Eric Bieniemy has his hands full. And he's loving every minute of it.
Colorado's all-time leading rusher turned offensive coordinator and running backs coach spent the past three months designing the kind of physical offense he believes in and intends to run in Boulder. He has spent the past three days teaching it to the 49 offensive players on the active roster.
It has been a considerable challenge and he's only getting started, but his influence is already beginning to emerge in a more physical style of play. The offensive line and starting tailback Rodney Stewart seemed to be the first to embrace a more rugged style of play being introduced, but there is a long way to go before Bieniemy will be confident about putting the Buffs out on the field in a packed stadium against an opponent under the lights.
There have been some bumps in the road for Bieniemy as well. After all, he has spent the past five seasons coaching in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings and coaching one of the premier running backs the league has to offer in Adrian Peterson.
It's a whole new world moving back to Boulder to mold players such as Stewart, sophomore walk-on Josh Ford and redshirt freshmen Tony Jones and Cordary Allen.
"It's been an adjustment, but the thing is, it's still coaching," Bieniemy said. "Our responsibility as coaches is to make sure that we're providing our guys with as much information as needed to give them the opportunity to go out there and do the best job they can. So we're still coaching. The speed of the game is different, but we'll get there. First of all, we want to make sure that we're practicing with the right effort."
That is where the most noticeable difference between this coaching staff and the previous regime comes in.
The decibel level and the number of four-letter words shouted at Colorado football practices have risen dramatically this spring. Bieniemy's coaching style is one of the reasons why, but certainly not the only one.
He is all business when he's on the field and he expects nothing less from the young men who play for him. Make a mistake, God forbid immediately after Bieniemy just put you through a drill on the very issue you just screwed up, and the player will hear about it. So will everyone else.
"Bieniemy is a little bit more experienced," Stewart said when asked to compare Bieniemy to former running backs coach Darian Hagan. "He's dealt with guys like Adrian Peterson on a pro level. So he knows a little bit more of what to look for in a good back. He's more aggressive than Hagan, but Hagan's pretty aggressive, too."
As offensive coordinator, Bieniemy will instruct any offensive player he believes needs a correction and he will do the same when it comes to doling out praise for a job well done. The critic in him has emerged more often so far, but that is to be expected in the first three days of spring ball under a new coaching staff with players learning a whole new system.
After giving players a piece of his mind, he often approaches the huddle and helps them reload by saying something like, "Now calm down, get the play called and run it right."
Bieniemy is the first to admit his coaching style might not be for everyone. But he does what he does for a reason. He believes in it and he has a track record that is hard to argue against.
"I think it takes a while to get used to, but one thing I always tell them is don't confuse the message with the speech," Bieniemy said. "Make sure you listen and hear what I'm saying. The thing is, we spend X amount of time making sure we're giving you the correct information, and when they do it right, I'm going to be the first one to praise them. When they do it wrong, I'm going to critique them and make sure they understand why they did it wrong and make sure I stay on their tail so that that they don't make the same mistake again.
"I always tell my guys, I coach hard, but I coach fair. I'm your biggest fan and I expect you to be great at all times. If we make a mistake, things happen. If we physically get beat, things happen. If we make a mental error, I take personal issue with that."
Stewart is coming off a season in which he produced more than 1,600 yards of total offense, and he will be a senior in the fall who is expected to earn a lot of playing time and plenty of touches. If the first three days of spring have taught him anything, it's that he knows he is going to have to earn it.
"He wants me to be more of a leader, helping these other guys out," Stewart said of his new coach. "I've got to get better too. There is a lot of things I need to work on to be a good back and if I want to go to the next level and be good at that. I think he's going to get me where I need to be."