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Mile High Sports
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Ottewill: Time to stop the mudslinging in Boulder

In sports, as I was always taught by my father, the loser shuts up.

When the game is over, no matter how fierce or fair the competition, you shake hands and move on. The winner wins gracefully and quietly. The loser accepts defeat and offers no excuses. In theory, the scoreboard is the only element of the game that has any kind of final say.

Jon Embree, the most recent “former” coach in college football, is a fierce and passionate competitor, but he lost. As such, it’s time for him and his supporters to shut up.

That might not be a popular stance. After all, nobody can question the love that Embree had, and perhaps still has, for his alma mater. Nobody doubts that Embree gave it his all.

But in the past 24 hours, what I’ve heard mostly is a lot of sour grapes. Excuses. Gripes. Anger.

Being upset is certainly understandable. And perhaps there’s even some validity to some of those excuses. But what I haven’t heard is Embree owning up to much of the only number in this game that truly mattered – 4-21.

Yesterday via Twitter, the Boulder Daily Camera’s Kyle Ringo documented a long list of things Embree didn’t have at CU – stuff ranging from a new office desk (Ringo noted that Embree used his own, as the administration allegedly wouldn’t replace the one left by Dan Hawkins) to water for his staff. Presumably, the list Ringo spells out originated from Embree. And surely a hint of truth exists. But considering the circumstances, there might be some hyperbole in there, too.

Whining about all that CU lacks is nothing new. From other former head coaches, to the administration’s daily plea to its boosters, the school is – no doubt – always playing catch up with the Joneses.

But I recall a different Jon Embree – the one I interviewed just days after he got what he called “his dream job,” the one who could have cared less about “stuff” and “things.”

“(At your introductory press conference), you mentioned that when you arrived on campus as a freshman football player, you had one dumbbell in the weight room. In modern college football, much has been made about facilities, bells and whistles. Where do you weigh in on that?” I asked, sitting across from Embree at the sizeable desk (no clue whose it was) in his office.

“What do I want from a facilities standpoint? If we need better computer rooms for our student-athletes, then let’s get it for them. If we need better food at training table, then let’s get that for them. If we need a treadmill that you can run on underwater for rehab, then let’s get that. That’s the stuff you need – I believe. (Those things) help your athletes directly. New buildings don’t affect your athletes directly. Nice locker rooms? Yeah, they affect you. But does it have to be a special kind of wood? Does it have to have certain engravings on everything? No. That’s where I am with the facilities. I consider myself a ‘need guy.’ I just don’t go get stuff that I want; I get stuff that I need. I believe if you get caught up in keeping up with the Joneses, and trying to have the best this or the best that, you spoil those guys.”

He continued on about his days as a CU assistant, back when the Buffs won the Big 12 title.

“There’s a certain badge you ask guys to wear at the University of Colorado,” he said. “There’s a certain badge about having to walk up that hill every day. There was a certain badge about, ‘Okay, well, we don’t have a bubble. We’re practicing outside for the Big 12 (Championship Game) and it’s 12 degrees and it’s dimly lit.’ Our guys were out there saying, ‘We’re going to kill Texas because we know they aren’t working like we are.’ There’s a fine line with facilities between needing things and wanting things.”

“Maybe this is reading between the lines,” I said, “but don’t you think if you’re talking to the kid who’s enamored by posh digs, TVs in the locker room, etc., you’ve got the wrong kind of kid?”

“Right. Exactly,” Embree nodded. “I want kids who want to build and add to the tradition, not take from it.”

The coach and his supporters were singing a different tune back in December of 2010 when he was hired. Embree was going to restore tradition with his great passion and love for the university. I don’t remember any caveats back then.

I definitely don’t remember all of Embree’s backers providing excuses on the “front end” of the process. But now, those who pushed for Mike Bohn to hire Embree are the same ones who want to point the finger at Bohn – not Embree – for CU’s current, sad state. For those who claim that Bohn has made two bad hires for football coaches, I’d argue he’s only made one; Hawkins was Bohn’s choice; Embree was brought in amidst pressure from former Buffs who yelled loudest.

They’re still yelling. But they’re not owning up any part of that 4-21 record, either.

Their guy lost and they need to pipe down. Backing one of their own is admirable, but if it’s the black and gold they care about, logic suggests that carrying on about all the school lacks won’t help future progress. Potential coaches and future recruits watch the news and read Twitter.

And bringing race into the picture isn’t fair, either. The subject has certainly come up, but that’s been an injection from those who are in search of juicy headlines or sound bites. To his credit, Embree hasn’t brought the issue of race into this situation – not when he was hired and not when he was fired.

The day he was introduced as CU’s head football coach, Embree bluntly took race out of the equation.

“At the end of the day, I’m a football coach,” he told the media. “There is no category for how many games a black coach won or how many games a white coach won. It’s how many games did you win. It’s just a W and an L, and I have to stack up W’s.”

At the end of the day, that’s what he didn’t do. Regardless of his race, or the facilities in Boulder, Embree simply didn’t win enough football games. From the outset, even he knew that’s all that really mattered.

Sadly, for Embree – a good man and a passionate coach – it’s game over. But that’s just sports. Now it’s time to shut up and move on.

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