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Rooney: Buffs’ new-look coaching staff facing tall tasks

Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre brought in several new coaches after going 5-7 last season.
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado head coach Mike MacIntyre brought in several new coaches after going 5-7 last season.

Here is one unintended consequence of having an earlier signing day for college football. And for coaching staffs across the country it can only be considered a good thing.

The earlier signing dates — football recruits could sign in a window just ahead of the holidays, and again this past cycle on Feb. 7 — meant those January and February weekends that typically were consumed by recruiting duties could instead be spent at home.

That’s not kicking-your-feet-up at home, but home as in hunkered down in staff meetings. And when your staff endures the upheaval typical of big-time college athletics, including the coaching shuffle witnessed this offseason at the University of Colorado, those extra weekends available for meetings instead of traveling can pay big dividends.

Head coach Mike MacIntyre’s new-look staff was on full display Saturday afternoon at the Buffaloes’ annual spring game. There were new hires working the sidelines at Folsom Field for the first time (cornerbacks coach Ashley Ambrose; quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper; defensive line coach Kwahn Drake) alongside a handful of familiar faces handling new or expanded duties, a list that includes safeties coach ShaDon Brown (now also the defensive passing game coordinator), offensive line coach Klayton Adams (co-offensive coordinator) and even Darrin Chiaverini, who retains his role as co-offensive coordinator while taking over the primary play-calling duties in the wake of Brian Lindgren’s departure for Oregon State.

Got all that? While not an uncommon level of coaching staff turnover, it nonetheless was a significant one. The earlier signing day for 2018 recruits left the group with more time to hit the ground running for spring practice.

“Me being a new guy coming in here, you have to adapt to the atmosphere,” said Ambrose, who is beginning his second coaching tenure in Boulder. “This staff is unbelievable. They’re really good guys. They care about the kids. They care about football. That makes the transition even easier when you have guys like that.

“We were able to get in early and see what these guys are doing and not feel behind the eight-ball. Even though I was a little bit, I could actually get in and see what we’re doing, how we do things, and get the terminology together. The first few weeks, you’re basically a student. Once I got a little used to it and understood what we were doing, I could roll my guys out and coach them up.”

A football staff that loses multiple coaches generally does so for one of two reasons — the program has been so successful those assistants are offered more lucrative opportunities, or the head coach wants to shore up a few perceived areas of weakness.

Coming off a disappointing 5-7 season on the heels of a Pac-12 South Division title in 2016, the Buffs fall squarely into that latter category. Lindgren was allowed to leave for the only Pac-12 school that won fewer league games than the 2-7 Buffs, while MacIntyre passed on retaining the services of former defensive line coach Jim Jeffcoat. As the 2017 season slowly became unraveled, so too did a team chemistry that was a strength of the 2016 team that reached the league championship game. Such fractions often originate from the top down, and adding fresh voices to the mix can only serve MacIntyre’s program well as the spring game recedes and preseason practices draw closer.

Those new voices will have their challenges. Drake is tasked with improving a defensive interior that offered little resistance in 2017, while Roper will be challenged to streamline the eye-popping yet frustratingly inconsistent talents of incumbent starting quarterback Steven Montez. Yet as memorable as the 2016 season was, that lone winning campaign in five seasons under MacIntyre called for a shakeup of the status quo.

How that shakeup translates to the field won’t be seen until the Buffs line up for the opening kickoff against Colorado State on Aug. 31. But adding fresh blood to the coaching mix certainly was a step in the right direction by MacIntyre.

“The good thing about the early signing day is we were able to meet more on those late weekends when you would’ve had a lot of visits,” MacIntyre said. “We were able to meet as a staff…which helped accelerate the knowledge of those guys, exactly what we wanted. That’s been going good. I’ve been very, very pleased with all three (new) guys and how we’ve bonded as a staff.”

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