Mike MacIntyre was a great hire in 2012, almost by accident. Mike Bohn had Butch Jones, and thankfully for everybody, Butch Jones said no. So Bohn went to his second choice, a coach named Mike who literally brought San Jose State back from the grave.
Colorado football in 2012 was as close to the grave as you could get. They had the worst scoring margin in the country. They badly needed someone comfortable with coaching from zero. Starting from scratch. MacIntyre was comfortable with building a program from dust.
Early results were meager but promising. The Buffs showed fight. Blowing out CSU is always a great start to any CU coach’s tenure. MacIntyre seemed to have a comprehensive, complete vision for turning the program. It was slow and plodding, but the worm started to turn.
2013 to 2015 was the development phase. MacIntyre played his guys early, maybe too early, and went about instilling a culture. Jon Embree seemed to cut corners in his two years trying to rebuild the program. He took character risks for talent and recruiting players others would not. MacIntyre took a different approach, looking for character above most other factors and avoiding headaches when possible. For a while, this meant taking players that other teams in the Pac-12 weren’t even looking at. It meant that 100% effort didn’t really add up to wins. For fans, it was encouraging to see the fight in those teams, even if the wins weren’t coming.
2016 was the first year that MacIntyre needed to show something on the win column. He had three years to establish his vision, recruit his guys, and hire his coaches. Wins needed to show up or his job was in jeopardy.
MacIntyre and his staff proceeded to deliver the most magical season in 15 years to Boulder. The team seemed to be made in his vision - they were undertalented and less athletic than the competition, but man, they had heart and they had will. For 12 games in the fall of 2016, the Buffs brought back the magic. That team was so fun to watch, not because of the crazy athletes or the superstars, but because of the attitude and toughness up and down the roster. This is what MacIntyre was promising for years. His program would make enough plays to win every week. It all started with the player leadership. Sefo Liufau, Phillip Lindsay, Tedric Thompson, the list goes on. Those players, recruited and developed by MacIntyre, refused to lose. The coach of the year awards started pouring in, deservedly so. The man had made Colorado football relevant again.
Looking back, that was the beginning of the end. The Buffs got blown out in the Pac-12 Championship and seemed to lack the passion that made the season work. Then the lead-up to the Alamo Bowl got even worse. Jim Leavitt was hired away by Oregon, and his then replacement, Joe Tumpkin, was found out to be terrible. Mike MacIntyre and CU as a whole bungled the situation, and as a result, they were disciplined.
It seemed that this situation soured MacIntyre in 2017. The Alamo Bowl was a disaster start to finish, and the next year, the Buffs started off shaky. It just seemed to have a different feel around the program.
From here, I’ll stop going step-by-step and give a macro view of why MacIntyre was fired. 2017 and 2018 seemed to have similar problems. The roster had upgraded in talent. There was more than enough raw material to win six games. But the offensive line held back the offense and the team just seemed to lack the will to win. MacIntyre, through a combination of underwhelming assistant coach performances and poor player leadership, failed to capitalize on the foundation he had built.
That left Rick George with a tough choice. This is the man who made it possible to be disappointed in five wins again. The man who brought the program back, if not to national prominence, then to semi-respectability. Mike MacIntyre brought the Colorado Buffaloes from unthinkably bad to slightly below-average. But at CU, slightly below average doesn’t work for very long. At least not under Rick George. The talent on the field added up to more than five wins. The talent on the field added up to more than two conference wins. The talent on the field finally was underperforming rather than overperforming. So George had to make a change.
In the end, MacIntyre made just enough rope to hang himself with. He brought CU back from the depths. In 2012, there was no better hire. He is a master program builder. The culture he instills, the belief in his players, and his unwillingness to compromise character for talent meant that the Buffs were built the right way, painstakingly so. That paid off in a big way in 2016. But once that foundation was in place, the formula had to change. MacIntyre did not change fast enough.