Andy Cross / The Denver Post
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Tad Boyle couldn’t contain his emotions.
Colorado basketball fans are well within their rights to debate the merit of the perpetual five-year contract the leader of the CU basketball program works under thanks to athletic director Rick George’s annual invoking of the contract’s automatic one-year extension. The same goes for the latest pay bump that will give $1.8 million and change per year to a coach who more than likely will finish his ninth season at the helm with just one NCAA Tournament win to his credit.
It’s a fascinating and somewhat original debate. How much bank does a coach earn for lifting a middling program to previously unseen heights — in Boyle’s case, an NIT Final Four and four NCAA Tournament berths in his first six seasons — when the luster of that run begins to fade? How much faith can be put into the potential of the near future, even as an injury-riddled rotation filled by youngsters seemingly is turning a corner at the right time of the season?
Yet this part of the equation isn’t up for debate: The sort of coach the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” crowd yearns for, a leader with NCAA tourney success highlighting his resume, won’t be coming to Boulder for $1.8 million per year. That figure that remains on the low end of the Pac-12 Conference pecking order. Moreover, love him or leave him, there is little chance Boyle’s replacement, whenever that day arrives, will have as deep-rooted a passion for the CU program as the Colorado born-and-bred Boyle.
Just look at last week’s postgame jubilation at USC.
Still stung by the Trojans’ rub-it-in-your face antics from a year earlier, Boyle couldn’t restrain himself once the clock ticked away, directing some emphatic fist-pumps toward the CU cheering section behind the Buffs’ bench (with his back turned to the USC bench, it should be noted) before beginning his walk through the postgame handshake line with a few more subtle fist pumps.
Sure, one can argue Boyle’s reaction was as petulant as the Trojans’ a year earlier. Yet given how rare a display it was from CU’s leader, as opposed to the scandal-riddled program being overseen by USC head coach Andy Enfield, Boyle deserves the benefit of the doubt. USC associate head coach Jason Hart apparently took umbrage at the reaction, jawing in Boyle’s face as they met in the handshake line. But if Hart’s feelings were hurt, there’s a phrase that comes to mind I can’t print here. It rhymes with “rough hit.”
If USC wants to be the sort of program that calls a timeout with 21 seconds left while holding a 12-point lead, and proceed to call a play for its two best players strictly to pad the score and rub it in, that’s the Trojans’ prerogative. More power to them. But when that opponent returns a year later and exacts a little payback…well, if that team celebrates on your floor, you’re required to shut up and take it.
The fact remains, Boyle isn’t going anywhere any time soon. When this year’s one-year extension was invoked at the turn of the new year, it elicited more than a few raised eyebrows. And deservedly so. The Buffs were coming off a listless showing at the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii, and at that point the promised progression by the young and talented core wasn’t showing through at game time.
This week, when the Board of Regents approved an annual pay raise of about $380,500 for Boyle, it arrived with that young core riding a four-game winning streak it will take into Sunday night’s home date against Arizona. In the perpetually ragged Pac-12, the Buffs’ patchwork rotation certainly could fall off the table again in a matter of a few games. Yet if they continue this run — amid season-ending injuries, a significant academic suspension, and myriad growing pains — when it’s all said and done it could be considered the best coaching job of Boyle’s nine seasons in Boulder.
Fans can question the merits of Boyle’s annual extensions and the pay raise all they want. It’s a valid debate. Just don’t question how thickly the man’s blood runs black-and-gold.