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Merilatt: CU had no choice but to fire Jon Embree

As a sports fan, there’s a pretty good chance that a season spent rooting for your favorite team is going to end in disappointment. That’s just the harsh reality. Every year, only one squad hoists the championship trophy; the rest lament what could have been and start dreaming about better days ahead.

Based on the numbers that overwhelmingly support this fact (31 teams “fail” every year in the NFL; 29 in MLB, the NBA and NHL; and 123 in FBS college football), there’s only one reason for anyone to voluntarily invest their time, money and emotions in following a team: Hope.

Fans have to believe that the upcoming season will be “the one.” They must be convinced that better days are on the horizon. Or they have to trust that things are headed in the right direction. Otherwise, there’s no reason to buy in, get on board and be a part of the ride.

In Boulder, all hope was lost.

After a dismal 1-11 season that seemingly featured one blowout loss after another, there was no reason to think that the future offered any brighter days for the University of Colorado football team. Following the first winless season at Folsom Field ever, there was no way to convince the Buffaloes faithful to be a part of next season (or any others).

As a result, something had to be done. Yesterday, it was.

After just two years on the job, a time in which he posted a dismal 4-21 record, Jon Embree was fired as the Buffs head coach on Sunday. The press conference making it official will be held today on campus.

Colorado is going to take some heat for the decision. There will be those who will cite the lack of time given to the first-time coach, rightly pointing out that athletic director Mike Bohn had to know there would be some growing pains associated with learning on the job. But the move had to be made.

According to reports, Bohn told Embree that he didn’t think the trajectory of the program was going in the right direction. He couldn’t be more correct.

Anyone who watched Colorado during the past two seasons can attest to the fact that the Buffs weren’t progressing. If anything, they were regressing.

A year ago, CU finished 3-10. While certainly not good, there were at least some promising signs. The Buffs won two of their last three, including the season finale at Utah that snapped a 23-game road-losing streak.

This year, however, things started bad and got progressively worse. While Colorado’s record was bad enough, the way they got to 1-11 was even more embarrassing. Week after week seemed to bring a new low, causing fans to cringe every Saturday.

There was a home loss to a Division I-AA foe, Sacramento State. There was a 69-14 beat down at Fresno State, which saw CU fall behind 35-0 in the first quarter and trail 55-7 at halftime. There was a three-week stretch at midseason where the Buffs lost by a combined score of 168-20 to Southern Cal, Oregon and Stanford, failing to be even remotely competitive in any of those games. And there was Friday’s home loss to Utah, a game that capped the first winless season in front of the home fans since 1920 (when Colorado 0-1-2 at Gamble Field).

Those kinds of results are impossible to spin. There’s no way to suggest that next season would be any different. That kind of futility can’t be blamed on inexperience, injuries or anything else.

Was it all due to coaching? No. But Nick Saban, Urban Meyer or any other great college football coach wouldn’t have been within one point of an 0-12 season with CU’s current roster. So a lot of the troubles had to do with the fact that Colorado’s staff was ill-prepared for the task at hand; let’s face it, a guy who was a tight ends coach in the NFL wasn’t ready to be a head coach in the Pac-12.

So Bohn made the tough, but correct, decision. It would have been easier to keep Embree and his relatively modest salary, refill the athletic department coffers with newfound Pac-12 TV money and wait to see how things played out. Instead, the AD showed that the powers that be in Boulder actually care about football; by making a move, the Buffs demonstrated that they realize the importance a successful program can have on the entire university.

And that leads to the true topic of the day. Embree’s dismissal was justified, and it gave CU fans a reason to believe that the university cares about what happens on the gridiron, but it only makes sense if Bohn hires the right guy to resurrect the program.

That process will involve three things. First, the new head coach will have to energize the fan base; already skeptical Buffs supporters will need to be wowed by the choice. Second, he’ll need to resonate with recruits; harkening back to CU’s glory days isn’t enough. And finally, the next Colorado coach will have to win; ultimately, that’s all that matters.

Can that be done in Boulder? Absolutely. CU just needs to find someone who quits making excuses.

Enough about the lack of talent; the Buffs clearly had better players than Sac State. Give the facilities issue a rest, too; the setting in Boulder is obviously superior to Fresno in every possible way. And stop harping on unfair admissions requirements; Stanford is able to win despite being a top-flight academic institution.

The right coach can overcome those, and any other, obstacles. Now, it’s up to Bohn to find that guy.

Money should be no object (ask Alabama how the ROI has been on Saban’s $5 million per year). Baggage shouldn’t be a disqualifier (see Bobby Petrino). And a prior connection to the program should be irrelevant (sorry, Buffs4Life).

CU got rid of a coach because all hope was lost. They need to make sure his replacement immediately rectifies that problem.

As fans, that’s all anyone can ask from their team. It’s time for hope to return to Boulder.

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