One by one, people kept coming up to Mike MacIntyre to tell stories about his father.

At Nashville's Forest Hills Baptist Church, they told stories of long ago, when George MacIntyre coached them in high school or college football. They also told stories of lessons that George taught them; lessons that sometimes didn't register until a decade or two later, but still remain.

"I saw all those young guys that are now 40, 50 and 60 coming up there with story after story," Mike said in recalling the funeral of his father, who passed away on Jan. 5 at the age of 76 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis. "Most of them were life-changing moments that my dad had with them. That made me realize what I'm doing on a daily basis really does matter."

Like his father years ago, Mike is now in charge of a large group of young men who make up a college football team. The fourth-year head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes has known football all of his life.

This past season, though, Mike was challenged like never before. Developing a game plan to try to win a game is one thing. Developing a game plan for how to deal with life's cruelties is another.

"Life is precious, and there's different stages that everybody hits in life," Mike said. "Very fortunately, I didn't hit it until I was 50."

Up until this past year, Mike had not had much experience dealing with the death of those close to him. But, since last summer, Mike and his wife, Trisha, have each had to say goodbye to a parent, as well as the family dog of 15 ½ years.


"Mainly it was my wife and I leaning on each other," he said of how they've handled the past year, "and then a tremendous amount of prayer and faith in Jesus Christ."

George had battled MS for more than 20 years and been bed-ridden for years. Then, in January of 2015, Trisha's mother, Jenny Rowan, was diagnosed with cancer.

As Mike began CU's 2015 season, a season filled with so much hope, the health of George and Jenny deteriorated.

On the evening of Oct. 3, Mike and the Buffaloes battled Oregon at Folsom Field, but earlier that day, Mike got a call that both George and Jenny were heading to the same Nashville hospital.

"I think it hit (Mike) that day," said Matt MacIntyre, Mike's younger brother. "It hit all of us, but I think it hit him especially. That day was kind of tough, that weekend was tough."

In watching George and Mike develop careers as coaches, Matt has marveled at how football coaches are able to compartmentalize their lives. Mike did that last season, but Matt said he knows it was a struggle for his brother.

"I think it was hard for him to all of a sudden think, 'I can't compartmentalize all this,'" Matt said. "He never said that to me, but I think he was like, 'Oh my gosh, I can't believe all that's happened and I'm not there to do anything.'"

As the Buffaloes struggled through a 4-9 season, Mike stayed in Boulder and continued to get in front of the cameras several times a week and put on a brave face. Meanwhile, Matt handled affairs in Nashville, and Trisha was back and forth between the two cities.

"A lot of time my time was spent honestly in prayer and reading and understanding and reflecting," Mike said. "What I chose to do is I chose to remember all the good moments from my mother in law and all the good moments with my dad. When you choose that, there's a lot of them and it fills your heart with joy."

Not all the moments were filled with joy, though.

Perhaps the toughest week came late in the year. Jenny, who Mike has known since he was 13, passed away on Nov. 11, and two days later, the Buffs played USC on a Friday night at Folsom Field. That night, the Buffs lost a heart-breaker, 27-24, while starting quarterback Sefo Liufau suffered a season-ending injury. That added to Mike's emotional week, as he's very dedicated to his football family.

The next morning, MacIntyre flew to Nashville for Jenny's funeral. He was back two days later to begin working on a game plan for facing Washington State, and that may have been a good thing for Mike, Matt said.

"He's always had football," Matt said. "Football is not the most important thing in his life, by any means, but I think he's always had it and he's always been good at it.

"I used to kid him about it, but the more I think about it, it's more of a compliment: if it's not in Mike's Bible, his family or his playbook, he probably doesn't know much about it."

Turning to football can only do so much, though. Mike got through the season and dove right into recruiting.

"There's really no true down time, so to speak, or just kind of taking a deep breath," Mike said. "I guess it does wear on you a little bit."

Finally, during the holidays, Mike and Trisha were able to take a few days to visit Nashville and enjoying their final moments with George.

"I felt like I knew when I walked out of there that would probably be the last time I saw him," Mike said.

Less than two weeks later, George passed away.

"My brother called and I was smiling and crying at the same time," Mike said. "When you see somebody fight and fight and fight and their body is kind of destroyed, it's kind of to the point where they're going to be better off."

Over the next few days, Mike and Matt spent time in Nashville preparing for the funeral and enjoy each other's company.

"Mike came out and spent four or five days with me, which he's never done before," Matt said. "He wasn't on the phone recruiting or anything. It was just a peaceful time for him. It wasn't super sad. We laughed the whole time pretty much about stuff that dad had taught us or said or done."

After several weeks of reflection, Mike said there's no question in his mind how he got through the toughest season of his life. He leaned on his faith in God, his belief that he'll see Jenny and George in the afterlife and his loving wife, Trisha.

"My wife and I are really close ... but we're even closer now," Mike said.

As he looks forward to his first season without George, Mike is fueled not only by the lessons his father taught him over the years, but by all those stories he heard at George's funeral.

"I've had a great sense of purpose, but it's given me more of (the belief) that this is definitely what I love doing," Mike said. "It's given me more to represent his legacy, in a lot of different ways. Yeah, it's kind of given me a little more boost."

The 2015 season is the toughest Mike has ever been through, but it's a season that is sure to stick with him for years to come.

"When you're going through it you wouldn't say that," he said, "but you've kind of come on the other side of it now, and I would say it was an unbelievable growth year."

Brian Howell:, on Twitter: @BrianHowell33.