In 2010, Mike MacIntyre became the head coach at San Jose State University. He inherited a team that had gone 2-10 in Dick Tomey's final season in charge and ranked 116th, fifth from the bottom, the F/+ ratings. The Spartans went just 1-12 and ranked 113th in his first season, but two years later he fielded an outstanding squad. San Jose State went 11-2 and ranked 32nd overall in 2012, one spot ahead of Orange Bowl participant Northern Illinois. It was a dramatic, impressive rebuilding job.
In December, MacIntyre agreed to become the head coach at Colorado. He inherits a team that might have been worse than that 2009 San Jose State squad. The Buffaloes went 1-11 in 2012, Jon Embree's second and final season in charge; and really, the lone win was a bit of a fluke -- a dramatic, late comeback win over Washington State. Colorado ranked 124th, dead last, in the F/+ rankings, struggling in every aspect of the game.
On paper, Colorado's hire of MacIntyre was potentially the most sensible, understandable of the 2012 coaching change derby. The Buffs need someone who will systematically rebuild their brand from the ground up; MacIntyre just did that.
I spoke with MacIntyre recently about this and other topics.
On what drew him to San Jose State despite no real ties to the West Coast:
I wasn’t even thinking about it, and they called me. I had been out there recruiting for other schools, but I really started looking at San Jose State then. I realized there were only seven Division I [FBS] schools in California. I felt like the supply and demand, the ability to get players there, was extremely good. I felt we could recruit and be successful. And I felt like the athletic director, Tom Bowen, and everybody from the top down wanted to be successful and was ready to be successful. I felt it was the right time to hit it.
I was able to hire a good staff. I felt the commitment was there. We didn’t have a lot of money – we had to go raise money. There was no money in the budget for recruiting in May. The quarterback club had to raise us $25,000 so we could go out and recruit in May. But we kept working at it and kept chipping away.
We found players who were hungry to be successful -- I feel that's really important. Over time, we bonded as a team. It didn't happen overnight, but it just kept building, and the kids kept buying in. That started translating on the field. Last year I think they were even more successful than they thought they could be.
On the level of commitment he is seeing at Colorado:
From our president [Bruce Benson], to our chancellor [Philip DiStefano], to our athletic director [Mike Bohn] – everybody is lined up. All the alumni are buying in, wanting to be successful again. This school has a great, great history, and it’s time to spring back.
I think the footprint of the Pac-12 is good for Colorado. People look at me like I'm crazy when I say that, but I really do. You can recruit out of the state of California – again, there are just not a lot of schools there. And you can take the same formula – young men who are hungry to be successful, that aren’t entitled. That is a key, key ingredient. They need a chip on their shoulder to prove something.
MacIntyre was a defensive coach for most of his nearly two decades as an assistant. On his approach to the offensive side of the ball:
Being the head coach, you should have your fingerprint on all three phases – offense, defense, special teams. Fortunately, my background has allowed me to dip my toe in all three areas. I was the receivers coach at Ole Miss under a great coach, David Cutcliffe, who was the offensive coordinator at the time. And with the Dallas Cowboys, I was defensive backs coach, but Bill Parcells also wanted me involved in every aspect of special teams.
I had three different offensive coordinators in three years at San Jose State. I kind of knew that would happen. We just didn't have a lot of money to pay them. But when a new guy came in, we made sure to use the same terminology and have him institute his own personality on top of that.
We'll do that here at Colorado, too. When my current coordinators move on to head coaching jobs, we'll use the same terminology after they leave. I feel that's really important.
On what he sees from his personnel at Colorado thus far:
The offensive line is pretty athletic, there’s a real athletic receiver who didn't play last year [Paul Richardson], and they had some young running backs who did a good job. ... You'd like to settle in on one quarterback at some point; we'll let 'em all compete in the spring and see where that falls.
We’ve got to improve our overall team speed. We feel we’re bringing in some guys from this recruiting class who can help with that.
We won’t know a lot until spring ball. We moved a lot of guys around at San Jose State. We moved a defensive back [Noel Grigsby] to wide receiver, and he ended up setting records at the school. We moved a tight end to offensive tackle [David Quessenberry], and he’s at the Combine.
On why he prefers college football to pro football:
I’m getting 18-year-old young men and helping them grow as people. When they leave here in four to five years, they have a degree, and they have a clear picture of what they want to be in the future. They are learning to prioritize their life. I want them to be great people, great fathers, great husbands, great businessmen. Football is a vehicle for this. It builds character and reveals character. It’s a tough, tough game. A tough game. Every day I hope I’m making a little bit of a difference in people’s life.
I enjoy the college process. When I was coaching in the NFL, I got my PhD in coaching – Bill Parcells, Eric Mangini, they were great. But I missed the everyday interaction with these kids. You are mentoring kids.
On the differences between coaching at a mid-major school and a major conference school:
When we were at San Jose State we were fighting and clawing for everything we had. We did not have a lot of the things we have here at Colorado. Doesn’t make it any better or worse, but when the Pac-12 is able to give you a $22 million check each year, there’s a difference in the things the kids have at their disposal -- academics, chow, et cetera.
On the competitiveness (and the future) of the different levels of the Football Bowl Subdivision:
On any given Saturday in college football, I think anybody can beat anybody. I think the 85-scholarship limit has evened it out a little. Back when it was 105, there was a bigger difference with those top teams. We [at San Jose State] were able to beat BYU; I don’t think people thought that could happen.
On potential changes regarding conference realignment and how the major conferences may try to create more separation from the rest.
They probably won’t cut back scholarships anymore, so maybe they add some again.
The landscape is changing. I’m a traditionalist – somebody asked me what my ideal season and conference alignment would be. I said you play first game after Labor Day, you play your rival on Thanksgiving, you play 11 straight games, and every conference has eight teams.
I'm just hoping [realignment] doesn’t hurt college football, where you’re taking away the rivalries, the pageantry. I don't want fans thinking it's just another game in a given week.
On a potentially unique way he uses stats in his scouting:
We look at where a quarterback completes balls -- his completion percentage throwing to his right or his left. That could tell us if we need to be chasing him in one direction or another. And who's the ball going to on third down?
I'm sure everybody you talk to says this, but the turnover ratio is huge. We prided ourselves at San Jose State at being able to cause fumbles. We teach that, we practice that -- punching a ball out, recovering a ball, coming at a quarterback at a certain angle. Those are just gigantic. You can teach a team how to cause fumbles. With interceptions, maybe a quarterback just has a bad day, but fumbles, we preach that. We also preach how to recover fumbles -- when to try to scoop the ball up, when to fall on it. [San Jose State forced 15 fumbles in 2011, 32nd in the country. They forced 19 in 2012, which was fourth. They also recovered 17 in 2012, second behind just Boise State.]
We also talk a lot about deflecting balls at the line. We only batted down two balls at the line in 2011. Last year, it must have been 35. We practiced it every day. We told the defensive line, if they get held up, to get those hands in the air and tip it. There's luck, but there's skill involved, too. Learning where the quarterback moves -- where he's likely to shuffle when there's pressure, how much a team throws over the middle or to the sideline -- and where to rush so you're in the passing lane. That's something else we do.