Winter isn’t usually a time of growth in nature. But, for Mike Bobo and Co., it’s time to grow.
Literally and figuratively. The coaching staff must grow from their current depleted level of six back up to a healthy nine and possibly to 10. Mentally, the staff has to learn from yet another bowl loss and a third straight season of mediocrity, while the players need to take something away from the experience as well.
After Bobo’s Colorado State Rams lost in their third straight bowl game with him in charge, 31-28 to Marshall Saturday night in New Mexico, the head coach said they were heading home immediately to get back to work.
“I’ve got to get to work on a coaching staff,” Bobo said after his Rams loss Saturday night in Albuquerque. “I gotta get to work on recruiting. We’ve got a signing day on Dec. 20, it’s something new for everybody. We’ve got to figure out what guys who are committed to us are going to sign.”
He does need to get back to work, get back to the drawing board and hire a defensive coordinator – the right coordinator – and grow his coaching staff. Then, if he chooses, Bobo’s also got to hire an offensive coordinator (or promote within) and a defensive backs coach. And, thanks to a new rule, he has the ability to hire a 10th assistant, if so he chooses.
Thanks to his contract extension, which was signed last week, Bobo’s salary grew, and so did the important salary pool for assistants, meaning there are little excuses to be made from this point forward.
Starting in 2018, CSU football will fully be Bobo’s beast, his creation and his full responsibility. Because he’ll not only have a new coaching staff, with hopefully as strong-willed a person on defense as he is on offense, they’ll also be made up of a vast majority of Bobo’s recruits.
And Bobo’s motto since Day One of joining Colorado State has been “Never Satisfied,” his goal has been to win the Mountain West Conference. And yet, while he nor his boss AD Joe Parker are satisfied with the results on the field, there hasn’t been any growth in terms of wins and losses.
“I know we’re closer than some may think,” Bobo explained Saturday night. “We’ve got to figure out a way to make those plays in critical situations. And to learn how to win. We’re still learning how to win…We’re afraid of failing and we failed. And it hurts. And it should hurt. But, that’s what we’re going to build on. That feeling we have.”
Three straight 7-6 seasons with Mike Bobo as head coach has left some fans questioning the extension which has the head coached signed to the school through 2022. It’s a far cry from the three straight years of 3-9 football under Steve Fairchild, but it’s also seemingly a long ways off from being conference champions, too.
They’re stuck right in the middle of great and bad; the Rams are pedestrian.
But Colorado State football isn’t aiming for middle-of-the road. Yes, they are trying to make five straight bowl games, which is a positive, but to lose four in a row is a bad look. All three bowl games Bobo has coached in have been defeats, and for one reason or multiple adding up, his Rams are 2-7 in rivalry games.
They haven’t won the “big game” with Bobo in charge nearly enough, and it’s time for that to change if they truly want to win the Mountain West for the first time since 2002. The Rams will have to beat Boise State at least once; Colorado State is 0-7 all-time against the Broncos, including that heartbreaking, 14-point comeback loss by the West’s best team in November. CSU will need to beat Wyoming with consistency, too, as the rival Cowboys are in the Rams’ West Division in the conference. And, the Rams will need to win games against annual contenders that come out of nowhere, like Fresno State this year.
Simply, good coaches push their teams to win games against teams they shouldn’t. At least some of the time.
While Bobo’s not out there throwing touchdowns anymore, he can be held accountable in the play-calling as well as the team’s preparation. Far too often over the last three years the team in green and gold has started slowly, especially in big games, which allows opponents to get out to a lead. It’s a problem he’s addressed multiple times after games and yet, it persists. And as this team continues to learn how to win, they are still searching on how to come back from early deficits, too.
In play-calling, he’s been mostly solid, and his team was 10th-best in offensive production from a yards perspective this season, at 501 per game. Still, situationally, some calls leave something to be desired.
In the loss to Air Force, Bobo elected to punt the ball away, with his team in enemy territory, down 10 points with 10:21 on the board. It wasn’t just that his Rams needed to put a score on the board at the end of that drive, the defense hadn’t stopped the Falcons all day long, with the away team scoring five straight times before that punt. The Falcons took the ball, ran seven minutes off time off the clock and put seven on the board to cement the win.
Early in the fourth quarter on Saturday, with his team down 10 points and 11 minutes on the clock, the Rams couldn’t use newfound momentum given to them by Anthony Hawkins’ interception to put points on the board. From the Marshall 41, two incomplete passes set up a 3rd and 10, where quarterback Nick Stevens threw a swing pass out to Dalyn Dawkins nearly lateral of the line of scrimmage, and he was tackled for a two-yard loss. That play call set the offense up in 4th and 12, where Bobo was right to go for it, but the result was a turnover on downs. That third down play should’ve attacked up field, not laterally because the 4th and 12 was just too long to convert against a Marshall defense who brought the heat all day long.
“I have a good feeling of the direction we’re headed,” Bobo said after the third straight bowl loss. “And sometimes you say, ‘How can you say that when you lost the game?’ That’s part of it. That’s how you grow, when you fail. If everything was easy all the time, nobody would amount to anything in my opinion.”
Yes, the program is growing. The level of recruits have improved with Bobo in charge. Facilities have been upgraded to be some of the best in the entire nation, even if that plan was in place before the man from Georgia was hired. And the players are more bought in, now, too. Bobo explained Saturday when he showed up, some players didn’t want to play in the Arizona Bowl, which he had never seen.
Incremental improvements are solid, but it’s time for this program to take a giant leap forward, not just on defense, but on special teams, in situational play-calling; it’s time for Bobo and Co. to grow into legitimate conference contenders.