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Why Colorado should be able to get someone good to replace Mike MacIntyre

CU’s football job isn’t great, recent history tells us. But it has enough attractive elements to woo a quality candidate this year.

NCAA Football: Utah State at Michigan State
Utah State coach Matt Wells
Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Colorado is in the market for a new football coach, having fired Mike MacIntyre with one game left in his sixth season. MacIntyre’s tenure was down, then briefly way up, then down again, and the school cut him loose amid a six-game losing streak that followed a 5-0 2018 start.

The key factor appears to have been, well, all the losing. MacIntyre went 30-44 in Boulder, and while he took over an awful team in 2013, he only got north of mediocrity in one season, a shocking 2016 that saw the Buffs go on a magic carpet ride to 10-2. MacIntyre had also earned university discipline for his handling of abuse allegations against a former assistant, and that could not have done him any favors as he sought to keep his job.

There were two possible reasons to keep MacIntyre. One was his $10 million buyout. The other was if Colorado didn’t think it could find anyone better. There are no guarantees they can, but they have a good shot to pull that part off.

A few of the early floated names to replace MacIntyre are exciting.

Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel runs down some candidates here, including Utah State’s Matt Wells (maybe the hottest mid-major name right now, with a ranked team that could win the Mountain West), Boise State’s Bryan Harsin, West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen, Fresno State’s Jeff Tedford (who has conference experience at Cal), and Ohio State’s Ryan Day, whom the Buckeyes have reportedly discussed as Urban Meyer’s successor. Several of those names also come up on an options list by Buffs blog Ralphie Report.

It’s worth noting that Power 5 head coaches almost never leave their schools for other Power 5 jobs that aren’t national powers. The last to do that was Gary Andersen going from Wisconsin to Oregon State after 2014, and he was an unusual case.

Recent history says Colorado can be a hard place to win.

Bill McCartney had the Buffs in national contention every year from 1989 through ‘94, and Rick Neuheisel kept them competitive for two years after that with a lot of McCartney’s players. Their 1990 split national championship under McCartney is still one of the most impressive things any team’s ever done in a static sport with almost no class mobility.

They had a Heisman winner in Rashaan Salaam in 1994, near the tail end of their run as co-pilot of the Big 8 alongside Nebraska. During this stretch, the Buffs were both fun and good.

They’ve had scattered success at other times. But they haven’t been any kind of national player since 2001. Since Gary Barnett’s exit, Colorado’s made two bowls in 12 years. The Buffs could still make that three in 13 with a win this week at Cal, but mediocrity’s mediocrity.

So, the job has limitations. But with those limitations, it has enough attractive qualities that strong candidates might want it.

Colorado isn’t a good recruiting state. It produces two or three blue-chip prospects a year. Most of the states bordering it aren’t a lot better, and the one that’s best, Arizona, is a target for the big powers from California and Texas.

But a good thing that goes along with that: Colorado’s also not surrounded by elite recruiting teams. And it’s not that far from either California or Texas, which has helped previous CU staffs make inroads in both states.A lot of people love Denver, and Boulder has a great rep as a college town.

Nobody’s going to walk in and start signing top-10 classes. CU’s 43rd in two-year recruiting rank and 57th in five-year rank, near the bottom of the Power 5. But some confident coach could talk himself into being able to recruit in the upper half of the Pac-12 and field talented rosters. Wells, for one, already knows the area very well, and Holgorsen has deeper roots in the middle of the country than the East Coast.

The Pac-12 South is one of the most winnable divisions. USC is a blue-blood and should eventually stop being a train wreck, and UCLA will always have more talent than CU. But Arizona, Arizona State, and Utah are no better than recruiting peers to the Buffs.

Pretty much every team has a new or renovated football facility that’s 18 billion square feet and has urinals sculpted out of 18-karat gold. CU’s among those teams, having opened a new performance center and indoor practice field in the last three years.

Also helping Colorado: 2018’s a quiet coaching carousel year.

USC might fire Clay Helton, and maybe Auburn will fire Gus Malzahn. But there aren’t a lot of power gigs open. This year won’t be anything like the last two, which saw Texas, Florida, FSU, LSU, UCLA, Oregon (two times), Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Nebraska open. So Colorado AD Rick George has less competition in the marketplace.

A few more will open in the next week or two, but the only other unfilled Power 5 jobs right now are at scandal-plagued Maryland and at Louisville, which might already have its guy picked out.

A coach with the right personality might jump at the opportunity.

And given the national hiring climate, the Buffs could wind up with someone better than they’d get in almost any other year.