Colorado football coach Jon Embree was out of the country when receiver Paul Richardson's wishful thinking about a possible return this season gushed into cyberspace.
'P-Rich's big splash didn't catch Embree by surprise.
By all accounts, Richardson, CU's top returning playmaker, is making a stunningly quick recovery from a spring knee injury that required major surgery in April. Full recoveries from ACL surgery can take upwards of a year. Three months after Richardson's surgery, his rehab appears ahead of schedule.
Embree could see it coming. He also saw a difficult decision looming.
On June 5, Embree called a staff meeting to discuss Richardson's possible return for the 2012 season.
The Buffs staff pondered different scenarios regarding Richardson, with Embree moderating and asking each of his assistants, "What do you do?" while also reminding them, "If he continues to do what he's doing he's going to put us in a difficult situation. I say it's a difficult situation from the standpoint of I know what the fans want, but I went through the staff and said, 'What would you do?'"
When his assistant coaches had offered their answers on playing Richardson immediately if he receives medical clearance or redshirting for 2012, Embree revisited each and asked another question: "What would they do if (Richardson) was your son? I told them I'm going to look at this from the standpoint of that's Taylor and Connor Embree and as a dad what would I do?
"I've had five knee surgeries - all on the same knee. It's easy sometimes when people aren't in it, when they haven't gone through the other side of it, for them to say do this or don't do that. Anybody can make a decision when it's not them or their son. I tease him and (Doug) Rippy and tell them until they can beat me in a race, you're not cleared anyway.
"When we get to that stage, ultimately it will be his family's decision. They're the ones at the end of the day will have to live with the consequences. We all hope it's a Cinderella story, but if it isn't . . . I don't want to jeopardize his career. Yet if he's cleared and the family feels great and he feels great . . ."
Embree wholeheartedly agrees that the Buffs could use Richardson's speed and playmaking abilities ASAP, but he adds, "That word 'use' has a lot of different meanings, right? Are we just using him? Or is it him coming in (and playing) and six months from now when he's in my office, what is he saying? What does his family think?
"But I was way ahead of him; as a staff we had a good idea (of what was coming). We'll talk about it again in August, whenever he gets back. We'll go through all the scenarios and at the end of it I'll sit down with 'P' and talk to his family and see what they think. But trust me, it's not going to be a knee-jerk decision. It's been on my mind since about April 30th."
Richardson was hampered for four games last season by a less serious knee injury and admitted he was primarily used as a decoy for 2011's last four games. Despite missing time, he finished as the Buffs' third-leading receiver (39 catches, 555 yards, five touchdowns).
Meanwhile, on CU's quarterback front, Embree is anxious for August camp to open and get his first look at Jordan Webb. (Players report on Sunday, Aug. 5 and begin work the following morning.) The Kansas transfer officially signed on at CU while Embree was on his two-week African safari.
On a trip to Lawrence this spring to watch son Connor in the Jayhawks spring drills, Embree said new KU coach Charlie Weis spoke glowingly about Webb. On the one hand, that's not difficult to imagine since Weis knew Webb was transferring and probably had an idea he was headed to Boulder. But even though he was on his way out, Webb apparently made a positive impression on Weis.
"Charlie couldn't say enough good things about the kid, how great he's been in still being around the program and doing stuff," Embree recalled. "He wasn't one of these bitter kids who was trying to be a cancer . . . I think that speaks volumes to his character.
"(Weis) tells you in January that with what I do you're not going to fit . . . to A, understand that, and B, be professional about it, then to do what he did, take 28 or 31 hours to get here, that says a lot about him."
Beginning this season, Webb has two years of eligibility remaining. Embree is impressed by the route Webb followed to Boulder and doesn't believe the overall transition - even from a spread to a pro-style offense - will be overly difficult.
"I would imagine with him being an upperclassman, with him playing the football he has, it won't be too great a transition for him," Embree said. "He's a bright, smart kid. He graduated high school early so he could go to Kansas; he graduated from Kansas in 31/2 years so he could come to Colorado.
"This shows his commitment, his passion about the game. Anyone who does that, forsakes basically their senior year - prom and all that other stuff - to give all that up and basically be the low man on the pole . . . you know this is important to him."
Webb will be competing with returning QBs Nick Hirschman, Connor Wood, John Schrock and Stevie Joe Dorman, plus incoming freshman Shane Dillon.
Embree was scheduled to meet with CU's training staff on Friday, July 20 to get an update on players who have been rehabbing various injuries. That includes Dillon, who underwent off-season shoulder surgery.
"I talked with Shane Monday about some other stuff and he was in a great mood," Embree said. "So I assumed things are going good for him . . . he's definitely a guy you know when things are going good or bad. He's pretty easy to read."
Whether Dillon is an immediate factor in the QB race, said Embree, "depends on where his health is and how he's stacking up with those other guys . . . if he's head and shoulders above (the rest) then we have to decide."
Embree expects "a lot of competition" at that position and almost every other. "And that's good because we didn't have it last year. I think that's a little bit of why things transpired like they did with Toney Clemons (receiver). In his mind, I think it was, 'Well, who else are you going to play?'"
Laughing, Embree said, "I'll just play with 10, I guess. I don't care. But the players all understand that now. You have to compete every time you're out there. I don't believe you just show up and after they play the Star Spangled Banner and Ralphie runs you're going to play. I don't buy that. There's no switch (to turn on). It'll be good to see competition at a lot of different positions."