WESTMINSTER - Bill McCartney really needed some good news.
His protege, Jon Embree, was fired on Nov. 26 after compiling a bleak 4-21 record over two seasons at Colorado. Another of McCartney's all-time favorites, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, was also given the pink slip.
And in the aftermath of athletic director Mike Bohn's emotional decision to change the direction of the floundering football program again, McCartney cried publicly that racism was a factor.
That's when McCartney lost his credibility with a lot of loyal fans who had just watched the dysfunctional 2012 Buffs complete the most embarrassing season in program history. CU finished 1-11, losing to Colorado State, Sacramento State and Fresno State during the "easy" portion of the schedule and was then run off the field by an average score of 49.6 to 15.0 in the Pac-12 against teams not teams not coached by Mike Leach.
A long winter of discontent turned into a sorrowful spring when McCartney's wife of 50 years, Lyndi, died on March 21 after a 10-year battle with emphysema.
"I've been very sad. I can't let go of her," McCartney said on Tuesday at a luncheon with reporters after the National Football Foundation announced that the legendary CU head coach had been selected for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame. "But this has really raised my spirits."
McCartney elevated the football program in Boulder out of a deep, dark hole in the early 1980s to the pinnacle of the sport in 1990 when the Buffs captured the national championship. The inspiring and sometimes controversial "Coach Mac" also won three Big 8 Conference titles and compiled a 93-55-5 records in 13 seasons.
On Dec. 10 in New York, McCartney will become the lucky seventh CU figure enshrined in the Hall, joining iconic players Byron "Whizzer" White (inducted in 1952), Joe Romig (1984), Dick Anderson (1993), Bobby Anderson (2006), Alfred Williams (2010) and John Wooten (2012).
"It's a surprise," said a humble and grateful McCartney, who is now 72 years old. "I know it was a long shot. I never let myself believe that it would happen. Now that it has, I'm overjoyed."
This doesn't mean all is forgiven and McCartney will be riding shotgun next to Bohn during next week's CU coaches caravan across the state. McCartney conducted interviews on one side of the restaurant while Bohn ate quietly with his staff on the other. The old coach, who was given a four-year contract extension after winning seven games in his three seasons at CU, will never believe that 23 months was enough time for this regime to judge Embree on.
"He was going to get it done, then he got fired," McCartney said of Embree, whose 1983 recruiting class laid the foundation for CU's national championship. "It was premature."
Embree was understandably caustic at his farewell press conference after his coaching career at CU ended seemingly before it began. To his credit, the classy former tight end and current Cleveland Browns tight ends coach vowed to remain a Buff for life.
On Tuesday, Embree's Hall of Fame mentor also took the high road as Mike MacIntyre entered the room to celebrate with the original Coach Mac.
"I'm not bitter, I'm a Buff," McCartney said. "I'm past all that now. The new Coach Mac, I'm 100 percent behind."
As CU's proud past is celebrated on the national stage once again, it's now time for this generation's Coach Mac to deliver a way forward for the program that Buffs fans can get excited about.