Mike MacIntyre asked for a show of hands. "Who thought Washington State and Colorado would be playing in November for the Pac-12 championship?" Roughly 6,000 hands remained in place. Including his.
MacIntyre is 35-52 in seven seasons as a head coach, a record that's about as misleading as a full head of golden blonde hair on your grandfather's head. He took over at San Jose State in 2010, a program with one winning season since 2001 at that time, and went 1-12 in his first season, 5-7 in his second and 10-2 in 2012, recording the first top-25 five ranking in program history.
He left for Colorado after that, inheriting a program fresh off a 1-11 season and riding a streak of seven consecutive losing seasons. The Buffs won 10 games in their first three years and entered 2016 picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South.
That, as we all know, didn't happen.
"If there's no conflict, no adversity, there's no story," he said, speaking to thousands of football coaches at the AFCA Convention in Nashville last week. "You guys stare adversity in the face that's either going to make you or break you."
To illustrate this point, and the success of Colorado's 2016 team, MacIntyre told the story of that Washington State game. The Buffaloes, ranked 10th in the country at the time, hosted No. 22 Washington State. Each was among the season's best stories, and the winner would claim the title of the biggest surprise of 2016 -- and, more importantly, remain in the hunt for the Pac-12 championship.
But the Buffs lost one safety to injury and another to a targeting flag, a potentially fatal sentence against the nation's No. 3 passing offense. Colorado survived, though, limiting Luke Falk to one of his worst games of the season -- a completion percentage 20 points below his season average, with a yards per attempt average one yard below his full-season mark in a 38-24 win.
That victory was possible thanks in part to Nick Fisher, a reserve safety who stepped up and recorded a career-high six tackles and one pass breakup. Three of his stops came on third downs and another came on fourth down, with Colorado clinging to a 28-24 fourth quarter lead and Washington State inside the CU red zone. Fisher was named the Pac-12's Defensive Player of the Week, and afterward repeated one of MacIntyre's core statements: "If you star in your role, everyone's dreams can come true."
“I normally just play special teams," Fisher said, "but Coach always talks about staring in your role and tonight my team needed me to step up and I tried to do that for them."
"Find out what their dreams are," MacIntyre told the coaches in attendance, "and when you do find it, find a way to feed it." To do that, he said, the head coach must carve out time in his schedule to meet with each player 1-on-1. "If you don't know what's going on in their lives, they don't think you care."
Another person MacIntyre said the head coach must carve out time for: himself. MacIntyre goes on a run immediately after practice each day, a practice he learned while playing for Bobby Ross at Georgia Tech. Those 30 minutes of solitude clear his thoughts to where he can properly analyze what he just saw at that day's practice session.
MacIntyre also arrives early each day and shuts his door to think and meditate in the calm of the morning. If he doesn't get that time, MacIntyre says, "I become irritable, I don't make good decisions, I mouth off to people, and I hurt those around me."
That time is essential as MacIntyre continues Colorado's rise. He left San Jose State for Boulder after his bounce-back season with the Spartans, so the path from here is now uncharted. "Every day in life is a fight," he said. "You can accept it and embrace it, or you can let it run over you."