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Hall of Fame Profile: Bill McCartney

Courtesy: Jordan Edwards, Student Assistant SID
Release: October 13, 2006
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Bill McCartney led CU to the 1990 national championship.   By CUBuffs.com
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Editor's Note: It's Hall of Fame week here at CUBuffs.com, and we will feature all of this year's CU Athletic Hall of Fame inductees throughout the week. Today, we look at Bill McCartney, former CU head football coach that led the Buffaloes to the 1990 national championship. This year’s Hall of Fame festivities started last night, with the induction ceremonies at the Omni Interlocken Resort Hotel and the honorees will be introduced publicly at halftime of Saturday's game against Texas Tech.


Celebrated as one of the University of Colorado’s greatest coaches, former head football coach Bill McCartney will be inducted with this year’s edition of Buffalo greats into the CU Athletic Hall of Fame.

After serving as the defensive coordinator at the University of Michigan for six seasons, McCartney came to Colorado to replace Chuck Fairbanks as the head football coach in 1982, hoping to turn the Buffaloes’ depleted program into a national power.

“I feel very grateful for the time I spent at CU,” McCartney said. “I was really lucky to get the job. The circumstances with Chuck Fairbanks leaving, no head coach could apply in June. So when I was hired, I wasn’t up against any head coaches.”

While in his first season, Colorado managed only a 2-8-1 record. The following seasons saw gradual success, leading up to the 1989 season that saw the Buffaloes go 11-1, with their only loss coming against Notre Dame in the Orange Bowl.

However, when the final regular season poll for in 1989 was released, the Buffaloes held the school’s first No. 1 ranking. McCartney had taken only seven years to go from a 1-10 record to reaching the country’s top spot in the polls.


“After my first three years we had only won seven games,” McCartney said. “They stuck with me, and I am really thankful for that.”


The following year McCartney led Colorado to yet another sensational season, which concluded in a re-match against Notre Dame in another Orange Bowl game. The Buffaloes hung on for a thrilling 10-9 win and the 1990 National Championship.

“Only three times in the history of college football has the team with the most difficult schedule won the national championship,” McCartney said. “So many powerful teams build their reputation and momentum against inferior teams. We didn’t take any shortcuts in 1990 to win. We played the best; we met the challenge and won.”

Over the next four seasons, McCartney’s teams accumulated a 36-9-4 record. McCartney then announced his retirement in 1994. “It was very difficult to leave,” McCartney said. “I told the team I was leaving after the last regular season game. It was a very tough month between then and our bowl game. Turning away from something I had dreamed of doing was one of the hardest things I have ever done.”

He coached in 153 games with an overall record of 93-55-5 while at Colorado, with none being more memorable to McCartney than the 1994 game against his old team.

“In my last year we played Michigan in Ann Arbor,” McCartney said. “Both teams were undefeated and in the Top 5. We won on a Hail Mary pass with no time remaining (widely known as “The Catch”). Going back to where I trained and grew up, and winning the way we did was the most special game I have been apart of.”


Throughout his 13 year career, the Buffaloes won three straight Big Eight Conference titles and the school’s first ever national championship, turning CU into one of the nation’s premier football programs.

“There were really two significant things that made the program so successful,” McCartney said. “We had a very quality coaching staff. One had been a head coach on the professional level (Les Steckell) and one a head coach on the college level (Elliot Uzelac). Ten others went on to become head coaches. On top of that we had 68 players, over my 13 years, that went to play in the NFL. So those are two very special facts that made the program such a success.”

McCartney was honored as the Big Eight Coach of the Year on three occasions, the unanimous choice for National Coach of the Year in 1989, and UPI’s Coach of the Year in 1990. He was also inducted into the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame in 1996 and now stands in as a member CU’s sixth class of Athletic Hall of Fame inductees.

“It is certainly an honor to be inducted,” McCartney said. “I hold my experience with CU with great gratitude. The combination and quality of great academics, social life, athletics, and the outdoors is unmatchable. Those four things make Boulder the premier institution in the United States.”

It is without question that Bill McCartney’s contributions and legacy will live on forever in Buffalo lore; as he is the all-time winningest coach in Colorado football history and now enshrined with the best-of-the-best in the CU Athletic Hall of Fame.


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