Friday, November 2, 2018

Colorado's Mike MacIntyre Faces Career Defining Moment Tonight at Arizona

Mike MacIntyre, the man who was hired to revive a moribund Colorado program back in 2012, now finds himself on the precipice of having his reputation as a coach pushed over the edge of a cliff.

During his six years leading Colorado, MacIntyre has led the Buffs to four last place finishes in the Pac-12 South, and one remarkable 10 win season in 2016. That season was so unexpected that MacIntyre was awarded a number National Coach of the Year awards.

Those 10 wins out of 12 regular season games in 2016 made everyone think that MacIntyre was indeed the man with the magic touch. Unfortunately, it also appeared to many that it made MM think the same about himself, and that he alone was responsible for the remarkable turnaround.

Unfortunately for the University of Colorado and their head coach, much of the credit for that one winning season should have been given to defensive coordinator extraordinaire Jim Leavitt, who in two seasons turned around the Buffs defense from one of the worst in the country to one of the best. MacIntyre did not like that the DC he was forced to hire was being given so much credit, so he claimed all the credit for himself and Leavitt left Boulder for more money and personal appreciation in Eugene as DC for the Oregon Ducks.

After Leavitt left, Colorado lost first the Pac-12 Championship game and then their bowl game in blowouts. Then, in 2017, they lost seven more games. That made them 5-9 after the departure of Leavitt. And once again, they found themselves in the basement of the Pac-12 South.

In 2018, the stars seemed to align for Colorado when a schedule that looked difficult two years earlier all of a sudden was populated with struggling teams with three of their first five against teams with new head coaches. Unexpectedly, Colorado was 5-0 and ranked, which no one expected. Less than halfway through the season they were on the brink of bowl eligibility for only the 2nd time in 11 seasons.

Then, the Buffaloes met their personal Pac-12 nemesis USC in Los Angeles. Colorado has never beaten USC, and once again the Buffs lost to a USC team that is struggling and mediocre at best (at least by USC standards).

The next game after the Trojans, the Buffaloes hosted the Washington Huskies. UW was a favorite to win the Pac-12 and go to the College Football Playoffs, but they've had three losses already (Auburn, Oregon, and Cal) and are out of the Top 25 for the first time since the beginning of the 2016 season.

That left the Buffaloes at 5-2. It also meant that Colorado had lost their last five games when they could have qualified for a bowl game. They were certain they would finally get over that hump last weekend against Oregon State. Not only were the Buffaloes playing at home, they were playing one of the very worst teams in college football. Things could not have been set up any better for the Buffaloes to become bowl eligible and continue their quest for a Pac-12 South crown.

The Buffaloes started slowly, but by halftime had built a 24-3 lead. On their first play from scrimmage in the 2nd half, Colorado's tailback raced 75 yards untouched for a touchdown to give the Buffs a 31-3 lead. 

Everything was falling into place...

Then the "wheels fell off the bus" according to MacIntyre. The coaches and players froze up as the Buffaloes gave up 38 points in the second half and overtime to lose. It was the worst come-from-ahead loss in Colorado's long and storied history. The only other one close in stature was the 52-45 loss to Kansas in 2010. The Buffaloes also led by 28 points in that game.

After the loss to Kansas in 2010, Colorado coach Dan Hawkins was fired with a 19-39 record. In almost 6 years at Colorado, MacIntyre has a record of 30-41. Interestingly enough, if you take away 2016 (the one anomaly year for the Buffs under MM), their record under MacIntyre would 20-37, almost an exact match of that under Hawkins. That said, the two massive failures to protect 28 point leads are not the only thing the two have in common.

Tonight, the reeling Buffaloes play on the road in Tucson against the University of Arizona. The Wildcats started slowly adjusting to new head coach Kevin Sumlin's changes. And their star quarterback and Heisman hopeful Khalil Tate was injured for much of the season. But at 3-5, Tate was finally healthy and last week the Wildcats put a serious butt whipping on the Oregon Ducks by the score of 44-15. The game was in Tucson.

Sumlin finally has his Arizona team buying into what he is trying to do, while MacIntyre and his Buffaloes are trying to salvage a season that began so well for five games but now seems ready to collapse.

If the Buffaloes are trounced, chances are that MacIntyre will have lost the faith of his players and it is likely that the Buffaloes will have a new head coach by the end of the season. If Colorado can pull out a win, they will become bowl eligible and return home to face two ranked team in the upcoming weeks.

The game is likely the biggest in MacIntyre's career. Win and his career goes on. Lose and it is likely the Buffaloes will end the year with 7 straight losses. Lose and MacIntyre's time in Colorado will be coming to an end.

It's a lot of pressure. And pressure changes everything. When things are going well, MacIntyre loves to take the credit. When things go badly, he loves to blame his players. It's gotta be the kids who are full time students as well as having full time jobs playing football, right? It couldn't be the guy making almost $3 million a year, could it? 

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