BOULDER - When Colorado enters the Pac-12 Conference next fall, Jon Embree might be leaning a little more heavily on three members of his football staff for premium information on the Buffs' new opponents.
Offensive line coach Steve Marshall, defensive line coach Mike Tuiasosopo and defensive coordinator/secondary coach Greg Brown came to CU from Pac-10 schools, with Tuiasosopo's seven-year tenure at Arizona the longest among the trio.
Marshall, making a second stop in Boulder, spent the past two seasons on the California staff, while Brown returns to CU after one season coaching alongside Tuiasosopo at Arizona.
Embree predicted the threesome's knowledge of the Pac-10, which adds CU and Utah next season, will be "invaluable" to him in terms of fundamental football information and recruiting.
Embree and Tuiasosopo first became acquainted when Embree was recruiting for CU and Tuiasosopo coached at Berkeley (Calif.) High School. Embree helped lure a couple of Tuiasosopo's top players - linebacker Hannibal Navies and defensive back Rashidi Barnes - to Boulder.
But other than turning out good college prospects, Tuiasosospo made an impression on Embree in how he interacted with players and how he didn't bow to then-Oakland Skyline High School coaching legend John Beam.
"At that time, when I went to their school, he was the only coach who wasn't afraid of Skyline," Embree said. "Skyline, hands down, was the school in the Bay Area. But 'Tui' had this competitiveness; he'd say we're going to beat them and get after them . . . he did a great job with those kids."
Embree then followed Tuiasosopo's career stops at Utah State and Utah, watching how Utah State's D-line played against the Buffs in Boulder in 1998. CU won 25-6, but Embree remembers the Buffs surrendering "eight or nine sacks . . . and a lot of it was just the front four. Sometimes sacks can be misleading because of blitzes, but he does a great job of getting pressure with four.
"He was in a program (at Arizona) that's similar to ours. He's not afraid to build, to compete. He never made excuses when I was at UCLA and we were playing. He never said we don't have the guys, we don't have this or that. He always got his players to produce. That was what it was about me wanting to have Mike Tuisasopo on my staff. And he's a heck of a recruiter."
Asked if leaving Arizona to join a first-year head coach's first staff required a leap of faith, Tuiasosopo laughed and answered, "It depends on how you describe a leap of faith. It's not blind faith, I can tell you that. I have great respect for Jon as a person and as a coach. I've always wanted to work with Jon. It's a great opportunity at a great school."
In Marshall's case, he, Embree and Bieniemy were on Gary Barnett's CU staff earlier this decade. Each moved on - Embree and Bieniemy to UCLA, Marshall to the NFL, first Houston, then Cleveland, then back to the college game at California. Saying Marshall is well-traveled is like saying Buckingham Palace is well-appointed; counting this stop at CU, he's worked on 13 college campuses since 1979.
But he's recognized among the nation's top O-line coaches, and when he and Embree crossed paths in the NFL - usually when Embree was with the Kansas City Chiefs, Marshall with the Browns - Embree remembers Marshall "always bringing up Colorado. He'd say, 'Hey, how the Buffs going to be this year? Man, I watched last year and couldn't believe it.' He has a fondness for this place.
"And you've got to have that. Plus, you've got to be confident enough in what you're going to do and competitive enough that you're going to come in and get it done. I've also known guys who worked with him at Cleveland and Houston and they couldn't say enough good things about him."
Marshall likes Boulder enough for a rare re-run. He called the decision to return "a no-brainer . . . my wife and I really enjoyed our first time here, when I was on the staff with Jon and Eric and we had such great camaraderie. And I've stayed in touch with Brian (Cabral) through the years. I enjoyed my two years at Cal; (coach) Jeff Tedford is a fine man and has done a fine job there, but this was too good an opportunity to pass up."
In his final season at CU (2001), the Buffs won their only Big 12 Conference championship, with Marshall's line a huge factor. It featured Andre Gurode, whom Marshall at the time called the best O-lineman he'd coached. Turns out, Marshall's eye for talent is sharp. Playing for the Dallas Cowboys, Gurode has been a five-time Pro Bowl selection.
"Andre Gurode and Dan Graham (former 2001 CU tight end now with the Broncos) - they ain't coming through that door," Marshall said with a laugh. "So it's a whole new deal now. These kids here are going to have to create their own legacy - and they'll have a great opportunity in the Pac-12. I really don't know any of the guys here and I think that'll be a blessing. They're going to have a great opportunity to show what they have. The best five will start, the next best five will back up.
"Any great team I've been around starts with those guys . . . that's the onus I want to put on them - the accountability, the toughness. They can't score touchdowns but they damn sure are the guys who'll work the hardest and the ones who are the most accountable. And that's what I'll judge guys on . . . who does that and who understands that are the guys I'll put on the field in that first ball game."
Embree knew Brown, who returns after one season at Arizona to be CU's defensive coordinator/secondary coach, from the early 1990s - Brown's first tour in Boulder. When he left CU after the 2009 season, Brown had hoped to return someday, but he never imagined it would be this soon.
"When I told guys (in the secondary) that 'Brownie' was coming back, they just beamed," Embree said. "They can't wait; that says a lot about him. He's a very good teacher, a very good technician. To be successful on the back end, you have to know the game, know what the offense is trying to do to you. He knows that.
"He's very highly thought of in the NFL. Jim Haslett, who I worked with this past year (at Washington), always said if he got a head job, he'd give 'Brownie' a call to come back and work for him."
Brown worked for Haslett a decade ago when Haslett was head coach of the New Orleans Saints. Embree has filled all but two of nine full-time assistant positions.