Colorado used to talk about competing for national championships as the expectation for the football program.
Athletic director Rick George now has a more realistic view of the Buffaloes.
When CU fired head coach Karl Dorrell on Oct. 2, George acknowledged the long road ahead for the Buffs (0-5, 0-2 Pac-12), who had a bye on Saturday.
“Our expectation for CU football is to become nationally prominent, that we’re discussed on game day in a positive way and that we compete every time we go out there and play and we win more than we lose,” George said of his expectations for the program. “We consistently go to bowl games; occasionally we compete for a national championship, conference championships. I have that expectation for all of our sports, not just football. But we need to consistently be in bowl games, we consistently need to be discussed nationally about our program in a positive way.”
In years past, George and others around the program would speak about the glory days – the national championship in 1990, Rashaan Salaam’s Heisman Trophy in 1994 – as the standard for the Buffs.
Meeting the more realistic expectations will be tough enough.
With Colorado State drilling a last-second field goal on Friday night to defeat Nevada, 17-14, the Buffs are the only winless team in the Football Bowl Subdivision. It is yet another low for a program that has had many of them in the past two decades.
In the previous 16 seasons (2006-21), CU played in only three bowl games, in 2007, 2016 and 2020 – and lost all of them. The only winning seasons came in 2016 and 2020 (a pandemic-shortened 4-2 campaign).
The Buffs haven’t played in back-to-back bowls or had consecutive winning seasons since 2004-05. And, CU has finished a season in the Top 25 rankings just once in the last 19 years (No. 17 in 2016).
“I’m extremely confident that this program will return to national prominence,” George said. “I’ve said that a number of times, but I believe that we haven’t had the success that we’ve needed in the past 15 years. We have not consistently won, and that isn’t good enough.”
It’s difficult to consistently win with routine changes at head coach. Since firing Gary Barnett after the 2005 regular season, CU has had five full-time head coaches (and three interim coaches) and two winning seasons.
In the last four years, CU has fired Mike MacIntyre, hired (and lost) Mel Tucker, hired (and fired) Karl Dorrell and now has Mike Sanford in place as the interim head coach for the remainder of this season.
If nothing else, George and the Buffs need to stabilize the program.
“We wanted to see this stability when we hired Karl and that was really important,” George said. “I do think it’s important that we have stability in our program and that we have coaches that want to be here. That’s really important to us, that we have the coaches that want to be here, that can energize this program.
“We’ve got to look to the stars. I mean, we’ve got to look at how do we get this program back to greatness like it was and we have all of the elements for that. There’s no excuse why we’re not there. So this hire is extremely important for us. Again, we’re going to take our time and our diligence, to find the right person to lead this program.”
George added: “This place can be and will be a football powerhouse. We have the facilities, we have the location, we have the programs. We have everything that we need to be successful on the football field.”
Everything except for the right coach.
George is aiming to fix that in the next couple of months, but the next coach doesn’t need to turn CU into a powerhouse. He just needs to get them out of the basement.