To some it might have seemed like a simple tactic to try to invigorate his players. To others it might appear like Colorado coach Jon Embree is already in desperation mode.
With his team at 1-3 coming off an ugly performance on the road at Ohio State, Embree convened a team meeting Monday and began to share with players the critiques of them he received during a Sunday conversation with Ohio State coach Luke Fickell.
Ohio State beat the Buffs 37-17 in Columbus, Ohio, last week. IT was an ugly performance by the Buffs particularly on special teams and led Embree to decided he will have to stick with only the players he trusts on game days.
Embree was attempting to build some confidence in players he said are lacking in that department. He said he wanted them to see that other coaches with no attachment to the program see them as threats on Saturday afternoons.
“I had a discussion with them about they need to start seeing themselves for what they're capable of,” Embree said. “They need to start seeing themselves how we're telling them what they're talent level is and what they're capable of as coaches.
“I'm an honest guy and I'm not going to BS the guys and tell them you're this when they're not. We have some good players. We do. Do we have a bunch of them? No. Do we have a lot of depth? No. But we have some good players. And those good players have to see themselves that way and take it upon themselves that when you don't have a bunch of good players, they can't have an off game. They have to have that pressure on themselves that they go out and perform at that level every week.”
Embree said coaching, particularly at the college level, often involves such psychological experiments. He said he has felt like Frasier Crane, the TV psychiatrist on the show Cheers and a later spin off, in the past when trying to make players he has coached believe in themselves. He said he had to do it at UCLA with former Bruin and current pro Marcedes Lewis and he also played psychiatrist with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez at times.
Embree made some alarming statements during his weekly media luncheon Tuesday answering questions with a rare honesty not often seen from coaches in major college and pro sports.
He acknowledged that he detects a difference in his team when it goes on the road versus when it plays at home, which has obviously contributed to a 19-game road losing streak. Perhaps most eye-opening, Embree said there are too many players on the team who are too willing to accept being backups.
So he tried to infuse them with a little confidence straight from the coach who just beat them badly last week.
“I think some of them were probably shocked at the opinion and how highly he thought of our guys,” Embree said. “They need to understand that they are good, they are capable. It's kind of the old, you've been beaten down so much I don't know if it's an expectation I don't know if it's a truly seeing yourself when someone is telling you you are good, you are worthy, you are better than this. I don't know if past experience is something that has helped keep it down. I don't know what it is.”
Embree said he expected to be better than 1-3 entering the first Pac-12 Conference game in school history this weekend at home against Washington State. He said he expected to have shed the road losing streak by now. He said he thought his team would be better at running the football by now. Other than that, he said there haven't been any major surprises from his players in the first month of the season.
He said he is disappointed that he isn't seeing more of a sense of urgency. Embree said it's up to the players to decide which direction their season goes from here.
“I completely agree with it,” safety Ray Polk said. “Honestly, a lot of people trust in everything that is going on here, but every program, I think, has a few guys that don't either trust themselves or what's going on and don't understand the full work and effort that goes in every game week. So I can definitely agree with that and that's something that people have to find out as they go through their career as a college player.”
Senior tight end Matt Bahr, a converted offensive lineman, said many of his teammates have experienced a feeling of shock coming from very successful winning teams in high school to trying to help build a winner at CU. It has been a difficult adjustment and a learning process for those players.
Bahr said he appreciated the attempt by Embree to connect with players and get them to believe in themselves. Bahr admitted the scouting report Ohio State coaches provided to Embree on him was not positive, but it allowed him to see how another coaching staff outside of Boulder views him.
“Honesty is awesome in my opinion,” Bahr said. “When a coach is straightforward with you and tells you how it is, I'd rather have that than have it be a mystery. ...I think guys took it personally and it will help make our team better.”