T here won't be any more excuses for not getting the job done in the Colorado football program under coach Jon Embree.
If there was a single, resonating message from his first day on the job as the 24th head coach in the program's history on Monday, that was it.
It was the message he shared with his players in a morning meeting at the Dal Ward Center. It was at the heart of his comments during a picturesque press conference on the club level at Folsom Field. And it was the core of his remarks to two groups of fans and boosters, first at a mid-afternoon shindig at the Blake Street Tavern in Denver and later at the Omni Interlocken Hotel in Broomfield.
"It's important for players to understand who we are, where we're going, and how we're going to get there," Embree said. "The vision and the message have to be clear. You do not have to worry about what the vision and what the message is; it's excellence. It's returning the luster to this program."
He rode a Buff bus from place to place on a whirlwind day of shaking hands and fielding questions with most of the athletic department brain trust, his wife Natalyn, daughter Hannah, and his mother by his side.
Embree, 45, has spent his life in football and he has pointed the bulk of that time and his effort at earning the job he began Monday. The former Buff tight end is the first black head football coach in CU history and will be only the fourth in the history of the Pac-12 Conference. CU will officially join that league next summer.
"It's a great honor and a great responsibility, because my success will help make a path and create opportunities for more African-American coaches," he said. "It's a subject people don't like talking about, but it's there, and I understand what it means. I understand the responsibility.
"At the end of the day, I'm a football coach. There is no category for how many games a black coach won, or how many games a white coach won.
He grew up playing the sport in the youth leagues of Cherry Creek in Denver. He attended Cherry Creek High School where he won back-to-back state championships in 1982 and 1983 before joining the CU program as part of former coach Bill McCartney's first recruiting class in 1983.
Embree helped lay the foundation in the mid-1980s for three consecutive Big Eight Conference championship teams, the 1990 national championship team and the most successful decade in the program's history through the 1990s. And he spent his first 13 years in coaching in the program as well.
"He's a Buff," athletic director Mike Bohn said. "He can rally all of the Buffs together. He can attract top coaches to join him. He has the ability to pull that together."
It was McCartney who turned Embree toward a life in coaching when Embree's playing career ended in the National Football League and he was laying in a hospital bed recovering from Tommy John surgery.
McCartney called him and requested a meeting. When Embree was finally healthy enough to report to McCartney's office, the coach immediately put him to work.
"After my first practice, he said, 'What do you think?'" Embree recalled. "I couldn't tell him what I thought, because what I thought was, 'I want to come back and take your job, do what you're doing,' but I couldn't say that. I told him he was right, that this was what I wanted to do."
Embree worked for free for his first two seasons before McCartney hired him as a full-time assistant in 1993. Seventeen years later, he more than made up for his donated time.
Embree agreed over the weekend to a five-year contract will pay him more than $700,000 annually in guaranteed compensation but achievable incentives related to player academic performance and citizenship will bring the total to just shy of $1 million. Other incentives for on-field success would push the total above the $1 million mark.
Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy also was given a five-year deal that will pay him $500,000 annually with a $150,000 signing bonus. Both contracts must be approved by the Board of Regents. Regent Steve Bosley said the latest that would happen is the next scheduled meeting Jan. 7-8. He said it could happen sooner if the regents believe it is necessary.
Embree met with returning players Monday morning at the Dal Ward Center. Players said Embree talked to them about responsibility and accountability and recapturing the swagger the program had during its proudest moments.
Quarterback Tyler Hansen said players were not told who would be hired as assistant coaches other than Bieniemy and linebackers coach Brian Cabral. He said players responded well to their first meeting with their new coach.
"It was just that we've got to get the swagger back at Colorado," Hansen said. "We've got to establish that attitude that we used to have. When we go on the road, we've got to win on the road. We've got to protect this house.
"I thought everything he had to say, he had a very clear vision."
Embree interviewed for the job five years ago but was ultimately passed over in favor of Dan Hawkins who was fired last month after going 19-39 in nearly five full seasons. CU engineering professor, Dr. David Clough is one of the men who interviewed Embree during both searches.
He defended the decision not to hire Embree five years ago saying Embree was not as polished and experienced as he is now. Clough said Embree has come a long way and knocked the search committee's socks off this time around.
Embree is in the process of completing his coaching staff. Sources said Embree was considering retaining Darian Hagan, Eric Kiesau and Ashley Ambrose from Hawkins' staff and was in talks with Arizona defensive coordinator Greg Brown to fill the same position in Boulder. Brown coached defensive backs for four seasons under Hawkins.
Embree vowed to bring a more physical style of play back to Boulder and promised to compete for top-notch recruits with the most prestigious programs in the nation. Above all, he said he would return the program to its roots and re-establish the Colorado brand.
Embree said his biggest challenge will be instilling that identity and building a new level of confidence in current players that will allow them to succeed on Saturday afternoons and return the program to prominence as it begins its future in a new conference.
"When I watched Colorado play, I told them I didn't sense that they really believed they could win. They hoped, but they didn't believe. I didn't sense that competitiveness I was used to seeing in this great program. So that is going to be a challenge," he said.
President Bruce Benson said he believes in hiring and promoting from within the university and said Embree and Bieniemy are great examples of "growing our own talent."
Chancellor Phil DiStefano challenged Embree and Bohn to improve the product on the field, match it with academic success and ensure each student-athlete is "fully engaged in everything the university offers."
"If Jon Embree doesn't understand CU's traditions, CU's expectations, and CU's values, then nobody does," DiStefano said.