Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Despite a losing streak that has put bowl eligibility in doubt, Colorado football players weren’t expecting to play their final game without head coach Mike MacIntyre.
On Sunday, one day after a 30-7 loss to Utah that extended the Buffs’ losing streak to six, athletic director Rick George gathered the team together and told them he had made the decision to fire MacIntyre.
“We were a little bit surprised about it,” running back Travon McMillian said Monday, the first day players were made available to the media. “We didn’t expect it right after a game like that, but it is what it is. It’s the business side of what we do and we’re full-go with Rick George’s decision. We’re going to support his decision and just try to focus.”
The Buffs (5-6, 2-6 Pac-12) play at California (6-4, 3-4) on Saturday and can, with a win, earn bowl eligibility. Quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper will be the interim head coach at Cal.
While preparing to win a game, the Buffs have had to deal with the shock of not having MacIntyre there to lead them. No player has been harder by the news than MacIntyre’s son, Jay, a senior receiver.
On Sunday, Jay posted a picture on social media of him scoring a touchdown against Nebraska on Sept. 8. In the background of the picture is Mike, jumping in celebration.
“As I look at this picture I see my coach, who happens to be my dad in the background running down the sidelines with his hands in the air,” Jay wrote on social media. “A coach who cared for his players deeply and changed the whole entire culture of Colorado football. Words can’t describe how awesome of a ride it’s been with you by my side at CU these past five years. We won the Pac-12 south, beat Nebraska in Lincoln and ultimately changed what people thought of the CU logo. No one will ever know how much you, me, and our whole family put into the program. Our hard work has payed (sic) off in ways that not everyone will see, but we know that we have given it our all. I love you coach and am FOREVER proud to be a MacIntyre.”
Linebacker Drew Lewis said the Buffs have been rallying around Jay, who has been a starting slot receiver and punt returner during his career with the Buffs.
“Yeah, we’re definitely going to try to bring up Jay,” Lewis said. “One thing he said that really stuck with me was this is the first time in all of his years in college he’s walked into that team meeting room and his dad wasn’t there. That hit home. He’s going through a lot right now. I think we’re all doing a really good job of sticking up for him.”
Jay certainly isn’t the only player hit hard by MacIntyre’s departure.
McMillian, a graduate transfer in his first and only season with the Buffs, said he feels bad for MacIntyre and thanked him for bringing him to Boulder this season.
“I have a really personal relationship with him and JayMac, so it’s hitting me really hard,” McMillian said. “I’m really fortunate that he’s coached me and I’m really grateful that he gave me the opportunity to come here and be here. I texted him yesterday, telling him that I’m going to miss him and I’m going to be praying for him that he can find a job elsewhere and be successful.”
Several other players posted their thoughts on social media.
Cornerback Delrick Abrams, a junior college transfer in his first season at CU, wrote, “Thanks for everything Coach Mac. I really appreciate everything you did and for giving me the great opportunity to play in the Pac-12.”
Freshman offensive lineman Kanan Ray wrote: “I’m forever thankful for Coach Mac and everything he’s done for me and my teammates. He took a chance on me when a lot of people counted me out and I’ll forever be thankful. Go Buffs.”
Former players expressed their feelings, as well.
Ryan Moeller, a former safety who finished his career in 2017, wrote of MacIntyre, “You gave me an opportunity that changed my life. You reached out to me when I was down. You cared for me after my car accident, and you taught me countless things. You treated me like family. You treated me with respect. You treated me like the man you knew I was. I owe you so much, and I am so happy that I was able to experience this journey with you.”
While emotions are high for the Buffs this week, McMillian said the reality at this point is that “we have to move on and focus on Cal. That’s our main focus right now as a team.”
Lewis said the past couple of days have been “an emotional roller-coaster,” but that he knows how coach MacIntyre would want them to approach this week.
“What we do know for a fact is that he’d want us to finish the season well, not necessarily for him – ideally we want to do it for him – but just to finish this last game with the win and secure the bowl bid is the most he can ask for us,” Lewis said. “He’s definitely still hoping for the best for us. We know he’s going to be watching us and we’re going to try to do it for him.”