A year ago, Phillip Lindsay took his game to another level.

The Colorado running back went from being a solid contributor early in his career to one of the most versatile backs in the country last season.

A lot of that credit goes to Lindsay, who is a tireless worker. It's no coincidence, however, that's Lindsay's breakout season came with Darian Hagan back on the sidelines.

"Coach Hagan brings a lot to the table for us," said Lindsay, now a senior with the Buffaloes. "He's actually brought out my game so much."

A star quarterback with the Buffaloes from 1988-91, Hagan led the Buffaloes to their only national title in 1990. Now, he's making his mark as a talented coach who is building a track record of success with his players.

"He's opened my mind up to so many things, to being more creative and not feeling I have to be a robot," said Lindsay, who enters his senior year 13th on CU's all-time rushing list (2,233 yards), with a chance to get into the top three. "Coach Hagan, he brings a different element to us."

This is Hagan's second season back on the sidelines, after working for five seasons (2011-15) in player development. He had previously coached CU's running backs for five seasons (2006-10), under head coach Dan Hawkins.

"It's not even a job to me," Hagan said of coaching. "It's a big playground, and I get to go out and have fun with it."

Coaching running backs is a natural fit for Hagan, who has been associated with some of the great runners in CU history.


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Hagan, in fact, is one of the best CU has ever had. As an option quarterback, he ran for 2,007 yards, most ever for a CU quarterback and 19th overall on CU's all-time list.

Hagan played with CU's all-time leading rusher (Eric Bieniemy) and two others in the top 20: Lamont Warren (12th) and J.J. Flannigan (17th).

As a coach, Hagan has mentored Rodney Stewart (No. 2 on CU's career list), Hugh Charles (No. 7) and now Lindsay.

"I never thought about that," Hagan said when told of all the great runners he's been associated with during his career. "I just want to see every person that comes to this university, especially in my room, I want them to reach their goals and aspirations and I take joy and pride in that."

A fiery, tough coach during his first stint on the sidelines, Hagan said last year that his approach would be different in his return to coaching. He said he was "more relaxed," and had gained perspective after the tragic loss of his 19-year-old son, who committed suicide in December of 2010.

"You have to find a way to coach each kid differently, but at the same time coach them the correct way and not discourage them," he said in February of 2016. "Make it a fun environment."

Hagan has done just that, and its helped to bring out the best in not only Lindsay, but other backs. Last year, Kyle Evans went from being a walk-on to the No. 2 tailback, gaining 346 yards.

"He's a great coach, especially because he's always a guy you feel you can go and talk to him - whether it's personal, football or whatever it is," Evans said.

Lindsay added: "There's not a day that coach Hagan is not laughing, not enjoying what he's doing. It makes you want to enjoy what you do too, because it's a privilege to be out here, it's an honor to be out here."

While Hagan makes it fun, he also makes his players better.

Lindsay said he appreciates Hagan's understanding of what a running back goes through physically, and credits Hagan for helping him see the game in a different way.

"He gave us a lot more creativity, a lot more leeway to do things, do different moves, to let you come outside your body," Lindsay said. "We do a lot of different kind of drills and different things that correlate into the game. You really don't understand it until you get into the game and you end up using that drill."

For Hagan, it's a fun challenge to teach his backs the intricate details of the position, while figuring out how to maximize the natural talent of each player.

"When I was in high school growing up, I was a running back and I know what it takes for the position," he said. "I know it's all about toughness, all about vision and desire. I just love instilling the different skill-sets in each kid."

So far, Hagan's approach has worked and its producing results. In the last 12 seasons, the three best individual performances by a CU running back - by Stewart in 2010, Lindsay last year and Charles in 2007 - came with Hagan as their coach.

"I am honored to be able to get coached by coach Hagan," Lindsay said. "For this last year, I need to put everything together. He believes in me and I just go out there and do what I have to do."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33.