BOULDER - Tad Boyle falls into that large group of those not being 100 percent certain of how to define "players' coach." But we'll venture onto a limb here and predict that when the anxiety clears and his new group in the University of Colorado men's basketball program sees him for what he is and what he represents, that tag won't be nebulous anymore.
It will size him and his ideals up pretty well.
At 8:15 a.m. Monday, not 12 hours after he'd been offered the CU job, Boyle was in the Coors Events Center meeting the returning Buffs. When the introductions were done, Boyle issued a Day 1 assignment, an ice-breaker really: Write down the names of three people who have impacted your lives the most.
Of course, he's older (47) than his new players, but Boyle's list can go about six deep - deeper if he desires. There's his former high school coach (Greeley Central's Larry Hicks); one of his former college coaches (Larry Brown of Kansas); KU teammate and boss at Wichita State, Mark Turgeon, now at Texas A&M; former Jayhawks student John Calipari, now at Kentucky; ex-KU assistant and NBA coach Bob Hill . . . he could go on.
Boyle has stayed particularly close to the well-traveled Brown, now the coach of the Charlotte Bobcats. In fact, after informing Northern Colorado President Kay Norton on Sunday night that he was leaving for CU, Boyle's second telephone call went to Brown, whose endorsement of Boyle proved mighty for the CU search committee deliberating on a successor for Jeff Bzdelik.
Boyle's telephone call made Brown's night, and he was still reveling in the good news on Monday. "I've had a lot of nice things happen to me, but this is one of the greatest things, one of the greatest compliments . . . . It's a great day for me, but an unbelievable day for Colorado," Brown said.
Lots of incoming coaches talk of landing their "dream job." It happened a week ago at CU when former Buffs player Linda Lappe returned as the women's coach. It happened a couple of days later when the mercurial Bzdelik was introduced as Wake Forest's head coach.
But it seemed a bit more natural, a bit less contrived, coming from Boyle, a Coloradan (yes, he "defected" to KU out of Greeley Central, but that's not to be held against him) who returned to the business world in Boulder, worked as a high school coach to try and placate his hoops Jones, then began the college ascent that brings him to CU.
"This is it, there's no doubt," Boyle said. "I remember Mark Turgeon and I talking when I was working for him at Wichita State. He said where do you want to be 10 years from now? I told him I want to be the head coach at the University of Colorado.
"This absolutely is a dream job for me; it's a destination job. Being a Colorado guy, growing up in this state, playing high school basketball and coaching here, to be at the flagship university, I'm humbled and honored.
"This is where I want to be . . . . Nobody, nobody will put more of their heart and soul and passion into this job than I will. And that's one thing I tried to convey to the committee I interviewed."
Boyle has returned to KU's storied Allen Fieldhouse only once since he left Lawrence in the mid-1980s. He's made more trips than that to the Events Center; he and his upwardly mobile UNC team visited in late October for a scrimmage against what would be Bzdelik's last CU team - and by all accounts, the guys from Greeley enjoyed a happy bus trip home.
Boyle remembers the Buffs as being in an early season, still-formative stage. Honestly, he was more "dialed in" to how his team was progressing, but he couldn't help but notice there being talent on team he would inherit six months later.
"(CU) had some guys grow and develop as the season went on," Boyle said. "I just want to grow and continue that, continue to build on the momentum that's been built here."
But during his high school years and upon his return to Boulder after graduating from KU, momentum and CU hoops often were mutually exclusive terms. He knows he hasn't signed on at a school that exudes recent glowing basketball tradition.
"It's always been a little inconsistent . . . there have been pockets of success here and there," he said. "You've had teams and players who've been successful here and there, but what they've lacked is stability. What I bring is a love and a passion for this state. Previous coaches, they've certainly had their successes along the way, but sustainable success is what I'm looking forward to achieving here."
At his first team meeting early Monday morning, Boyle emphasized to the Buffs that he knew the emotion upheaval they were feeling after the coaching change. He lived it in Lawrence, playing his first two years for Ted Owens and his last two for Brown.
Boyle's October trip to the Events Center had been as a visiting coach; Monday's return was as CU's head coach - a "very, very ironic" turn of events that he conveyed to the Buffs.
"It was something I talked to them about . . . you never know what's going to be around the corner in your life," he said. "Our lives can all change very quickly. Change can be unsettling at times, but from my experience it's been very positive as well - if you take the right attitude.
"I've been in their shoes. After my sophomore year, I went through a coaching change; I understand what they're going through. It's going to take time for them to get to know me and me to get to know them. I'm going to try and speed that process up as quickly as I can. Nobody is more important to me right now than the players in this program - to retain them and get them excited about the future and the vision I have for Colorado basketball."
Although Boyle has recruited in the Big Sky Conference for the past four seasons, he believes his background at Oregon, Tennessee and Wichita State has prepared him to recruit in the Big 12 Conference.
"It's certainly a different animal than what I've faced the last four years," he conceded. "I'm very comfortable at this level, but, yeah, it is a different level than what I'm coming from recently. What makes it challenging right now is where we are in the recruiting process (the spring signing period began last Wednesday and runs through mid-May).
"We're going to salvage what we can salvage, and there will be some opportunities to get involved with some players - I just don't know how many at this point."
He calls making something of the spring signing period "priority No. 1A," with assembling a staff No. 1B. Topping both of those is re-recruiting the players already on the roster, convincing them that growth can come through change and that although his might not have been the face some of them expected to see early Monday, he is willing and capable of pushing them to an NCAA Tournament berth next March.
"Those kids will understand the difference between coaching and criticism," Brown said. "Tad doesn't have a negative bone in his body, but you'd better believe there's a toughness, a real competitive nature, there."
At mid-afternoon Monday, Boyle returned to Greeley for a meeting he termed "probably the hardest thing I'm going to have to do in my life." UNC was his first head coaching job. Telling the nucleus of players that climbed from 4-24 in his first season to 25-8 this season - it was the most wins in school history - that he was leaving weighed heavily on him.
"I don't know how to define 'players' coach,' but I care about our guys, I care about kids and trying to make them better," he said. "The one thing the Colorado players will learn about me is that I care."
He cares about them, cares about being at CU - and staying put. Mentors and peers believe his stay will be lengthy.