of 6. Not too many people can say that. I don't have anything to complain about at all. I am enjoying life.
Buffzone: What are your thoughts on CU and all they are doing with the new facilities and as a football program?
Bieniemy: Obviously I keep close tabs on t hem. Any time they are on TV, I'm watching and pulling for them. Once you're a Buff, you're a Buff for life and obviously you want those guys to have a great deal of success. Coach (Mike) MacIntyre came up here and visited and spent some time with us for a day or two during the spring, so he could come out and see exactly what we were doing. I got a chance to sit with him and ask him how the different guys were doing. As always, I'm excited for them, I'm looking forward to them having a successful season and just watching some of those younger players grow and mature into great people.
Buffzone: Did you have some bitterness or disappointment to get over when things ended for you guys in 2012?
Bieniemy: You can look at it in many different ways. At the end of the day, we were given an opportunity and it didn't work out. I can sit here and complain about anything, but one thing I learned many moons ago, all coaches are hired to be fired. So, at some point in time you're going to have to pack your things and leave. Would I have liked to stay a little longer? Obviously, of course I would, but hey, things happen, and sometimes without bad luck, you wouldn't have any good luck at all. I've matured as a coach, I've become a better coach and I'm enjoying what I do.
Buffzone: Are you surprised it has taken so long for CU to get back to winning football? (Note: Bieniemy and the Embree staff recruited and coached some of the older players on this year's roster).
Bieniemy: Well, here's the thing: when you define success, obviously you define it by wins and losses. But, I've watched those kids grow. When you're in that place and in that position, obviously you want to win. The thing that I'm proud of is watching all the players and the growth that they've made - in the classroom and pursuing their degrees. Those are the things that get you excited, because we gave a kid an opportunity, not only to play football, but more importantly to earn a degree and help that kid further and advance in his life. Those are the things that get me excited. Those are the success stories. Obviously, yes, everybody wants to win a national championship, but at the end of the day, I'm defining success by how those guys leave that university, with or without a degree.
Buffzone: When was the last time you were in Boulder?
Bieniemy: It's been a while. I haven't had an opportunity to come back. I have a teenage son (Elijah) who is going into his senior year, and football has been tying him up for the summers. It's been a while and I've been wanting to come back. But, I've had fun watching him develop into a good football player. Obviously I keep in contact with (former CU teammate and current Buffs running backs coach Darian) Hagan and staying in contact with a lot of guys in the Colorado area, keeping tabs through the internet.
Buffzone: I wish you a lot of luck with the Chiefs this year, and it was good to catch up with you.
Bieniemy: Thanks, Brian, I appreciate everything. Please tell everybody good luck and go knock it out!
Contact staff writer Brian Howell at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.