Bill McCartney grew up the son of a factory worker in Michigan attending Detroit Lions football games with his father when he was little. By the age of 7 he decided he wanted to be a coach and 65 years later it looks like a pretty good decision.

The National Football Foundation announced Tuesday morning McCartney has earned a place in the College Football Hall of Fame for his remarkable 13-year run as head coach at the University of Colorado from 1982 to 1994.

McCartney coached the Buffs to a national title, a Heisman Trophy, three Big Eight Conference titles and nine bowl games.

He is the seventh CU representative in the hall and the first coach from the school to receive the honor. He will be officially inducted in New York City on Dec. 10 and is a member of the first class scheduled to be enshrined in the new hall of fame in Atlanta in the summer of 2014.

"It's a surprise," McCartney said Tuesday afternoon at Benders restaurant in Westminster where he met members of the media to discuss the milestone day. "I knew that it was a long shot but I didn't ever let myself believe that this would happen. So now that it has, I'm overjoyed."

McCartney joins Byron White (1952), Joe Romig (1984), Dick Anderson (1993), Bobby Anderson (2006), Alfred Williams (2010) and John Wooten (2012) as hall inductees from Colorado.


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McCartney spent a lot of time smiling Tuesday while surrounded by family members and former players who drove across the city and the surrounding area to share the moment with him. McCartney admitted he hasn't done much smiling or much of anything recently after the death of his wife Lyndi in March.

"I've been very sad, very sad," McCartney said. "I can't let go of her, but this has really raised my spirits."

"...I wish Lyndi were here for this. She made so many sacrifices so that I could coach and Lyndi was all in. Lyndi hurt when we lost and she celebrated when we won. She was all in. She was everything you would look for in a coach's wife."

McCartney accepted congratulations from dozens of people, including CU athletic director Mike Bohn, with whom he shook hands. McCartney was publicly critical of Bohn and his bosses last year after they fired former CU coach Jon Embree after just two seasons on the job.

But McCartney, while making it clear he still stands behind Embree, said he has put the issue behind him and is moving forward.

"I'm not bitter," he said. "I'm a Buff.

"I'm past that now. The new coach Mac, I'm 100 percent behind him. I mean, his name is coach Mac."

Coach Mike MacIntyre now has even more to live up to in sharing the 'Coach Mac' moniker in Boulder with McCartney who was one of 14 members of the 2013 hall of fame class. The NFF wanted McCartney to come to New York and be a part of the announcement Tuesday morning but he chose not to preferring to be close to home, close to Boulder and place he raves about each chance he gets.

McCartney said he decided he wanted to be a coach at such a young age that it gave him time to prepare to be a good one and to learn from those who had gone before him. He said some of his primary influences were Dan Devine, Bo Schembechler, Adolph Rupp and Bobby Knight.

"Because I knew I was going to be a coach, I studied my coaches, I tried to imitate them and then I never wavered on that," he said. "I never thought, 'Well, I might want to do something else.'"

McCartney's coaching success began at the high school level in Michigan where he coached football, basketball and baseball. He coached the same school to the state titles in football and basketball in the 1973-74 school year, earning him job offers at the University of Michigan from both Schembechler and former Michigan basketball coach Johnny Orr.

McCartney's success then also infected his oldest son, Tom, with the coaching bug. Tom McCartney has been the football coach at Fairview High School since the 1990s. McCartney's grandson, T.C. McCartney, is also following in his grandfather's shoes as a graduate assistant coach for the CU football team.

When McCartney arrived in Boulder in 1982, he inherited a program that had gone 7-26 in the three previous seasons combined. He won seven games in his first three seasons combined and received a contract extension, something he says would not be allowed to happen in today's culture.

McCartney is responsible for pointing his finger at Nebraska shortly after being hired and saying the Cornhuskers were the team the Buffs would consider their rival and would aim to beat. By the end of the decade, McCartney had made that vision a reality by winning three straight Big Eight Conference titles and not losing to the Huskers in 1989, 1990 or 1991.

Colorado played for the national championship twice under McCartney in 1989 and 1990. Both times the opponent was Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl.

The Buffs were the sentimental favorite in 1989 entering the game unbeaten after rallying all season around the death of quarterback Sal Aunese to stomach cancer. But Notre Dame crushed CU's dream season by beating the Buffs to claim the title.

The Buffs won the rematch the next year, despite what was certainly one of the most questionable decisions of McCartney's coaching career. Late in a tight game he chose to punt to electric return man Raghib Ismael, who returned the kick for a touchdown. The return was called back by a clipping penalty and the Buffs beat the Fighting Irish 10-9.

The Associated Press voted the Buffs national champions, but McCartney's peers in the coaches' poll gave the title to Georgia Tech.

Some of the coaches were likely persuaded against the Buffs by a controversial win for the Buffs earlier in the 1990 season at Missouri. CU scored the winning touchdown over the Tigers on a fifth down mistakenly allowed by officials. It remains one of the iconic blunders in the history of the game.

McCartney coached 18 first-team All-Americans, including fellow hall of fame inductee Williams, who earned the honor three years ago. During his tenure, 43 Buffs were drafted into the NFL, including five first-round selections.

"He meant everything to me. He meant the world to me," former CU coach Darian Hagan said of playing for McCartney. "I think to me and a lot of other kids who come from the inner city and didn't have fathers in their lives we were all looking for that in a coach. He provided that guidance, that discipline and that tough love for us."

McCartney went 93-55-5 in his 13 seasons as coach to become the career leader in wins at the school.

McCartney was asked what the low point was for him during a CU career that included so many magical highs. He needed only a moment before providing the answer -- the 1986 loss to Colorado State.

"I can't remember ever going hard after a kid and him saying, 'Coach, I'm going to go to Fort Collins.'" McCartney said. "It never happened. So if you're not losing off the field, you shouldn't lose on the field. We only lost to them once. That was easily the lowest point of my coaching at Colorado."

McCartney nearly left CU that year to take over the program at Southern Methodist but he said he read a bible verse that addressed commitment and decided to stay in Boulder and see things through. It turned out to be another good decision.

He cut short his coaching career by at least a decade 19 years ago in his mid-50s in 1994 to devote more time and attention to his wife and family and found the Promise Keepers organization rooted in the same purpose.

Follow Kyle on Twitter: @KyleRingo.