The University of Colorado administration vows Jon Embree's successor will find a renewed commitment to football when he steps on campus and continues the process of rebuilding the besieged Buffaloes program.
Chancellor Phil DiStefano and Athletic Director Mike Bohn said at a Monday news conference that CU recognizes how high the bar has been raised with the Buffs joining the Pac-12 Conference - and the school's hiring of a new coach will reflect that.
DiStefano said he and President Bruce Benson, who was out of the country but listened to the news conference via speaker phone, "are committed to upgrading facilities." He also said the new coach's salary will be addressed: "We want to be competitive in the Pac-12, and that means going out and getting the best head coach and we pay that head coach."
Financial models of the next head coach's salary, said Bohn, are being studied: "To Jon's credit, he moved a lot of pieces to move a lot of resources to his staff. We're going to change that (salary) dynamic and the president and chancellor support that."
Embree, whose two seasons produced a 4-21 overall record (3-15 Pac-12), was fired on Sunday. His annual salary was $750,000 and he is due a $1.625 million buyout. A national search for a new coach is underway, Bohn said, with the hiring to be done "as soon as possible." He added that, as of Monday, no parameters - is CU's new coach a current head coach or offensive/defensive coordinator? - are set: "It's wide open at this point."
Bohn cited CU's revitalized men's basketball program as an example of what can be achieved through an overall "conviction" of change that ranged from an upgrade in facilities to support for coach Tad Boyle, his staff and players, and the heightened involvement of fans. Bohn called those key elements "vital" and said a similar "galvanized" support base in football must be present for long-term success.
"The conviction for football has got to be escalated among all of our key players," Bohn said. "Our next head coach is watching. He's going to say, 'How's Colorado responding, how are they going to do it, are they committed to doing it? They're going to look at the board of regents and all the other key players associated with it. Do they want to compete in the Pac-12 and go to the Rose Bowl?"
Bohn claimed CU's administration "has looked around the Pac-12 and seen the bar is raised high. It's higher than it's ever been. This is a real challenge for everyone."
Monday's lengthy news conference at the Dal Ward Athletic Center was attended by Embree and his family, several of his assistant coaches, various athletic department officials and a number of players. Embree, the first to address the media and take questions, was emotional throughout his nearly 30-minute turn, particularly when referencing his players.
"I'm obviously disappointed sitting here today," he said. "You know, I did things the right way. I don't care what they say, or what anyone says. We had the highest GPA the last three semesters here at this school that the football program has ever had. We stay out of trouble. You guys represented yourselves well and all the guys that played before you. You set a legacy and a standard.
"As I told you guys, we're going through tough times and you're not judged by the scoreboard at the end of the day. I was, you won't be. Don't let someone else define you by what they think is right or how they think things are supposed to be. You know how it's supposed to be done. You understand what the standards are and the expectations are and you always hold yourself accountable. We talk about 'in spite of' . . . in spite of what anyone else says about you, don't let it change how you prepare and what you do every day to become better as a person and better as a man."
Bohn said the decision to fire Embree was solely his and that "we had a heartfelt desire to make this work, we desperately wanted it to work." He also said "boosters' resources have never been a factor" in his decisions. In the end, Bohn said, firing Embree "was about functionality and the way the enterprise is run."
DiStefano credited Embree for his "passion for the football program and student-athletes," but also said evaluations "have to be based on progress and results. And we simply did not see enough this year. We looked at the performance on the field and did not see the development and the cohesion that gave us confidence and that's why the decision was made . . ."
Asked if being given two years to turn around a program were enough, Embree said, "You'd have to ask them (Bohn, DiStefano) that. It is what it is. Obviously I'm not in the right frame of mind to answer some of that stuff. I don't agree."
In the days preceding and after last Friday's final game - a 42-35 loss to Utah that made the 2012 Buffs the only team to go winless at Folsom Field - Embree had told various news outlets that he had been assured by Bohn that he would return to coach a third season.
"Things change, that's part of the business," Embree said Monday. "That's part of the deal. Things change. I don't know what happened or what transpired. I can't answer that."
Other than being "late," Bohn said he couldn't pinpoint when he reached his decision to fire Embree. He added, "It's not just the results on the scoreboard; it's how we manage the entire operation."
Aside from producing more wins than losses, Embree said he would not do anything differently: "No, because if I had done it differently it wouldn't have been the right way. I was brought here to build something. I have one and a half recruiting classes, so to speak. I think they've all represented themselves well. The players that have stayed have represented themselves well.
"I told the team when I got hired, there aren't 'Hawk' (former coach Dan Hawkins) guys and there aren't Embree guys. There are the University of Colorado guys, period. I told them that before my first press conference. I've interacted with them and encouraged them in that same manner. I'm not going to do it any other way than the right way. That takes time. I'm disappointed with the results too, on the scoreboard, but everything else that has been done here, they are better."
With a school-record seventh consecutive losing season completed and the Buffs' last three head coaches fired - Embree only two seasons in - Bohn was asked how he believed a prospective CU head coach would view job security. He said coaches "understand the challenges of this business; they understand how competitive it is . . . when you have the right leader and you have the ability to put that long-term plan in place, then obviously they gain extra time in pulling that together."
Asked if he believes CU's new coach can turn the program around, Embree answered, "How long does he have?"
A football staff meeting was scheduled at 4 p.m. Monday to discuss recruiting responsibilities and how much money Embree's assistants might receive from the university. Most were hoping for one to two months pay. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, the only staffer with a long-term contract, received a $812,500 buyout.
Drawing on their experience in previous coaching changes, Embree's assistants can't count on being retained by his replacement. "At best, it's about a 10 percent chance . . . it's a rare deal, but occasionally it's done - like with Brian (Cabral)," said tight ends/special teams coach J.D. Brookhart, who had left coaching but returned at Embree's behest.
Brookhart said he was unsure about pursuing another coaching job: "I don't know if I'll stay in it; it would have to be the right scenario - which I thought this was. I'll see what happens in next two months and keep my options open."
Offensive line coach Steve Marshall, an assistant in either college or professional football for three-plus decades, also said he was uncertain about his future. "I don't know what to expect," he said. "Your prepare for the worst and hope for the best."
Marshall received word of Embree's firing while he was enroute to Denver International Airport to begin a recruiting trip. He called his five O-line prospects on Sunday night and reminded them that CU is "a good school." But also told them to "keep your options open" because the next head coach might not want to honor this staff's commitment to them.
Junior wide receiver Paul Richardson, who sat out this season to complete the rehabilitation of his knee, believes the first task for returning players "is to come together." He said he will organize a group of players he considers to be team leaders "and make sure we're all on the same page as far as working hard to finish the semester in school.
"And whatever group (of coaches) we get next, we'll work with them to help finish turning this program around. We're already on the right path; coach (Embree) laid a nice foundation for us. We're headed in the right direction."