A lot has changed – especially the facilities – at Colorado since Jon Embree coached the Buffaloes.
Having held the job as CU’s head football coach, however, Embree has made it a point to be a resource for those who have followed him.
This week, Embree is preparing to work in Sunday’s Super Bowl LIV as the assistant head coach/tight ends coach for the San Francisco 49ers.
BuffZone.com will have more later in the week on Embree’s opportunity to take part in the Super Bowl, but the former Buffs’ tight end and head coach also took some time to talk about CU and its current head coach, Mel Tucker.
“I know him well,” Embree said. “I had dinner with him right after he got hired. I text messaged him after the Nebraska game and (Colorado State) game, and he’ll text right back. I’m excited for him.”
A 1983 graduate of Cherry Creek High School, Embree has had a long association with the CU program. He was a part of the first recruiting class for Buffs’ legendary coach Bill McCartney and was a four-year letterman. One of the best tight ends in CU history, he earned first-team All-Big 8 honors and was drafted in the sixth round of the 1987 NFL Draft, by the Los Angeles Rams.
In 1991, he got into coaching as a volunteer assistant at CU under McCartney. From 1993-2002, he spent 10 years as an assistant with the Buffs.
After three years at UCLA and four in the NFL, Embree returned to CU in 2011 as head coach. His tenure was short, however, as he was fired after the 2012 season, having gone 4-21.
During the last seven seasons, Embree has coached tight ends for the NFL’s Cleveland Browns (2013), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2014-16) and 49ers (2017-current), but has never been too far from the Buffs.
Embree still has his home in Boulder County and has made it a point to build relationships with both of his successors, Mike MacIntyre and, now, Tucker.
“It is a unique university and the inner workings of things or different issues, especially if you’ve been at other colleges, like Mel being at an SEC school,” Embree said. “That’s borderline like being in the NFL, as far as resources and all that stuff. If they ever have questions about that or anything like that, I just want to be available to help them and more just to kind of lend support when needed, and encouragement.”
Embree has been busy with the 49ers this season, but said he has watched the Buffs and has been impressed with Tucker’s first season at the helm.
“I think they’re slowly starting to take on his personality,” Embree said. “He’s a tough guy. He’s fair. I thought he did a good job getting players to buy in to what he’s trying to do.
“He’s trying to build the defense first, but not neglecting offense. The defensive backs and just some of the things they’re trying to do defensively: striking and trying to play with a little more violence or attitude. As he keeps getting guys in that understand what he’s trying to do and have the same level of passion of football that he does, he’ll start having even more success.”
Embree didn’t have much time to build his program at CU, but he has enjoyed watching some his former players find success in the NFL.
Topping that list is David Bakhtiari, who was the Buffs’ left tackle during Embree’s two seasons as head coach. After skipping his senior year, Bakhtiari was a fourth-round pick of the Green Bay Packers and he’s developed into one of the best tackles in the NFL. Ironically, Embree and the 49ers knocked Bakhtiari and the Packers out of the playoffs in the NFC title game on Jan. 19.
Las Vegas Raiders cornerback Ken Crawley, Tennessee Titans offensive lineman Daniel Munyer, Washington Redskins receiver Paul Richardson and Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Josh Tupou all played for Embree at CU.
Embree also recruited Denver Broncos running back Phillip Lindsay, New England Patriots receiver Devin Ross and Seattle Seahawks safety Tedric Thompson to CU, although he didn’t get a chance to coach them. And, he’s enjoying the Super Bowl ride with former Buffs’ cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, who has spent the past three years with the 49ers.
“Any time you see the CU guys, even just talking with Ahkello around here, it’s always good to talk with another Buff,” Embree said.