CU assistant coach Bobby Kennedy during spring practices.
CU assistant coach Bobby Kennedy during spring practices. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

There are eight men who go to work every day in the coaches' offices for the University of Colorado football program who have deep connections to the program. In some cases, those roots are dug in three or four decades, and it would probably surprise many to learn that first-year wide receivers coach Bobby Kennedy has been a Buff in his heart longer than men such Jon Embree, Eric Bieniemy, Darian Hagan and Kanavis McGhee.

Long before any of those men first came to Boulder from cities such as Denver, Los Angeles and Houston to play football, Kennedy was already here going to practices, attending games, watching Ralphie run on Saturday afternoons and cheering loudly in Folsom Field.

Sure, he's spent most of his adult life elsewhere learning the ropes in coaching and paying his dues, but he has been a Buff in spirit virtually all his life. Safe to say, he's thrilled to be helping to forge a better future finally on the inside of the program after so many years cheering from afar.

"This is a place I've always wanted to coach at," Kennedy said. "So for me being able to come back has really been a special thing, not only being around the different coaches and players, but also reconnecting with people that I went to high school with or that I went to kindergarten with."

Kennedy grew up in North Boulder on Elder Street. He attended Whittier Elementary and Casey Middle School which was called Casey Junior High at the time. He eventually moved on to Boulder High School where he became a star quarterback, but not quite good enough to play for the Buffs.

He was one of eight Kennedy kids and many of his siblings and their children still live in the area and are happy to have him back. His father was a professor at Colorado for 30 years and ran the Colorado Alliance for Science.

Kennedy used to ride his bike through downtown Boulder to the CU campus as a kid. He would park outside his father's office and sneak off to shag balls at football practices under former coach Chuck Fairbanks.

He idolized former quarterback Derek Marshall and tight end Dave Hestera and believes he might have gone to every CU home game throughout his junior high and high school years.

Kennedy first met his new boss, head coach Jon Embree, when he was a sophomore at Boulder High School and Embree was a senior tight end at Cherry Creek.

"I don't know if Bobby was there when we scored 28 points in the fourth quarter to beat them in Boulder," Embree said after a recent practice with Kennedy waiting a few feet away. "We're you there Bobby?"

"I was on the bench. They hadn't unleashed me yet," Kennedy said.

Eventually Kennedy left Boulder to play college football at Northern Colorado.

He began a career in coaching in the early 1990s right around the same time Embree was doing the same thing under former CU coach Bill McCartney. The two coaches started talking early in their careers when Kennedy was coaching at Wake Forest under current Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, a one-time CU assistant under McCartney. Embree considered joining Kennedy at Wake Forest but decided to stay in Boulder.

But a bond was formed and the two remained in touch over the years no matter where their careers took them. They often talked about the possibility of one day returning to Boulder to coach together.

"It was always kind of a goal of mine to get back to Colorado," Kennedy said. "So I knew he was a good guy to stay in touch with and over the years we have talked a lot. There was nobody happier than I was when he got the job."

Embree said when he was hired as head coach, bringing Kennedy back home was a no-brainer

"He's always been successful everywhere he's been," Embree said. "I wanted guys who have won championships, played for championships and been around big-time football."

Kennedy is well-traveled in coaching parlance. One of his first jobs as a graduate assistant was working under Joe Paterno at Penn State in 1992. He moved on to Wyoming, Washington, Arizona, Wake Forest and Texas, where he spent the past seven years coaching in the pressure-cooker of high expectations in Austin. He met his wife LaShonda along the way and has been married 13 years.

"I kind of ripped her away from some of the things that she was doing, but she knows it's a great opportunity for me," Kennedy said of returning to Boulder, the next stop in his life in coaching. "She's always been on board. She's always been really supportive. She knows the life of a college football coach. We are well-paid transients."

While Kennedy is happy to be back home and is looking forward to helping build the Buffs into a Pac-12 Conference power and a program that is once again nationally relevant, he also understands he will probably be forced to leave Boulder again to reach his ultimate career goal of being a head coach.

He already has interviewed for head coaching jobs and was a finalist for the Kent State job this offseason.

Kennedy has his work cut out for his first year in Boulder. He has two players in Paul Richardson and Toney Clemons who were highly thought of wide receiver recruits coming out of high school. Every other wide receiver on the roster is considered a project in one way or another.

With 13 consecutive games -- 11 against BCS conference schools -- this fall, it will be important for Richardson and Clemons to stay healthy and for Kennedy to coax as much as possible out of the others.

"We're not a finished product by no means," Kennedy said. "We've got a long ways to go. But the neat thing is that they want to be good and they have a thirst and a hunger to be good. So that's half the battle."