Bill McCartney saw this coming.
Two years ago when Colorado fired Dan Hawkins and began looking for a new head football coach, McCartney threw his hat in the ring. In fact, it might be more accurate to say he approached CU officials with an idea.
McCartney, who has paid close attention to the program he built into a national champion since he left it at the end of the 1994 season, recognized an overall lack of talent on the roster. He told CU he would be willing to come back as head coach for several years and groom a coach to take over once the program was back on solid ground.
"What I was saying then was that recruiting really needed to be upgraded and in the process of doing that, it was going to be slow," McCartney said in an interview Wednesday. "I had no intentions of coming back into coaching for a long time. I just wanted to bridge the gap and make the transition between not having enough talent and getting the cupboard stocked again so that whoever came in after me would have a fair chance."
McCartney had two men in mind for the job long term, former CU tight end Jon Embree or former running back Eric Bieniemy. Both men also had shown interest in the job and CU ultimately hired Embree as head coach and Bieniemy as offensive coordinator.
Now, 21 months later with the Buffs off to an 0-2 start and coming off a disappointing loss to Sacramento State, a Football Championship Subdivision team, Embree and Bieniemy are in the cross hairs of frustrated and angry fans, some of whom believe the coaches are in over their heads.
McCartney said it is "absolutely" possible that if he was hired two years ago, he could have the same 3-12 record that Embree has produced to this point. McCartney, who has watched both of CU's games this season from the press box, said comparisons to the era when he took over the program in the early 1980s are on target. He said he sees Embree encountering many of the same problems he did and some he didn't.
The program left in Hawkins' wake was short on talent and starving for depth and unable to seriously compete in the Pac-12 Conference just like the team McCartney inherited from Chuck Fairbanks in 1982. But McCartney didn't have to turn around a program in a Twitter age where each decision a coach makes is analyzed within seconds and the scrutiny is tenfold.
"I absolutely think that if things were how they are now, they would have gotten me out of town in a hurry," he said.
Fans want results to come quickly. McCartney said he doesn't blame them, but he does believe they are over reacting, especially so early in the second season since the coaching change. He said progress is being made and he believes the overall talent on the roster is better now than last year, despite the Buffs' record.
In an interview with the Camera in November 2010, McCartney predicted it would be a slow climb out and he feared that fans already asked for patience during Hawkins' tenure would turn quickly against the new coach. It was part of his motivation for wanting to stand in the gap for a few years and take the bullets.
On Wednesday, McCartney said he hopes CU fans will hang in there with Embree and his staff. He said few staffs around the nation can match the overall experience at both the college and pro level of Embree and his assistants.
According to research by the CU sports information department, CU has more NFL experience (63 years) on its staff than any other college coaching staff in the nation. McCartney said there is more experience on the current CU staff than on any of his coaching staffs. He believes that will eventually pay off for the program.
"I mean this genuinely, wholeheartedly, sincerely, authentically. I believe these guys are going to get it done," he said. "I wish it were easier. I wish it were a quick fix, but I knew it wouldn't be. Did I think they were going to lose these two games? No. But am I blindsided? No.
"Everything rises and falls on leadership... The leadership on this team is excellent. It just needs to play itself out."