It's looking like a Buff will be back in charge of the black and gold.
The University of Colorado football coach search committee has narrowed its search for the 24th head coach in school history to a list of three men and is beginning background checks on each.
Former CU running back Eric Bieniemy, former CU tight end Jon Embree and Alabama offensive coordinator Jim McElwain are at the top of the school's list. Sources close to the committee were not willing to call the three men finalists as of late Wednesday night.
Sources said the appetite among fans and former players to have someone with ties to the program hired as head coach has athletic director Mike Bohn and the committee focused on the two former Buffs.
If the school hires either Bieniemy or Embree, that man will be the first black head football coach in the history of the school. Embree is in familiar territory. He was a finalist for the CU coaching job in 2005 when Bohn decided to hire Dan Hawkins away from Boise State.
CU fired Hawkins last month after he went 19-39 in nearly five full seasons in Boulder.
CU is expected to name a coach as soon as Friday, and no later than Monday, because the school does not want to detract from the College Football Hall of Fame induction next Tuesday of former Buff linebacker Alfred Williams. Also, senior left tackle Nate Solder could win the William Campbell Trophy, or academic Heisman, on the same night.
At the same time, the school would like to begin moving forward as soon as possible with the transition so that the new coaching staff can maximize the remaining two months of the 2011 recruiting cycle.
Bieniemy and Embree interviewed last Saturday in the Washington D.C., area with Bohn and the search committee, some members of which were able to be there in person and some on the phone.
Bieniemy was there on a road trip with the Minnesota Vikings to play the Washington Redskins. Bieniemy has served as running backs coach the past five seasons with the Vikings and was promoted to assistant head coach of the offense prior to this season.
Embree is in his first year as tight ends coach with the Redskins under former Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan. He previously held the same position with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Reached by phone Wednesday, Bieniemy said he did not wish to comment on the search or his candidacy.
He said he is focused on preparing for this week's game, appropriately, against Buffalo. Embree did not respond to messages left for him.
It's possible the school will get both Bieniemy and Embree.
A source said Embree could be offensive coordinator on Bieniemy's staff but that Bieniemy would likely remain in the NFL if he is not hired as the head coach.
The two coaches are friends and coached together before at CU under former coach Gary Barnett.
Bieniemy served as running backs coach in Boulder in 2001 and 2002, and Embree coached three different positions over a 10-year span under three head coaches at CU from 1993-2002. They also coached together for three seasons at UCLA, where Embree was assistant head coach.
In Bieniemy and Embree, the search committee is deciding between two men with different personalities but a similar passion for the Colorado football program.
Embree, who played in Boulder under former coach Bill McCartney in the mid1980s, is more quiet and reserved.
Bieniemy, who played under McCartney in the late 1980s and the 1990 national championship season, is outgoing with a big personality that can take over a room at times in the same fashion as McCartney.
Bieniemy was inducted into the CU Athletics Hall of Fame last month and is Colorado's all-time leading rusher with 3,940 yards.
Embree ranks 16th on CU's career receiving list with 80 catches for 1,166 yards.
McElwain is the most recent candidate to emerge and at least the sixth man to have some kind of formal contact with the school about its opening.
He was hired at Alabama in January 2008 one year after the Buffs lost to the Crimson Tide in the Independence Bowl. He helped head coach Nick Saban guide the Crimson Tide to the national title last year and running back Mark Ingram won the Heisman Trophy in his offense.
McElwain grew up in Missoula, Mont. He played quarterback at Eastern Washington University 1980-83. He has made a variety of stops since beginning his coaching career at his alma mater, including Montana State, Louisville, Michigan State and Fresno State.
The CU search committee also has interviewed Bill McCartney and interim coach Brian Cabral. CU officials had several talks about the opening with former Oregon coach and athletic director Mike Bellotti, who removed his name from consideration just as the search was getting underway last month.