University of Colorado officials say they are dedicating an unprecedented level of commitment and resources to hiring the best football coach they can find and they hope have that person in place soon.
Cincinnati coach Butch Jones withdrew his name from consideration from the job Thursday morning, turning down a five-year contract worth approximately $13.5 million after being courted by CU for a week. He would have been the highest paid coach in school history if had accepted the opportunity.
By late afternoon, Jones was suddenly the primary target in the search for a new coach at the University of Tennessee and CU officials were being criticized by fans and media members for allowing their top target to slip away.
"Amid the very competitive environment for college coaches right now, it is vital for CU to get the right fit: a coach who can take our program to new levels of success, who embodies and endorses our values, and who is committed to taking us to the highest levels of competition in the Pac-12 Conference," Chancellor Phil DiStefano said in a statement. "We are not deterred in our process of finding this special coach and our search continues."
School spokesman Bronson Hilliard provided more details on who is involved in the search and interviewing candidates and also defended the administration and its commitment to athletics.
Hilliard said athletic director Mike Bohn is responsible for identifying candidates for the job with the help of paid consultants and his team in the athletic department. Once a candidate such as Jones commits to an interview, others join the process and take part in the interview. They are professor Liz Bradley, Robert Boswell, vice chancellor of diversity, equity and community engagement, and George Solich, an alumni and one of the athletic department's biggest financial contributors.
Hilliard said DiStefano and president Bruce Benson also are involved in interviewing candidates.
Hilliard said the school did not receive a detailed explanation from Jones for why he turned down its offer. He was asked if an erroneous report by the Denver Post had a negative impact on talks with Jones.
"You would have to ask Butch Jones that question," Hilliard said. "While those reports were unfortunate, those things happen in the modern coach searching environment. They happen all the time."
The Post reported Wednesday night that a source confirmed CU had agreed to terms with Jones and Jones would be the next coach to lead the Buffs. The school and Jones quickly denied the report and Jones walked away from the offer Thursday morning.
Hilliard has been a part of numerous searches at the school and previously covered CU searches as a journalist. He described the search for the 25th full-time football coach in school history as, perhaps, the most coordinated and purposeful search he has seen.
"We had our people on the same page. We had our ducks in a row. We had our finances lined up. We had our candidate identified," Hilliard said. "We had everything that people say they want in a search. It just so happened that that candidates turned us down and made the decision that he thought was in the best interest of his family apparently.
"I don't think in anyway that is a reflection of failure on anyone's part."
The university was blistered with criticism on talk radio throughout the day Thursday and message boards and fan websites were filled with angst over the state of the program and finding a good coach to lead it.
Hilliard said the objective is to hire the best coach possible as soon as possible but that the school doesn't control all aspects of the process and coaching searches can be unpredictable.
"We want a coach who wants to be here," he said. "We think it's a great job. We think it's one the best jobs out there. It's a great campus. It's a program in a fantastic conference. It's a program with a proud and storied history. We acknowledge fully that in recent years we've had problems and we've had challenges that haven't been met. Nobody has any illusions about that."
One of the most common criticism from CU fans these days is directed at school administrators such as DiStefano and Benson by fans who don't believe they are fully supportive of athletics. Hilliard said that just doesn't hold up under scrutiny.
Hilliard said the school wants to compete at the highest level in all of the sports in which it competes. He said Bohn, DiStefano and Benson are using the same strategy to rebuild football that they used to improve the basketball programs. Hilliard pointed out that Wednesday night the school hosted the largest crowd for a men's basketball game in school history as CU beat Colorado State.
He said the school had been building toward such a night for years, beginning with a strategy for improving the basketball programs put in place by Bohn years ago.
"How can it be that an administration is not committed to athletics and doesn't know what it's doing when it has one of the most successful up-and-coming basketball programs in the country right now in one of the best conferences?" Hilliard said. "It was the same people at the table then working out a long-term strategy, making the administrative commitment to facilities and fundraising with donors and engaging with fans and changing the fan experience and getting good coaches and in each case those coaches made progress that was measurable in each year.
"The answer with football is, we're working along the same paradigm."
And the search goes on.
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