Yet, in directing the Colorado football program, head coach Jon Embree and his staff has had to practice patience, along with a few other traits, in trying to get the Buffaloes on solid ground once again.
"You've just got to be true to your vision, your plan and your program and just keep doing it," Embree said.
The vision is clear. The Buffs were once a nationally ranked program, even winning a championship in 1990, and they want to get there again. The path to national prominence -- or even national relevance -- is not easy, though.
Colorado enters the 2012 season looking to snap a streak of six consecutive losing seasons. The Buffs haven't been to a bowl game in five years. They haven't finished a season in the top-25 since a No. 20 ranking to close the 2002 season. They haven't hit the 10-win mark since 2001. And, 1995 was the last time they finished a season among the nation's top five.
Embree, of course, came into Boulder believing he can get the Buffs back to a national stage. Every coach hired at every school believes that.
"Sometimes you have an inflated sense of self worth that you're able to go in and you're just going to be able to accomplish something no matter what because you're different or you've been there or this or that," former CU head coach Gary Barnett said, speaking generally and not about Embree specifically. "It doesn't happen that way. It doesn't happen fast."
A plan in place
As proud as Colorado is about its football tradition, the truth is that the program has grown accustomed to losing over the past decade. It hasn't been an elite program in more than 15 years.
When Embree was hired in December 2010, he talked about having a "new standard" and achieving "excellence." He spoke about regaining the "luster of this great program" and honoring the tradition. At that time, Embree acknowledged it would take some time, but added, "I'm not a patient person."
Being a head coach for the first time has forced Embree to gain some patience. He wasn't happy with a 3-10 season last year, and he won't be happy with a losing season this year.
Still, Embree realizes that staying the course is of utmost importance.
"You have to, because for one, I believe in what we're trying to do and how we have to do it to be successful," he said. "And, the players know. For you to be successful, the players have to know what you're trying to do and how you're trying to do it. If all of a sudden you just start doing stuff out of left field and try to pull things out of midair to try to get a quick fix, then you're just going to end up in the same spot."
Embree said he's seen coaches go for the quick fix, and it doesn't accomplish the ultimate goal.
"Generally what ends up happening is you don't end up being successful," Embree said. "One year, good or bad, doesn't make a program. It's about consistently being whatever the level is, top-20, top-10, top-5. Whatever it is, it's about that consistency. There's only one way to do it, I believe, and that's sticking to whatever your game plan is, from recruiting, from everything."
The plan laid out by the CU staff includes the building of a roster filled with high quality players that possess good character. It also includes establishing offensive and defensive systems that the players can grow into and which will give the Buffs an identity.
Be ready to adjust
While holding true to the plan, Embree and Barnett both said a coach has to be willing to adapt after taking over a new program. Barnett said the plan a coach has at the time of his hire is often not the same as it is after a few months, or a full season, on the job.
"The most complex piece of it is you come in thinking that you know what the problems are because people have told you or maybe you were there before," said Barnett, who was the head coach at Northwestern before coming to CU. "Then after six months you have to change your course because you have a much more realistic idea of what your problems are and the direction you need to go."
Embree has learned that already.
"I say that you have a plan, but now you also have to be able to adapt to things," Embree said. "Sometimes you may have to slow certain aspects down and then speed certain aspects up as it dictates with your team and your personnel and other issues."
During the 2011 season, the Buffs displayed an ability to adjust and utilize the personnel on board. When a coach doesn't do that and doesn't adapt to the job, it can be ugly.
"I've seen instances where what you bring in and try to do quickly just doesn't work and it's not a good fit," Barnett said. "Michigan is a perfect example. Rich Rodriguez, his style, the kind of kids he wanted to play with, etc., wasn't a fit in three years and probably was never going to be a fit there. I don't think Rich changed and, as a result, he's somewhere else now."
Rodriguez went 15-22 in three seasons at Michigan before being fired in 2010. He's now entering his first season at Arizona.
Embree is hoping to stick around a bit longer. He's also hoping fans can show a little more patience than they did at Michigan.
"It's tough for fans," Barnett said. "It's not so hard in August and July, but it's really hard in October and November to be patient.
"The average fan on the outside doesn't quite understand the complexities and everything that goes into it. Sometimes they think it's just about players and sometimes they think it's just about the coaches. In reality, it's so much more and it's never one thing. It's always a multiple of things and Colorado is that way, as well."
As CU looks to rebuild, it is trying to fix a lot of areas of the program. Depth, talent and experience on the roster have been issues over the years and continue to be. Experience in the coaching staff is a factor, too. Embree never had been a head coach. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy never had been a coordinator. And, defensive coordinator Greg Brown never had been in a situation where he had a coordinator job to himself.
"They have a learning curve just like the kids have a learning curve," Barnett said. "I think sometimes it takes a year for that to happen and I think that's probably right on point. Probably Jon knows a lot more about responsibilities and headaches that come with being a head coach and how to adapt and work with them.
"From what I can tell, it looks like they're all so much further along than they were last year."
In addition, Embree and his staff have taken on a daunting task of changing the culture, establishing winning traditions and honoring the great history of the program.
Along with that, they have made it clear, through suspensions of players for various off-the-field issues, that they won't tolerate players who don't honor the university and the football program. The message: Wins are not as important as the integrity of the school and football program.
"We probably wouldn't have had the suspensions last year if I was concerned about having to win or needing to win or compromising some things," Embree said. "There some other things around here, if I wasn't going to stick to the plan and the vision for what I have for this program I would have compromised, but then you wouldn't see the close-knitness of this team, you wouldn't see the kind of energy you're seeing now, I believe."
It's been done before
Embree certainly isn't the first coach at CU who has taken on such a daunting task. In 1982, Bill McCartney inherited a CU team that had posted three straight losing seasons. McCartney then went 7-25-1 in his first three years.
"It's hard to do in a year," Barnett said. "Unless you're coming in and taking over for a program that's hitting on all cylinders, which Jon certainly didn't do, then I think it's going to take you four years before you've got the kids that were already here ingrained in your system and the kids that you brought in trained the way you want them trained."
Even McCartney needed four years to build a winner. His fourth team at CU went 7-5 and snapped a seven-year bowl drought. He never had a losing team again and when he retired after the 1994 season, he handed a national power to Rick Neuheisel.
Embree saw McCartney's work up close. He was one of McCartney's first recruits in 1983 and played for him from 1983-86. From 1993-2002, he was a CU assistant, working under McCartney, Neuheisel and Barnett.
By practicing patience and sticking to the plan, Embree and his staff could follow the same path McCartney took, and the Buffs would be much more likely to achieve long-term success.
"You want to win now," Bieniemy said. "You always, in this profession, understand the importance of now. Selfishly, I want to win a national championship this year. But, let's start off with Step 1. Let's get our players understanding that, hey, let's compete at a high level, let's go to a bowl game. Anything after that is a bonus and we'll build it from there."
That doesn't mean they're willing to accept losing, however. Remember, Embree isn't a patient man.
"The goal is to go to a bowl game," Embree said. "That's the goal. We have to reach our goal for me to not be disappointed. Yeah, we could still make strides and not go to a bowl game, but the stride that we want to make is finding a way to get to a bowl game."
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