DENVER – It was three long weeks in arriving, but on an overcast Saturday half an hour drive from his campus and home stadium, Jon Embree was happy with the first win of his college coaching career . . . ah, wasn’t he?
Sure he was, but “Embo” is picking things up swiftly in this new gig of his. Rule No. 1: Leave feeling good about a ‘W,’ but don’t leave feeling overly satisfied – at least not on an afternoon that unfolded and was wrapped up like this one.
Embree recognizes his Colorado Buffaloes’ 28-14 win over Colorado State for what it is – a sweet victory against an in-state rival and a severely needed antidote for a bitter overtime loss the week before that left some of his win-deprived upperclassmen doubled over in grief in their locker room.
“I’m happy,” Embree acknowledged with an appropriately broad first-win grin. “I’ll be happier.” Here’s how:
- He’ll be happier when the Buffs’ flood of penalties – 10 Saturday, 29 in three games – is slowed to a trickle. In fairness to his players, Embree said a handful of flags for personal fouls was on him: “I took the leash off . . . that’s Jon Embree, not the players.”
- He’ll be happier when his running game hits the accelerator and doesn’t ease up. It showed signs of that Saturday, with senior tailback Rodney “Speedy” Stewart gaining 101 yards on 19 carries, but losing 3 yards to finish with 98. Overall, the Buffs rushed for 145 yards – a nice surge from the 62.5 they’d averaged in two previous losses.
- He’ll be happier when ace receiver Paul Richardson follows up a record-setting Saturday (he had 11 catches for 284 yards vs. Cal) with another merely consistent, if not eye-popping, afternoon. “P-Rich” had almost as many drops as he did receptions (four for 27 yards) this week. The Rams frequently “bracketed” him, contributing to what he conceded was “a rough day.”
- He’ll be happier when the Buffs make it through at least one game without giving an opponent field position via a kickoff that sails (or dribbles) out of bounds. It happened again Saturday, with the Rams potentially benefitting from a Justin Castor kickoff that sailed out in the fourth quarter. Fortunately for CU, Tyler Hansen and his offense had just completed an 85-yard, 10-minute plus drive that put the Buffs up by two touchdowns and left the Rams only 1:15 to make up that deficit.
- He’ll be happier when his team learns to start faster. For the third consecutive game, CU found itself down early – this time 7-0 after CSU took possession after the opening kickoff and drove 85 yards. The Buffs recovered, however, with a 14-point surge midway through the second quarter and amped up their defense for the rest of the game.
Lest Embree be cast as a downright downer after his team rebounded from its lost and lamentable previous weekend, he reminded in his postgame press conference that his CU coach, Bill McCartney, always said, “Enjoy the wins – there aren’t enough of them.”
And for all the other things Embree does well, he accepts advice, particularly from McCartney. So, yes, “Embo” did enjoy this win.
“It feels great,” he said. “My first win as a player was against these guys, so to do it as a coach means a lot. I underestimated a little bit on how much last week’s loss hurt us. We didn’t quite have the same kind of juice (Saturday) as we had in our first two games.
“We are a team that has to play on passion and emotion. This is what we need to do, and it felt business-like early on. It was like we were going out and trying to have a good practice.”
That might work on Tuesday and Wednesday . . . but not so much on Saturday.
One of the most visible checks on CU’s plus side was registered by senior receiver Toney Clemons, who spent much of August in Embree’s kennel and hadn’t escaped when the Buffs returned from Hawai’i. He requested a face-to-face with his head coach to clear the air. Said Embree: “He was man enough to come in and talk and discuss what my expectations were and what his expectations were . . . I told him I don’t hold a grudge – and I don’t.”
After catching one pass in the first two games, Clemons snagged three for 65 against the Rams – including a 44-yarder for a touchdown. But there was a small hitch; it occurred when Clemons juked (or was it a jive?) in the end zone after his TD and was assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Embree apparently was willing to forgive and forget. “He was still a coach about it,” Clemons said. “But he wasn’t upset. He’s a competitor, he understands.”
Embree also emphasized the importance of Clemons continuing to be a contributor: “The way our schedule is set up, we’re going to have guys dinged at different times, and with our depth we’re going to need guys like Toney . . .”
Clemons said Embree and the offensive coaches “told me to just be myself, so that’s what I tried to do (Saturday). That’s the way these coaches are, and I respect them for it. Having their support, belief and their trust in me is what really helped me go today.”
It all helped make for a happy day for the Buffs and their first-year coach, who believes even happier days are ahead. Mark down Saturday as a welcome first step in that direction.