Bill McCartney once led the University of Colorado to the ultimate prize in college football, and no football coach in school history has ever enjoyed as much success.

The life of McCartney, however, has been filled with as much heartache as triumph. ESPN's latest 30 for 30 special, "The Gospel According to Mac," doesn't pull any punches in telling the story of the man who is regarded as the greatest coach in CU football history.

The special, which debuted Tuesday night, runs about an hour and 41 minutes, not counting commercials.

It highlights Colorado's spectacular two-year run from 1989-90. The program goes in depth about the death of quarterback Sal Aunese and the impact it had on the undefeated regular season of 1989, and how that carried over into 1990. It also goes in depth about the 1990 championship season, with all of its ups and downs.

This is not so much a story about the 1990 champions, however. In fact, the 1990 team is hardly mentioned until 62 minutes in.

As the title suggests, this is a story about McCartney, his faith and how that faith shaped him as a man, as a football coach, as a father and husband and as a leader of men.

Directed by Jim Podhoretz, the special portrays McCartney as the beloved head coach that many still see him as today. Many of his players are featured in the film and all speak highly of the man who brought them to Boulder many years ago.

From start to finish, though, McCartney's personal life is the focal point and many of his flaws and trials are highlighted, including:


• As a high school coach in Michigan, he struggled with alcoholism. Soon after he joined the staff at Michigan, he "invited Jesus Christ to come into my heart," he said. McCartney said he hasn't had a drink in over 40 years.

• A key to CU's resurgence under McCartney was recruiting "the great black athlete," he said. Some of those great athletes, however, had a tough time in Boulder, including several run-ins with the police. McCartney had to re-recruit some of those athletes, who wanted to leave Boulder.

• McCartney never hid his beliefs, and that led to controversy in and around the CU campus. He founded Promise Keepers, which strengthened his faith, but also led to protests on campus.

• Early in McCartney's time at CU, his star quarterback, Aunese, got McCartney's daughter, Kristy, pregnant. That led to pain within the McCartney family, especially for Kristy, who initially felt her father supported Aunese more than her. Kristy said she felt "devastated" by that. Kristy and the family dealt with public scrutiny, including from opposing fans.

After retiring from coaching, McCartney confessed to his wife, Lyndi, that early in their marriage he had been with another woman after a night of drinking. That led to a year of pain and contention in their marriage, although the two later reconciled.

• In 2013, McCartney lost his wife, who died of emphysema. Lyndi was 70, and the two had been married for 50 years.

McCartney's flaws are certainly on display, but he is not portrayed in a bad light. Instead, he is portrayed as a man who used his trials to make him better, as well as using them to make his teams and his players better.

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at or