BOULDER – With all that’s happened around him during his first six months on the job, Mike MacIntyre could be forgiven for heading into next week’s preseason football camp wearing a puzzled – if not dazed – expression.
That’s not the case. His eyes are wide open, not glazed over. Colorado’s new head coach has done more than keep it together; he’s kept it advancing. No one would call it business as usual for MacIntyre and his staff, but his first Buffaloes team will enter August camp with their business scripted just as it was when spring drills ended in mid-April.
The Buffs’ pre-camp roster has been shaken nearly as vigorously as that of the athletic department, which will be under new leadership (Rick George replaces Mike Bohn) for MacIntyre’s debut against Colorado State in Denver on Sept. 1. The fallout on the football side: After possibly having eight quarterbacks to open Tuesday’s first practice, MacIntyre is down to half that number, with attrition also felt at other positions.
It’s been an anything but dull January-July span for MacIntyre, but he conceded the other day with a grin, “That’s part of the fun, right? I wouldn’t say it’s all been a shock to the system. I just know that in college athletics or any business really, there are things that come up and you have to be able to adapt to change.
“You have to be able to be firm, positive in everything you’re doing and keep moving forward. You might get bumped every once in a while; you just have to stay on the road.”
And that means keeping both hands on the wheel and both eyes open for pot holes. Or sink holes. If he needed experience at negotiating either, MacIntyre has gotten it. His first CU camp will be “about 80 percent” similar to what he conducted last season at San Jose State, where a fairly remarkable three-season turnaround produced 12 wins in his last 14 games – including a 10-2 record in 2012 and the school’s first bowl trip since 2006.
“There are definitely some (camp) tweaks because of class schedules and where we are on installments of offense and defense and special teams,” MacIntyre said, alluding to the last summer school session running into the first week of camp. “That kind of messes with the first few days.”
In general, he wants this camp modeled after those he conducted in San Jose, with one exception being five days of two-a-days for the Buffs as opposed to three last August for the Spartans. One major scrimmage is scheduled (Saturday, Aug. 17), but MacIntyre will maintain enough flexibility with his daily practice scripts to scrimmage on the fly.
“Instead of having a couple of real long scrimmages, we’ll do a little bit of scrimmaging throughout in small amounts,” he said. “I think that helps you reduce injuries and you can be a little more intense. We’ll have small scrimmages within practice at different times. A lot of that is because we’re still trying to install and don’t have everything in. When you’re ready to do it you’re going to do it and if you’re not ready, you wait.”
That in-state school up north might not be mentioned during CU’s first week of practice. Instead, MacIntyre and the Buffs will focus inward. “We’ll prepare our team for the first 17 practices,” he said, “then we start focusing in on our first three opponents and, of course, Colorado State.”
The Buffs’ schedule features three non-conference games (CSU, Central Arkansas, Fresno State) then a bye week (Sept. 21) before Pac-12 Conference play opens on Sept. 28 at Oregon State. Two more league games (Oregon, at Arizona State) are scheduled before a second open weekend (Oct. 19). Then the season’s final stretch – Oct. 26-Nov. 30 – unfolds without a break.
“The three non-conference opponents, we’ll focus on what they do – some people run the spread, some run power . . . we’ll use some of their plays in practice,” MacIntyre said. “Then we’ll hone in on Colorado State the last part of camp. But you’ve got to build your team first.”
Believing the most successful teams also are the most cohesive, MacIntyre has taken great pains with that construction project. He has divided the Buffs into nine “family groups,” with a dozen players in each group. In forming the groups, there is no selectivity by age, class or position.
It’s a family thing, and MacIntyre knows it worked at SJS. “The first thing is building team unity,” he said. “I’ve talked with our captains about how to be a leader. I want to let our leaders lead. I want to let them make a footprint on this team, and that’s built in to different meetings and functions we’ll have with the team and the captains (in camp).”
CU will enter camp with six captains: senior tackle Jack Harris, junior receiver Paul Richardson, senior defensive end Chidera Uzo-Diribe, senior linebacker Paul Vigo, senior linebacker Derrick Webb and junior quarterback Connor Wood.
At a later point in camp, said MacIntyre, “We’ll start into the X’s and O’s, get our general philosophy and identity on offense, defense and special teams. We’ll put everything in and then focus on specific areas of what we do best.”
According to MacIntyre, a solid foundation was formed in April but he knows much more heavy lifting and fine-tuning await in August. “I hope we’re ahead of where we were at the end of spring so we don’t have to go back and start at ground zero,” he said. “We’ll touch on all of it (early in camp), but we don’t need to spend a lot of time on the first few installs. We need to speed through that, look good at it and then progress to getting better in those areas.”
Veteran players contend their off-season PRPs – player run practices – have been more beneficial than any summer work in memory.
“With the PRP’s, we’ve had much more organized practices and I think that’s helped a lot,” junior tight end Kyle Slavin said. “Last year it was players get there, do some one-on-ones, kind of do whatever you feel like. There was no organization to it, really. Practice was set up to just kind of do as you please. I told the coaches I think the organization has helped us a lot this year.”
That organization became evident in April when MacIntyre banked his final spring practice to use as a position-by-position dress rehearsal for the summer’s PRPs. After a tutorial from their position coaches, players ran the last spring practice as if they were directing one of the summer workouts.
Who knows if that attention to detail helps with another ‘W’ or two, but when you’re coming out of a 1-11 season and a summer choked with last-place prophecies for the next season, what can it hurt?
“MacIntyre has brought more of a business-like attitude to this,” Slavin said. “That’s not to say he hasn’t had personal moments where he talks to players one-on-one, but I think he’s got a much better grasp on college football being a business and you’ve got to handle it like that.”
If MacIntyre is eager for camp to open, he’s not alone. Junior receiver D.D. Goodson called the Buffs’ summer work “excited work, more competitive work rather than just ‘I’ve got to do this or that.’ And that’s what I’m excited about – to see how things are.”
Then there’s the factor, said Slavin, of simply playing again: “It’s been a good summer, but you can only do so much lifting and running before you want to put on the pads and start playing actual football.”
And for sophomore running back Christian Powell, beginning Year Two is night-and-day different – in a very good way – from Year One.
“Last year, camp was brutal; I was just a freshman with wide eyes,” he said. “It was completely new. But going into it this year I know more of what to expect and how to take care of my body. It’s a different feeling going into my second one. I’m pretty excited now to get into the season.”