CU Buffs

Whelan: Be careful what you wish for with Colorado Basketball…

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With Colorado’s latest collapse, this time against Washington on Wednesday night where they once held a 17-point lead in the second half, Tad Boyle and his job security have once again become a target for online speculation from fans and…well, just fans.

No, there aren’t national pundits from ESPN, CBS, Sports Illustrated, or anywhere else writing columns or tweets wondering aloud if Boyle has worn out his welcome in Boulder and whether or not the Buffaloes’ season having gone down the drain is going to shake up who leads the program next year or the year after.

They could all be focusing their attention elsewhere, like the brilliant performance we all witnessed by the possible No. 1 pick in this summer’s NBA Draft, Markelle Fultz, of Washington. Or, they could be thinking of CU’s 2017 recruiting class that features three four-star recruits, something that hasn’t been done in the Boyle era. Maybe, just maybe, they’re pretty sure that a program who had been in the NCAA Tournament twice since 1970 before Boyle arrived and hadn’t won any sort of conference championship since 1969 wouldn’t dare think about firing the coach, or even think about thinking about it, that accomplished more than that in just seven seasons.

See, we were here just over one year ago, weren’t we? Following the Buffs’ exit from the 2016 NCAA Tournament, I wrote that some fans simply don’t deserve Boyle, his staff and the success that they’ve brought to the program. In that column, I pointed out the disadvantages that Colorado has compared to their conference rivals, from micro to macro, and how hard that made it to win in Boulder. I was called an apologist and, not surprisingly, much worse by fans who claimed that the bar must be raised for the men’s basketball program at the University of Colorado, largely thanks to the very success enjoyed under the current leadership.

As that same discussion heats up here in 2017, I am tired. I’m tired of trying to explain to people why expectations at Colorado must be different, while leaving room for disappointment when individual teams underachieve. I’m tired of trying to explain how the program is viewed by those outside the city, the state, the fan base, and the conference. So, Buffs fans, I guess it’s time I give you what you want. Let’s raise those standards! Let’s demand more! Let’s get to the Sweet 16 multiple times a decade! Let’s compete for the Pac-12 title every year! Let’s be Arizona!

Okay, so here’s where it starts…

First, stop complaining about weather and drive times to Boulder. You want to be a big time program then you need to be a big time fan base because, even if I’m humoring you here, Colorado ain’t UCLA. Get to the games and be engaged while there. Travel to away games like you did when the team was on the up-and-up. Pay attention to hoops…wait for it…when it starts! I don’t know if you knew this, but the basketball team played quite a few games before Mike MacIntyre’s group was finished this season. Most of all? Donate. And don’t just donate that $20 in your wallet, chat up your tailgating buddies and convince them to donate too.

Once you’ve done that, and by you I mean all of you, make sure Rick George knows how you feel. As I wrote last week, men’s basketball is a non-priority for the AD in Boulder and the only way that changes is if the higher ups feel like it’s worth changing. A packed Coors Event Center? Donations on the rise? With support come expectations. With expectations comes accountability. “But why should I pay for a product that isn’t successful every season and doesn’t score 85 points a night?” I hear you, actually. But, if you remember, this is where the football program was just a few seasons ago, unable to sell tickets and build momentum. The difference is that football is everything at Colorado and it always will be. Those walking the halls of Dal Ward needed no reminder of the importance that a resurgence held. Facility upgrades, marketing budget increases, more substantial salary possibilities for the head coaching position…once these fall into line, then the idea of accountability becomes paramount to the identity of the program.

Look, I get that I’m being a smartass here, but I’m being real with you. The best way to raise the level of acceptable results for a program is to raise the ceiling of what decision makers deem it capable of—administrators, coaches, media, recruits, etc. How can you expect a horse to win races when two of its legs are tied behind its back?

On a micro level, yes, Boyle deserves criticism for some of his choices and results. Of that, there’s no doubt. However, without viewing these losses, recruiting battles, and NCAA Tournament appearances with some much needed context, no progress can really be made in this discussion.

There’s a level of respect deserved for those who wish all of Colorado’s programs could be among the conference’s best. Similarly, I understand that the last three seasons have brought on certain levels of disappointment, relative to each circumstance. Programs are not built overnight. They aren’t built on a steady incline either, with off-years and even stretches of several disappointing seasons sometimes being sandwiched between runs of excitement and success. No one really thought Colorado would go from terrible, to fine, to a surprise, to a contender, to a powerhouse in one straight, consistent line, did they? If so, that’s on them. Yes, that’s on you, sir/ma’am. Get real.

If Boyle’s program is ever to get there, to the level where a conference title is within reach more years than not, everyone from the administration and coaches to fans have to both know and execute their role. When building a program, accountability is widespread, perhaps even more so to those most eager to reap the rewards.

Here's the kicker: one day, Boyle will no longer be the head coach at the University of Colorado. The first coach, at least in quite some time, to embrace the program as a place that he could win, as a place where he wanted to stay, will wake up one morning as something other than the director of CU men's basketball. On that day, or one soon after, someone else will be offered to the chance to replace Boyle. What will that candidate see?

Either he will see a program that is still rising because of Boyle's efforts, the commitment of resources from the AD, and the unwavering support of the fan base, or he'll see one that ran its most successful coach out of town after growth had stalled, in no small part due to lack of true, consistent commitment from anyone outside of the Coors Event Center.

Whichever reality comes to fruition, the responsibility lies on far more heads than just Boyle's.

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