BOULDER - When football coaching staffs are rolled over, it can be a roll of the dice for a new cadre of coaches in determining which of the former staff's prospects should sign on the dotted line.
At Colorado, incoming coach Mike MacIntyre took the high road - he promised it was as much a matter of honor as necessity - and signed as many of the prior commits who still wanted to come.
That number was 10. Eight of them, said MacIntyre, had watched his introductory press conference in early December and would later remind him of his statement that day "to honor all commitments."
MacIntyre was still good with that. "We said it was the right thing to do and we felt like they were good players. We knew we needed to keep these guys; they had stayed loyal to Colorado . . . they had both feet in the boat," he said at Wednesday's press conference announcing his first CU class.
One long-committed prospect MacIntyre and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren were eager to ink was quarterback Sefo Liufau, who had pledged allegiance to the Buffs long before MacIntyre and Lindgren were in the picture. Liufau took an unofficial visit to Boulder during last spring's drills, strengthened his pledge at that time and didn't vacillate even when the staff that wooed him was let go.
Lindgren, who coaches the QBs, was more than vaguely familiar with Liufau, who played at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, Wash. As a member of MacIntyre's San Jose State staff, Lindgren might have made his own recruiting run at Liufau had the player not taken his name off the board so early.
"I had been to see him a lot of times," Lindgren said, "but he had committed to Colorado the summer before. He was still kind of a guy we watched a little, but we crossed him off our list because we didn't think we had a chance at getting him."
TURNS OUT THAT MACINTYRE and Lindgren did get him, and it will be up to the athletic Liufau as what they do with him. In a best-case scenario (and it's far from that), the 6-4, 215-pound Liufau would have been an early high school graduate and would have enrolled at CU in January for the spring semester. Thus, he could have participated in spring drills and plunged into Lindgren's pistol offense.
But Liufau won't arrive until this summer, joining six other QBs on the roster and having to do what freshmen do - acclimate to football, life away from home, the college environment, et al. Yet, when Liufau arrives and Lindgren deems him capable, Liufau will be given ample opportunity to compete with returnees Jordan Webb, Connor Wood, Nick Hirschman, Shane Dillon, Stevie Joe Dorman and John Schrock.
Merely seeing that lineup in print still might baffle Lindgren, who is accustomed to having four QBs on scholarship and one walk-on on his roster. "This is the most I've seen or been around . . . it's a lot for guys who play only one position," he said. "But it's not like we're going to get rid of any of them."
Lindgren has met with each of his QBs "a handful of times" and "watched a little tape from last year." Obviously, he will refrain from making any evaluations, public or otherwise, until he gets more acquainted with each and sees them in spring drills.
"I'm starting fresh with those guys and that's what I told them," he said. "It's a new beginning for all of them, a chance for them to prove themselves. I'm going into it with an open mind in starting the evaluation process."
MacIntyre didn't retain any position coaches from the former staff. One school of thought is that an entirely new staff faces a hurdle in thoroughly evaluating returning players. A holdover or two might have helped.
Lindgren disagrees; taped "cut-ups" have been made of Buffs personnel for the new staff to study. Also, Lindgren said he benefitted from lengthy conversations on offensive personnel with former receivers coach Bobby Kennedy and former QB coach Rip Scherer.
"Both of those guys were very open with me and I respect that," Lindgren said. Added MacIntyre about Liufau: "Scherer did a very good job of evaluating him."
Spring drills begin on March 7, and the Buffs will have eight of their 15 practices prior to spring break (March 26-30). During the off week Lindgren hopes to further the QB evaluation process and arrive at a preliminary decision of who might be his top two or three starting candidates.
"I'm hoping at that point to be able to narrow it down a little bit, not necessarily make a decision, but narrow it down and start getting more reps for some of those guys," he said.
And by that point, he and MacIntyre might have an indication of what direction their offense will take. It's been widely suggested that the Buffs will use the pistol this fall, and that could wind up being their formation of the future. But it might not feature all the elements of the pistol that has made its way from Nevada and elsewhere to the NFL.
Lindgren makes this point clear: His offense will be tailored to his personnel's strengths, as was the case at San Jose State. "We used the pistol to fit our personnel," Lindgren said. "If we have a talented running quarterback, then we're going to run more of the pistol. If we've got more of a pro-style passer, then we're going to tweak our offense more towards that - and that's what we did at San Jose State last year."
The Spartans' quarterback was senior David Fales, and said Lindgren, "He was more of a pocket passer. We did less of the pistol to fit his abilities. Now, we still did some of it to keep people honest, and we did it with our backup quarterback at times, putting him in some situations in the red zone and did some different stuff with him.
"But you look at the statistics from last year, we threw for 4,000 yards. We didn't run it as well . . . but we had good receivers, a good tight end and a real good quarterback. I think as an offensive coordinator you've got to have things you believe in, but especially in college you've got to learn to have success with the pieces you have."
So, the impression that the Buffs' offense will be overhauled overnight in the image of, say, the San Francisco 49ers is, well, false. It all depends on which QB winds up No. 1, but CU operating out of the pistol even 60 to 70 percent of the time "might be a stretch," Lindgren said.
"A lot of it is going to end up with the quarterback we decide gives us the best chance to win. Is it going to be a more athletic guy or someone who has the ability to do both? Then we'll do both if that's who gives us the best chance to win. If it's someone who's a less talented runner, then we're probably not going to do as much of (the pistol).
"That's what we want to do, and I think you've seen the success it's having in the NFL. We want that to be a part of what we do, but how big a part will be determined by the quarterback and who prevails."
WHICH BRINGS US BACK to Liufau. Can he be the Buffs' QB for the present or must he be groomed for the future? The best (and only) answer: Stay tuned until well into August camp.
MacIntyre and Lindgren love Liufau's humble demeanor, his upbringing, his versatility and his athleticism. After watching Liufau play hoops, MacIntyre was concerned about schools coming after him in that sport. "He's really, really good," MacIntyre said.
Liufau has been all-league in hoops and was Bellarmine Prep's basketball MVP last season, in addition to earning All-West Region (PrepStar) and a host of other area honors in football. Lindgren calls Liufau "a proven winner in a proven program," loves that he was a four-year starter and says Liufau is "mature beyond his years."
But this might be the most telling part of Lindgren's early critique: He believes Liufau is "first and foremost a passer; he's accurate and makes good decisions and also has ability to run when things break down . . . I really don't think he showed as much in high school as he's capable of."
Still, he was noticeably prolific as a high school QB. He threw for 7,297 yards and 68 touchdowns (only 20 picks) while compiling a 34-5 record. He also ran for 606 yards and 18 touchdowns.
But come August in Boulder, there will still be the freshman factor, which comes into play at quarterback more than any other position. For Liufau to arrive this summer, acclimate to all that will be spinning through his head outside of football, then work himself up to speed in Lindgren's offense . . . well, it won't be easy.
And for MacIntyre/Lindgren to entrust their offense to a freshman QB, "Typically that doesn't happen," Lindgren said. "But my philosophy is playing the best guy. As a quarterback coach, I think it's your job to put him in a position to succeed. That's tough, because he won't have had spring football to learn the system. So he's naturally a little behind - that's why it's tough. But we're going to give him some opportunities when he comes in to see if he's ready. If he is, I don't think we'll have any problem (playing him). If he's not, then we won't rush him into anything."
Unless Liufau proves to be an ultra-quick study, that likely leaves the QB position in the hands (or feet, or both) of someone already on the roster. And that launches the interest, not to mention the importance, for MacIntyre's first CU spring about Flatirons high. On the heels of last fall's 1-11 finish, expectations are a bit lower - and that might be a good thing.