This past Sunday was, as is usually the case following the last major weekend in the college football season, a bad day to be a coach on the hot seat. Among the coaches fired on Sunday was Colorado’s Jon Embree, who had completed only his second year at his alma mater.
On Monday, Embree held an emotional press conference in which he was visibly hurt and stunned. When asked if he thought the next coach could be successful at Colorado, Embree replied sternly “How long does he have?” It was a not-so-subtle shot at the university’s administration, which was only re-enforced when athletic director Mike Bohn took the microphone next and stumbled his way through a Q&A with reporters over exactly what was wrong with the football program.
But now Embree’s dismissal has shifted into a discussion about whether race played a role in the manner in which he was terminated. That conversation gained intensity when former Buffs coach Bill McCartney said on a local radio show Tuesday that he was given more time to build the program — McCartney coached at Colorado from 1982-’94 and has a long history with Embree — than Embree because of the color of his skin:
“Honestly, I believe it’s because I’m Caucasian. I believe black men have less opportunity, shorter time if you will. It’s just like, Dan Hawkins got five full years. Why not give Jon Embree five years? You signed him to a five-year contract.
“Men of color have a more difficult road to tread. It didn’t happen to me. Why should it happen to a black man?”
McCartney also read an open letter on the air to the university’s fans and admins, which you can read HERE, and criticized chancellor Phil DiStefano:
“I heard the chancellor said it didn’t matter what color Jon was. I think that offends every person of color out there. This guy can match wits with any white guy out there. He’s the real deal.”
DiStefano said during the Monday press conference, “We didn’t hire Jon because he’s an African-American, and we didn’t fire Jon because he is an African-American.”
Technically, Embree was fired because he didn’t win enough, fast enough. The Buffs were victorious just four times in Embree’s two years. For the sake McCartney’s comparison, Dan Hawkins, the coach who preceded Embree, had 19 wins in almost five seasons at Colorado. McCartney himself had just seven wins in his first three years in Boulder before matching that win total in 1985 and going on to have a successful tenure with the program. That was a different era though, one when coaches generally had more time to get things moving in the right direction.
This week, Gene Chizik was fired two years removed from winning a national championship. Ellis Johnson was shown the door after one winless season at Southern Miss. Both coaches are white. That’s not to say there isn’t a point to be made about the uphill battle minority coaches face in the profession, but winning is the most crucial metric for judging a coach’s success, not the color of their skin. Or, at least that’s what you hope.
Yes, Embree may have been in over his head from the first day he stepped foot back on to campus, but he certainly didn’t run Colorado football into the ground. This is a program that hasn’t had a winning season since 2005 and will now be looking for its third coach since then. Judging by Monday’s press conference, Colorado athletics has bigger problems than Jon Embree. The fact that Bohn admitted as much shows just how bad it really is in Boulder.
The question is did Embree have a fair chance to turn Colorado around with those issues taken into consideration? If not, why?