Twenty-five years ago, Tad Boyle gambled on himself.
A high school coach at Longmont who had been building a career in the business sector, Boyle was not quite 10 years removed from his playing days at Kansas when the bug to get back into major college basketball became an itch too pervasive to ignore.
The first steps in fulfilling that dream took Boyle to Eugene, Oregon.
Among the Colorado Buffaloes’ rivals in the Pac-12 Conference, it is the University of Oregon alone that still holds a small but meaningful soft spot in Boyle’s heart. Now in his 10th season at CU, Eugene is where Boyle’s collegiate coaching journey began 25 years ago. He returns to Oregon on Thursday for what will be one of the biggest regular-season games of his CU career, as the 16th-ranked Buffs visit No. 17 Oregon with first place on the line in the Pac-12 (7 p.m. MT, ESPN).
“I’ll be forever grateful to Jerry Green, who was the coach there at the time who hired me,” Boyle said. “A guy whose name is on the court, Pat Kilkenny. He was a booster, he later became the AD after I left. He’s a great supporter. I think the baseball field is named after him. The basketball court has his name on it. He, to this day, has been a tremendous supporter and friend of mine since my days at Oregon.
“There’s just so many guys that the relationships I built back then that are still with me to this day. I certainly don’t see those guys on a day to day basis like I did back then, but the relationships are still there.”
Boyle spent three seasons under Green at Oregon, beginning with the 1994-95 season that ended with a first-round loss for the Ducks against Texas in the NCAA Tournament.
Green arrived at Oregon from Kansas, where he was part of Roy Williams’ staff. That Jayhawks connection allowed Boyle an introduction with Green, yet not as much as one of Green’s first staff hires, Mark Turgeon. Boyle’s former teammate at KU proved to be an influential force in his own coaching career, as Boyle eventually followed Turgeon to Jacksonville State and then Wichita State, which set the stage for Boyle to take over the head coach job at Northern Colorado. His success in his hometown of Greeley eventually led to his hiring at CU.
It was a pivotal three years in Eugene for Boyle both personally and professionally. In those days, the third assistant coach was a restricted earnings position, a rule eventually eradicated by a class action lawsuit. But Boyle, then a newbie to college coaching, packed up his bags for Eugene to take on a job that paid about $16,000 a year. By contrast, he earned a $30,000 incentive just this past Saturday when CU notched its 19th victory of the regular season.
Not only was it Boyle’s first collegiate coaching job, but he also married his wife the summer before his final season in Eugene in 1996, with the lowly-paid assistant begging the athletics personnel to let him use one of the rooms at Autzen Stadium for the reception.
“Mark Turgeon was my in. I didn’t know Jerry Green well. Probably not well enough for him to hire me,” Boyle said. “But coach Turgeon vouched for me and I kind of got the job by default, quite frankly. The third assistant was a restricted earnings assistant making $16,000 a year. Five guys turned it down and I was the one stupid enough to take it. But I’m forever grateful for coach Green hiring me and the three years I spent at Oregon were just a wonderful three years just in my life personally and professionally, obviously, just starting to be a college coach. I married my wife and started our journey together. I still have great friends there.”