clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Mike MacIntyre on rebuilding Colorado and having an inaccurate Wikipedia page

MacIntyre discussed his time in the NFL, his past rebuilding projects, the challenges at Colorado and Colin Kaepernick.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Mike MacIntyre's office in the Colorado football offices looks exactly like what you hoped a Colorado football coach's office would look like: earth tones, buffalo statues and iconography all over the place, and a broad set of windows overlooking the new construction at Folsom Field, and the reddish-gray profile of the Flatiron range rising over the lip of the stadium. It smells like fresh carpet and leather and makes you want to recline and do things you do in places with leather furniture and slate rock wall accents: smoke a cigar, eat a venison steak, or drink scotch and talk about hunting, fishing, or other acts of outdoor killing.

MacIntyre, the second-year head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes, manages to work a good chunk of his day in that office without getting distracted by the view. We talked about doing his second rebuilding job in a row, how he never worked at Shoney's no matter what Wikipedia says, when recruiting four tight ends isn't really recruiting four tight ends, and how Colin Kaepernick was an eye-popping talent even when he was roaming the fields of the now-defunct football division of the WAC.

SH: When you walk in the building, what’s literally the first thing you do?

MM: The first thing I do when I walked in the building was the first thing I did when I came to San Jose State. I wanted a picture of our players, our current players, on the walls. I want former players and alumni, sure, but our current players need action shots of them, especially our seniors. We want action shots of our seniors so that when they graduate they can take them with them, and then the next class comes in. We want shots of live action in our games. We put up a lot of the various slogans we go by, and want them to see it every day.

Those are the first things you do, because you don’t want to go in and say "Well, we’re tearing down this wall, and then tearing down this wall." When we got here we redid the office area to make it more of a place you could meet with recruits and parents, so it has a bit more of a wow factor. Mainly it’s for our players to make them have a lot of pride in what they’re doing, and that it’s their time and their legacy and that they’re part of the great Buffalo tradition.

SH: You’ve done this a few times now. This is your second rebuild. If you go through your resume, you’ve had a long slog through a few places where people might not have a lot of hope of success: Temple, Duke, San Jose State. How do you help people — the boosters, the administration, the players and fans — how do you help them find that hope before there’s ever on-field success to point out? Especially when historically, that might not be the case?

MM: Fortunately at CU, there’s been some success, historically. This is the 23rd winningest college football program in history. The first place you start is with the individual athletes. They all have dreams and aspirations of being successful academically, athletically in the future, so that’s where I dive in. It’s all about relationships, and as you build that you try to help them understand that you have a plan, and ideas, and that it’s all gonna accumulate in a successful situation.

When you get out in recruiting and you meet coaches, you do everything you can to get the word out about what you’re about. Being truthful, being honest, and having a great hope and a great passion about what you do. Also, I truly believe things can be accomplished with people all moving the same direction. It’s exciting to be able to do stuff people say you can’t do.

SH: An example of that honesty when you’re pitching the program?

MM: I think that you don’t put on rose-colored glasses and hope that everything’s okay. But you’re not negative, either. You say we need to fix this, we need to find a way to fix it. I think that you’re a problem-solver, and you find the right ways to solve the problem. The solution is people, and people who are excited and passionate about what you’re doing. It’s a combination of all different situations, but also of realizing that you can always make excuses about why you’re not successful. You’ll always have regrets in life, but you make no excuses.

Whatever it is, you find a way, and at every school you go to it’s a little bit different. Every business is a little different, but most of the time when you start a new business or start from scratch you take it over because it hasn’t been successful. So you need to install your ideas, your culture, what you’re trying to accomplish and what you believe in. It’s the same with a football program.

At the same time you can’t come in and be a used car salesman, put a fresh coat of paint on, and say everything’s fine. We try to find the root of the problems and build a foundation. You do that and then build on it. It’s a process, and it happens daily. You have to be urgent about it, but at the same time you have to be patient.

SH: When you got to SJSU, for example, what were a few of those initial obstacles?

MM: Two things. First, when we got there, they were on APR probation. We had to fix our academic daily program, and we did that. The second was that the strength program was not really that good, and we had to improve that. Those are the two basic things we had to fix, and the things the students are around every day. And as they were doing better academically and getting stronger in the weight room they had a lot more pride and confidence. Combine the work ethic of both of things, and those kids rise.

Here at Colorado, it’s a bit different. Some of the kids were fine academically, but some weren’t, and we worked on that. In the weight room, we need to make a big jump in getting strong there. Those are the first two places you start.

SH: You won one game in your first year at San Jose State and had a brutal overtime loss to Idaho to end the season on the road. How do you keep everyone in the same direction when you’re in that phase?

MM: You have your plan, you stick to your plan. You truly show the kids you care about them. You don’t treat them like dirt because you lost, you don’t treat them better because you win. You treat them like people, like you want to be treated, and make them understand that you care more about them as a person than as a player. When you do that, you trust them, and they trust you, and that trust builds. That’s when you become successful on the field and off it, and they’re focused on the field and in the classroom and hold their head high.

We needed a football facility in a way — a safe haven. When our kids go out of here, they’re hearing "Oh, you’re terrible, you can’t beat them."

One of the first things we did here was say that we needed a football facility in a way — a safe haven. When our kids go out of here, they’re hearing "Oh, you’re terrible, you can’t beat them." They’re hearing it from friends, they’re hearing it from school classmates, they’re hearing it from parents. When they come here, they’ve got to hear, "You’re something, you’re worth it, you’re a good football player, if you do this, this, and this, we’ll get good results. And if you improve in those areas, this is a process, and we’re gonna have good results." When they come here we want them to be excited, to put their work hat on, and realize this is where you get everything done. All the stuff you hear outside, all the stuff you read, all the things you see on ESPN mean nothing if you’re doing the work here. That will all change if you do the work here.

Our big thing is that they understand that. It’s a whole mindset.

SH: Does Boulder being…I want the right word here…disengaged? Laid-back? This is not Tuscaloosa, this is not Tallahassee. For instance, I feel pretty safe in saying that people here probably won’t poison trees over Colorado/Colorado State. Does that help or hinder what you’re trying to do here?

MM: With it not being a real populated state, and with us being so close to Denver, we’re relatively big in the media. There’s only so many papers, and only so many stations, and there’s basically the Broncos and us. We get maybe more coverage than other programs that have two or three other teams in state. I do think there’s a lot of scrutiny on our players and our program.

I think there’s a lot of other positive factors, too. We get a lot of press here and a lot of people watching. Boulder was voted the number one college town in America last year. So a lot of the city of Boulder revolves around Colorado. When our players go out to eat, a lot of people recognize them and know who they are. That’s awesome, and at the same time, if you’re not doing well it can be a negative.

SH: Do you monitor players’ social media activity? Do you train them on what not to do?

MM: I’ve had to learn a lot really fast. For coaches my age, it’s a lot: the Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, the Vine line … we educate them on that. The kids need to understand that once it’s out there, it’s public, and here you go. They are kids, and when they’re younger they’re going to goof around with each other, and when you do it in college someone can take it and turn it into a bad situation for a young man. I’m not the Gestapo with it, but we do educate them and try to make them understand they can get in a lot of hot water with it and put me in a position where I have to make a decision on their future based on a Twitter message.

SH: Your recruiting profile. Colorado is not the most populous state, and your territory is spread across a lot of territory. Historically the school has gone to California and Texas for additional talent. Where is your recruiting profile right now in 2014?

MM: Great question. Of course, we recruit the state of Colorado hard, and signed five young men out of the state this year, which I think is the most they’ve signed here since 2009. We really tap the whole state. We’re in the Pac-12, of course, which is a great conference and a great fit for Colorado. We recruit California hard, and have a lot of contacts since we came from California. We recruit Texas. It’s not too far away, and we have a good name recognition there. There’s always been a strong Hawaii connection here because of the WUE Act. They’ve had a lot of players here from Hawaii, and we have five guys right now from the islands. We recruit Hawaii pretty hard. We also recruit other Pac-12 states like Washington and Arizona, both big population centers. But our big profile is the West Coast, Texas and Hawaii.

SH: When you are a program that may sometimes have to identify a player who has been mis-evaluated by other programs, what’s your M.O. for finding a player others might have missed?

MM: We really try to get young men that can do it academically, and then to guys who can do it athletically. One of the things I look for are guys who are multiple athletes. A lot of the time guys who are multiple athletes might not be maxed out as a senior.

SH: You’re talking about multi-sport athletes, right?

MM: Yeah, they play football, they play baseball, they run track, they play basketball, so they’re not lifting year round and aren’t just zoned in on one sport. We’ve found a lot of really good players that way, guys who might be 160 right now, but I know he played basketball, he ran track, and then he went and played baseball. Here, I know that in 12 months he’ll be at 190, and with good weight. Where, another guy who only plays one sport, he might be bigger and being recruited harder.

The second thing is that we have camps here, and love to have kids come here and get to know them, see how they compete. You get to find out a bit more about them. We also send our coaches to camps in other states and small colleges to see the kids, meet with them, and work with them at camp. It’s all about developing relationships, getting to know them.

We have a linebacker here, Addison Gillam, who as a player he had one scholarship offer. He was a young man that played tailback, played linebacker, and was gangly and very athletic. We’d seen him in camp, and was very bright and played other sports. The rest is history, and he’s done really well. We really like multi-sport athletes.

We also have an M.O. that anyone who’s 6’3" to 6’5" and is a multi-sport athlete and you don’t know what he’s gonna be coming out of high school? Well, he might be a tight end coming out of high school, but he might grow into being a D-tackle or offensive lineman. We look at a lot of guys like that, so you might see us and think "Oh, you signed four tight ends." No we didn’t, we signed one tight end and that guy’s gonna be a defensive tackle, that one’ll be a defensive end, this one might be a fullback or an offensive lineman. They’re not ready-made, but we’re gonna develop them. That’s where we find the diamond in the rough.

SH: When looking at out of conference scheduling, particularly already playing a Pac-12 game, do you look at scheduling as something where you need FBS games, or do you need those measuring games against tougher competition?

MM: Those are great questions. What I do is play the schedule we have. I really don’t worry about that, I’ll be honest with you.

SH: If you have a hole in your schedule and I can get you a game with LSU or Alabama in the next five minutes, would you want to play them?

MM: That’s a great question.

SH: It’s an unfair hypothetical question.

MM: It would be great to play Alabama and LSU, especially if it was home-and-home. Pretty sure right now they’d love to play us, given level playing fields, but we’ll be there before long. Usually you can’t schedule them next year, so that’d give us a few years to be ready.

Wikipedia says you spent a year working at Shoney’s? "No, no, no, I don’t even know how that got on there."

SH: Wikipedia says you spent a year working at Shoney’s?

MM: No, no, no, I don’t even know how that got on there.

SH: That’s not accurate?

MM: No, that’s not accurate at all. I worked one year at a logistics company called Micros, and one of the companies we supplied was Shoney’s. I don’t know how it got on there. I did that for one year as a logistics manager for a huge company in Nashville, Tennessee. Then I got a call from Ray Goff at Georgia to be a graduate assistant there, and took off for the opportunity.

SH: Is there any transfer from that to being a coach?

MM: Oh, yeah. My management degree from Georgia Tech has really helped me. I manage people, I have to motivate people, I have to organize things, I have to manage my day. There are a lot of moving parts and I have all kinds of different departments within my department. Being a logistics manager truly helped me be able to manage people, organize things, motivate people. It was a great degree.

SH: Would you encourage people to go do something else entirely different before getting into coaching?

MM: I think it helps. I think the FBI makes you do that. There’s a couple of reasons behind that, but I definitely think it’s a good thing to do. It’s hard to turn down immediate opportunity, I know. I wanted to see if I could try coaching, and once I did I knew I couldn’t live without it. Coaching is a kind of profession you can’t live without it. If you don’t feel that way, you probably should go do something else.

College coaching is a totally different thing than pro coaching. College coaching, every day you’re dealing with young people. A lot of my job is dealing with the issues young people face and helping them grow, and mentoring them. That’s an exciting part, but it’s also gut-wrenching at times. And you have to be able to coach and be successful on the field, too. You have to realize you’re dealing with young people, and not with pros.

SH: What is that difference from the pro side?

MM: I coached there for five years, and really enjoyed the pros. I like to say I got my PhD in coaching there, because all you do is football, and evaluate and find weaknesses, and find ways to coach them, find ways to get guys better and pay attention to all the minor details. That really helped me getting back to college, because when I had questions I could say, "Oh, I saw Bill Parcells do this, and I saw Mike Zimmer do this." I learned how to coach this technique through Roy Williams, or through Terence Newman.

That really helped because in college you’re spending half the time in academics, and half the time evaluating players, and half the time coaching, and half time time being a counselor. I know that adds up to two hundred percent, but that’s what you’re doing. In the NFL, you’re just doing football.

SH: I talked to Art Briles last year and he talked about simplification. Teaching a pared-down system is a skill in college, yes?

MM: It’s definitely a skill. Think about the great professors you had, and the best high school teachers. They can make it simple for you so that you learned it, and you kept it. It’s an exact skill, and that’s something we pride ourselves on here.

SH: It’s a scoring game right now. Is there an answer for that, or is that trend going to just keep going?

MM: I think it’s gonna keep going. It’s definitely exciting for television. You’re just trying to find ways to win a football game, and if you feel like you can do it by running more plays or by slowing teams down, you do it. I think that trend will continue, but defenses will catch up and then there will just be something else. It’s always evolving. I was talking to a head pro coach the other day. He said in the pros, it’s hard to do that. They’ve done some of that. But he said if he was in college he’d run a college offense, because it just gives you so many more options. I think you’ll see it change more and more, and more teams that haven’t done it add it to their game. I don’t think it’s a fad. I think it’s something that will stay for a while.

SH: You talk about catering to local talent. What’s the profile in Colorado?

MM: It’s similar to a lot of other states. There’s just not as much population. Here we create a little bit of everything, to be honest. You’ll get a quarterback here, a DB here, last year we had a really good kicker out of the state of Colorado. But population-wise, it’s just a numbers game.

Now, other areas of the country might be just a little bit more rabid about high school football than others. See: Texas, where it’s just more important than other sports. So you might get a few more players there playing on a Friday night than in other places. In Indiana, you might see them playing basketball instead. But on a per capita basis, we’d fit right up there with everyone else.

SH: It’s a dangerous question to ask a coach: outside of football, do you have a hobby?

MM: My hobby is really my kids. I have one who’s about to graduate college, and a son who’s going to be a receiver here at Colorado, and another son in tenth grade who I got to watch play football in yesterday. I do like to go run to get away. Sometimes the hills are a little rough on me, but I enjoy it.

SH: What is your work week in-season?

MM: The one thing about being a college head coach — and my family knows it — is that this is a 24/7, 365 days-a-year job. If the phone rings in the middle of the night and it’s a kid, a recruit, or a coach, they understand. When I have the time, I devote it to them. But it’s really 24/7. I was up late last night, watched a basketball game, and when the game was over I talked to a couple of coaches about a few things, and answered a direct message on Twitter. Then I was up at 4:30 a.m. for workouts at 6 a.m. here.

SH: Is this your really articulate way of saying "I’m not really sure?"

MM: [Laughs] During the season we’re here all the time. It really is 24/7.

SH: Are coaches good at keeping track of everything but their own time?

MM: Maybe. You have to set aside some time to take care of yourself physically. If not, you’ll wake up and realize you’re just run down. As soon as practice is over, I give our coaches an hour and a half to eat, take care of themselves, and then we’re back at it.

SH: Where was the toughest place to play in the (now defunct) WAC?

MM: Utah State. The other place I’d say was a tough place to play was Fresno. That’s known a little bit. I don’t know if people know about Utah State. I tell you what, when we played Hawaii in our first year and they were rolling for a night game, that was a tough place to play. They always talk about the guys playing harder on the rock than off it, and those guys were bouncing all over the place.

SH: You worked under Bill Parcells, but also under Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. What did you learn from him that’s helped you in your current situation?

MM: I learned a tremendous amount from David Cutcliffe. I think the world of him, we talk quite often, and I’d say I think of him as my main mentor. I coached for him twice, and he kind of gave me my start just like Bill did when he jumpstarted my career in Dallas. What I learned from David was how to be truthful with young people, and how to get them to believe and overcome obstacles. I learned how to handle a college staff, and recruiting and academics and how to put it all together. His practice tempo, his practice demeanor, he truly believes you get better on the practice field. I know everyone says that, but he truly believes it in the way he teaches, and the way he practices. You’ve seen that at Duke; he develops players.

SH: Is he one of those people you hear coming out of your mouth?

MM: Oh yeah, a lot of the things I say and do and have on the walls are through David Cutcliffe. I’m not bashful about saying that at all. I thank him quite often.

SH: Another person people imitate a lot without knowing it is Bill Parcells. What did you learn from him?

MM: I learned practice organization. I learned how to evaluate players. I learned how to get a staff to be all on the same page. Those are three main things I learned from him. My practices are a lot like his, my staff meetings run a lot like his did, and how to evaluate on a college level as opposed to a pro level. We still have to go get them, but how we put together a team? I learned that from Bill.

SH: Explain a little bit about how Parcells evaluates?

MM: Well, you look at a certain body type for certain positions. You look for guys who are hungry to be football players, and look for depth at certain positions, and how you handle your special teams. They draft them, but we recruit them, and when you’re thinking about redshirting a guy, you’re thinking about how many plays is he gonna give you on special teams? Not just first-team or second-team reps, but can he give you starting time on special teams? He taught me about counting the number of plays a guy is going to give you out of a game. A guy might not have started for you, but he might have given you 35 plays in a game. That guy is really, really valuable for you.

SH: Player that you have seen on an opposite sideline that still astonishes you when you think about them?

There was this skinny little quarterback at Nevada. I could not believe how fast he was in person.

MM: This might seem kind of obvious, but when I was at San Jose State there was this skinny little quarterback at Nevada. I could not believe how fast he was in person. You’d watch him on film and think, "Oh, he’s not that good," but then you get out on the field and he just runs by people and throwing laser darts, and you’re thinking "this guy’s unreal." But not many people saw him because he was at Nevada, and of course that was Colin Kaepernick.

That’s easy to say now, but when I first saw him I was like "eh," and then he got in the game and nobody could catch him— nobody, on any team. He would be the one on the field that just blew me away.

SH: Toughest place so far in the Pac-12?

MM: When we played Washington that was really serious. What made it more serious was Bishop Sankey being pretty good that day, and being real hard to tackle.

SH: Last movie you saw?

MM: We were sitting around last Sunday afternoon and my boys wanted to go see Godzilla. To be honest with you, it was a lot better than I thought it was going to be.

SH: If Godzilla’s a player, what’s your evaluation for position?

MM: I think he’s a d-tackle. He’s got the lower body. He's tenacious.