The University of Colorado pulled the plug on football coach Jon Embree's rebuilding project Sunday afternoon when athletic director Mike Bohn fired Embree in his office at the Dal Ward Center.
The school has already started a search for Embree's replacement. It is the third time in seven years Bohn has fired a coach and apparently Bohn will be allowed to make a third hire as well.
Embree, Bohn and other CU officials will participate in a press conference today at the Dal Ward Center to discuss the Embree decision and the future of the program. Embree said he had not heard from chancellor Phil DiStefano or president Bruce Benson late Sunday evening.
Embree clearly felt like the rug was pulled out from underneath him after only two seasons and not quite two full calendar years in the job when he spoke about the decision Sunday evening. After Friday's season-ending loss to Utah, Embree said he had been assured by Bohn that his job was safe.
Embree was the school's first black head football coach and the only coach in the modern history of the program to be allowed fewer than three seasons in the job.
"Was it a winning program when I took it over?" Embree said when asked if he was given enough time. "So how much time does it take? I guess two years. So hopefully the next guy gets two years."
The last coach to occupy the job for fewer than three years was Bud Davis, who coached the Buffs in only the 1962 season. Firing a football coach after just two seasons doesn't happen often, but CU is not alone in doing so. Kansas fired Turner Gill last year after just two seasons.
Embree is also the founder of Buffs4Life, a charity organization dedicated to helping former CU student athletes in need.
School sources said officials were concerned about deterioration of the university's brand with so many bad losses playing out against prominent opponents drawing national attention. Former CU coach Gary Barnett, who was fired by CU in 2005, said he was surprised by the move. He said he thought Embree would receive a third year to show improvement.
However, Barnett said perception of the program might have been a motivating factor.
"CU's really taken a hit nationally," Barnett said. "People who know Jon and people who know Colorado, I think everybody sort of expected Jon would get another year. But if you get outside of that and you deal with people who don't know Jon and don't really know the workings at CU, I don't think anybody thought he would survive."
Embree and Bohn met with the team Sunday evening at a previously scheduled team meeting. Sources told the Camera players gave Embree a standing ovation as he left the auditorium in the Dal Ward Center after addressing them. Many of the players were already aware Embree had been fired after the Daily Camera first reported the news Sunday.
A source told the Camera when Bohn addressed the team an unidentified person shouted that Bohn should fire himself. Players were not happy with the news of another coaching change.
"We all really liked coach Embree a lot," said quarterback Jordan Webb, who served as the Buffs' starter for most of this season. "He really loved us all. So it was sad to see him go."
A slew of current and former players took to Twitter expressing disappointment and outrage with the decision later in the evening. Several current players hinted that they might leave the program.
Embree's agent, Boulder-based Jack Mills, said he believes the school made a poor decision in not being more patient and allowing Embree to build a more mature and complete roster.
"I don't think that two years was a fair test," Mills said. "I think a minimum of three years was necessary with the state of the program when he came in. I mean, this is not Rick Neuheisel taking over for (Bill) McCartney. This was a program that was pretty far down."
When Embree was hired two years ago, he took over a team that hadn't produced a winning record since 2005 and had been to just one bowl game under Hawkins. The roster was depleted at a variety of positions, most notably quarterback, defensive line and the secondary.
Embree said Bohn told him he had made the decision to fire him because he was concerned about the trajectory of the program.
"I said, 'Well, what was the trajectory of the program when you hired me?'" Embree said. "'How many games had we won on the road when you hired me?"
Bohn did not take questions from reporters when he left the Dal Ward Center Sunday evening.
School officials confirmed last week that Embree's contract calls for a $500,000 buyout for each of the three remaining years on his five-year deal for a total of $1.5 million. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is the only other member of the coaching staff with a multi-year deal. CU officials said Bieniemy is owed $250,000 for each of the three remaining years on his deal for a total of $750,000. In previous coaching changes, CU has offered assistant coaches severance packages, including several months salary.
Colorado is expected to have to pay significantly more than the $750,000 it pays Embree annually in order to hire a new coach with name recognition and still more to be able to compete for quality assistant coaches. For instance, some Pac-12 programs are paying offensive and defensive coordinators more than Embree was making as the head coach at CU.
"I think it's going to be a hard sell for an experienced, name coach," Mills said. "There is plenty of guys that would take it that are on the upswing, but I don't see an experienced guy being real anxious to come here."Embree, a former CU tight end who played under McCartney in the 1980s and then coached under McCartney, Neuheisel and Barnett at CU, went 4-21 in his two seasons after inheriting a lackluster roster from his predecessor Dan Hawkins. The Buffs went 3-10 in Embree's first season in 2011. The highlight of that season was a road win in the final game of the year at Utah, ending a 24-game road losing streak most of which came under Hawkins.
The Buffs entered this season as the least experienced team in the nation with only eight seniors on the roster. They struggled from the outset suffering embarrassing losses in September against Sacramento State at home and Fresno State on the road. Other than an inspired fourth-quarter comeback on the road at Washington State and hard-fought season finale at home against Utah, they were uncompetitive in Pac-12 play.
"I know I've walked the walk," Embree said. "I know what I've put out there on the field as a player and a coach. I know what it was like to walk up that hill, God knows how many times, helping kids. I know I've made a lot of people's lives better, players that I've coached, players that I've recruited. This moment is not going to define me."
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