BOULDER - Colorado's offensive, indeed, overall shortcomings in three consecutive losses might comprise a list that would stretch to Washington State. Coach Jon Embree believes he's found a solution for at least one of his team's needs - sideline emotion.
Embree announced on Tuesday that Eric Bieniemy, CU's offensive coordinator/running backs coach, will move from the coaches' booth to the sidelines for Saturday's Pac-12 Conference opener at Washington State (2 p.m. MDT, FX).
Bieniemy, in only his second season as a coordinator, will continue to work with passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Rip Scherer in calling CU's offensive plays. Scherer will retain his vantage point from the coaches' booth and relay plays to Bieniemy, who said his 15 games (12 last season, three this season) in the booth "helped me grow as a play-caller . . . after doing it now for almost a year and a half, me and Rip have a great line of communication. He can be my eyes and ears upstairs and that helps out tremendously."
Explaining the change, Bieniemy added, "Just after sitting back and observing it . . . we thought it would be good for some type of change to get a little hands-on and generate a little excitement with the guys - just to be there and have a presence."
Bieniemy called plays from the sidelines in last season's opener at Hawai'i before moving upstairs for the home opener against California. Since then, he has worked every game from the coaches' booth. He said one advantage of moving to the sidelines is to gather the offense "between series and make sure our guys are organized - let's get together and talk about each and every play. I think if any coach had their choice, they would love to be on the field."
But when he moved upstairs early last season to see the bigger picture, Bieniemy admitted game day had "a different feel . . . I'm not going to lie, though; I do miss the field."
And the Buffs, among the youngest teams in the FBS, might be missing his emotion. "We know what he brings from an energy and passion standpoint," Embree said. "We're a young team; he can keep those guys going . . . and he's more comfortable down there."
Asked if he had sensed a fire missing in CU's three losses, Bieniemy answered, "We have to coach our kids in every aspect because they're so young. I don't want to say I have to coach excitement, because you shouldn't have to coach excitement. But I feel that just being there will help create more of a buzz and a sense of urgency."
Bieniemy had told his running backs before Tuesday's practice of his impending move to the sidelines, and said with a chuckle, "I don't know if they're excited about this or not." Sophomore Tony Jones laughed and said his position coach's descent from the booth "could be good, it could be bad . . . no, he's a great coach and he's definitely going to be enthusiastic on our sidelines and get us pumped up. When something goes wrong, he's definitely the guy to get us back on track. So, we'll see at the end of the game."
Jones, who missed last weekend's trip to Fresno State due to shoulder and ankle injuries, agreed the Buffs could use more game-day emotion: "Yeah, there could be some. If somebody makes a good play, everybody gets up. But we need that all the time. The emotion is definitely going to be there with (Bieniemy)."
Junior left tackle David Bakhtiari called Bieniemy "a coach not to mess with. I would never want to be on the wrong side of him . . . I have a tremendous amount of respect for the man. I love what he's done, his attitude and his culture."
Bakhtiari said Bieniemy reminded him of an assistant coach at Junipero Serra High School in Burlingame, Calif. - "a short running backs coach who was steaming out of his ears . . . having him on the sidelines, I know for sure those kids will be looking around twice before ever putting their heads down and trying to mope around. Eric Bieniemy will do something; I'm not going to be that guy, let's put it like that."
Former CU coach Bill McCartney called Bieniemy "the single most competitive guy I've ever been around. I don't know whether that will work or not. He's a live wire."
McCartney told of playing at No. 1 Oklahoma in Bieniemy's freshman season with the Buffs and being at the 20-yard line on the CU sidelines. He said he felt someone brush against him, turned and saw Bieniemy exhorting the defense to get a stop.
"He's a freshman, he's 17 years old and he's calling out to the defense, 'Get the ball back' - because he wanted to run it," McCartney recalled. "This will be interesting; keep the cameras on him."
Embree has been on NFL coaching staffs where the offensive coordinator has worked from the field (Washington) and from the booth (Kansas City). In his time at UCLA as passing game coordinator, he was upstairs.
The better vantage point, Embree agreed, is upstairs: "It's like watching tape, you can see everything. You can make calls and do what you need to do. At UCLA as pass game coordinator, it was such a difference when I was up from when I was down . . . you don't have the emotion of the game. You're like a surgeon."
But there are exceptions - and he obviously believes this is one. Embree joked that "the press box might be not be big enough for (Bieniemy); he's all over the place up there." Plus, with CU's young running backs and overall youth on offense, said Embree, "He wants to be down there where he can look in their eyes and talk to them and get a feel for some things."
Bieniemy's bottom line in the move: "I just want to do whatever I can to bring a solution to this. I just feel like I need to be there." The Buffs' first three games, he said, "At times have been hard to watch, hard to watch."
'MAC' ON LOYALTY, PERSEVERANCE: McCartney attended Tuesday's media luncheon at Boulder's Millennium Harvest House and spoke for almost 20 minutes. He reminded that in building a skyscraper, the foundation must be deep below the ground and noted that CU's current progress under Embree is "below ground - you can't see it."
But he said progress is being made and that Embree has four characteristics of a good leader - character, competence, chemistry and commitment. He also noted that Embree is taking the correct approach with the Buffs. (Must-see Mac TV: McCartney's full address was taped by BuffVision and is attached on CUBuffs.com.)
EMBREE MEETS ONE-ON-ONE WITH TRAVEL SQUAD: Starting on Monday afternoon and concluding Tuesday at 2 p.m., Embree conducted 10-minute individual meetings with every player who will travel to Pullman, Wash., on Friday for Saturday's Pac-12 opener. He will meet with the non-travelers on Wednesday and Thursday.
Embree said he "let the players know I believe in them. I don't want their confidence shaken. We took a punch and got knocked down, but we're going to get back up."
He said he also told the players he has been in their situation and "we can get out of it . . . then I wanted to know how they're feeling. There is a bunch of resolve in that locker room. They're anxious, they're excited to get going back to work. They realize they've done a lot of work and they're not seeing the fruits of their labor right now. But they know it's going to happen. It's been as good for them to talk to me as me to them. It's a two-way street there."
INJURY REPORT: Safety Ray Polk (high ankle sprain) will miss his third consecutive game, but cornerback Greg Henderson (ankle) is expected to play this week . . . . Center Gus Handler (ankle) will make the trip but is questionable. His replacement at Fresno State, Brad Cotner, suffered a ruptured capsule in his big toe and could be out four to five weeks. That would prompt another O-line shuffle, with Daniel Munyer the likely starter at center . . . . Linebacker Doug Rippy (knee) is out again this week, while safety Marques Mosley (knee) should be able to play.
BUFF BITS: CU hit a season high in penalties (11 for 94 yards) in the 69-14 loss at Fresno State. Embree blamed the three personal foul flags on "frustration" and the bulk of the others on young players seeing their first game action . . . . CU's starting quarterback on Saturday will be Jordan Webb, with Connor Wood being worked in "as he continues to earn his reps and improve" in practice, Embree said . . . . Will Pericak, who has moved from defensive tackle to end, "is starting to grow" at his new position, Embree noted. Pericak's move outside allows the Buffs to rotate three freshmen - Josh Tupou, Justin Solis and Tyler Heinington - and junior Nate Bonsu inside.