Big­gest game of his ca­reer

Coach MacIn­tyre re­turns to his past in Bay Area

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Nick Kos­mider The Den­ver Post

Six years be­fore he was named the top coach in col­lege foot­ball, Mike MacIn­tyre came to this Sil­i­con Val­ley town and told one of the worst teams in the coun­try that he could help it change its for­tunes.

MacIn­tyre took his first head coach­ing job at San Jose State in 2010. The Spar­tans fin­ished 2-10 the prior sea­son. Their aca­demic progress rate scores were among the worst in the NCAA. But be­fore MacIn­tyre told his new play­ers, still skep­ti­cal about this new guy with the South­ern ac­cent, about how they would win games, he told them about the kind of team they would be­come.

“It was all about the fam­ily as­pect,” said Noel Grigsby, who be­came one of the most pro­lific re­ceivers in school his­tory. “You

grow up with Coach Mac, and we grew with him. We felt like we were a part of his fam­ily. When you deal with a coach and you feel like you’re a part of ev­ery­thing he’s do­ing, ev­ery de­ci­sion, then that’s some­body you def­i­nitely want to play for. It’s more than just foot­ball.”

When MacIn­tyre, the newly minted 2016 Wal­ter Camp na­tional coach of the year, leads No. 9 Colorado (10-2) into the Pac-12 cham­pi­onship game Fri­day night against No. 4 Wash­ing­ton (11-1) at Levi’s Sta­dium in Santa Clara, he will be just 9 miles from where he grew up as a head coach.

San Jose State is where MacIn­tyre laid out a vi­sion and asked his play­ers to trust him. It wasn’t al­ways easy. In MacIn­tyre’s first sea­son, the Spar­tans went 1-12 and were win­less in the Western Ath­letic Con­fer­ence. Some of the older play­ers, Grigsby said, re­sisted change.

But even amid the strug­gles, MacIn­tyre had reached the heart of the team, play­ers such as Grigsby. They saw MacIn­tyre’s vi­sion tak­ing shape, notic­ing the in­cre­men­tal im­prove­ments in prac­tice. In MacIn­tyre’s sec­ond sea­son, the Spar­tans fin­ished 5-7.

San Jose State was ready to take the next step by 2012. The Spar­tans lost their opener to Pac-12 power Stan­ford by a field goal, then lost only once the rest of the sea­son. San Jose State’s 11 wins were the most in school his­tory.

“There were a lot of great young men at San Jose State who gave ev­ery­thing they had,” MacIn­tyre said. “When I went there, if there were 121 teams in Divi­sion I, we were No. 121. They were ter­ri­ble aca­dem­i­cally at the time. All of that com­pletely changed in a three-year pe­riod.

“We went from the worst APR to the best APR in the league. We went from the worst team in the his­tory of the school to the best team in the his­tory of the school. It just proved that if you care about young peo­ple, get young peo­ple who are com­mit­ted … and you set high goals and don’t budge from them, great things can be ac­com­plished.”

Con­nect­ing foot­ball to fam­ily isn’t a man­u­fac­tured ideal for MacIn­tyre. For him, there are no lines that sep­a­rate the game from his fam­ily. They feed off one an­other. Just ask his men­tor. Duke coach David Cut­cliffe first met MacIn­tyre when he was play­ing for his father, Ge­orge MacIn­tyre, at Van­der­bilt in the mid-1980s. Cut­cliffe was an as­sis­tant at Ten­nessee at the time, and it was ev­i­dent how close father and son were.

Later, when Mike MacIn­tyre worked for Cut­cliffe at Ole Miss and then Duke, it was Jay MacIn­tyre fol­low­ing his dad around at prac­tice, bond­ing with the play­ers like they were his older broth­ers. Cut­cliffe still smiles when he thinks of those gen­er­a­tional bonds.

“To see him have this suc­cess is bet­ter than me hav­ing suc­cess,” said Cut­cliffe, who took a break from re­cruit­ing this week to re­flect on his for­mer as­sis­tant. “I know how com­mit­ted Mike is to the process and to the pro­fes­sion and how hard he has worked, with his fam­ily there ev­ery step of the way. My fa­vorite part is that he and Jay are shar­ing this op­por­tu­nity. To see those two shar­ing that is be­yond words.”

Cut­cliffe would rarely see MacIn­tyre with­out his fam­ily around, a rar­ity, he said, in a pro­fes­sion that can con­sume and at times strain those bonds. It also gave his play­ers an in­sight into his re­la­tion­ships and how he worked at them, which has paid div­i­dends on the re­cruit­ing trail.

“You can’t just hus­tle to be a great re­cruiter,” Cut­cliffe said. “You have to be a re­la­tion­ship builder. I don’t know that I’ve ever been around any­body who has done it as well as Mike. Once you do that, you can coach them tough and coach them hard.”

Once MacIn­tyre so­lid­i­fied those re­la­tion­ships at San Jose State, the next step was push­ing his play­ers be­yond them­selves. When he told his CU play­ers they would be Pac-12 cham­pi­ons be­fore this sea­son, it wasn’t a ran­dom dec­la­ra­tion. It was born of some­thing deeper he learned while coach­ing the Spar­tans, per­haps the big­gest les­son he took from his time at San Jose State.

“If they could be­lieve it,” MacIn­tyre said, “then they could achieve it.”

The CU coach wiped away a tear this week when Grigsby’s name came up. He thought of Grigsby’s mother, who ripped into her son harder than MacIn­tyre ever could have when the re­ceiver dropped a key pass early in the coach’s San Jose State ten­ure. MacIn­tyre has a habit of think­ing of the fam­i­lies be­hind the play­ers in their big­gest mo­ments. When Ahkello Wither­spoon made a win-sav­ing in­ter­cep­tion dur­ing CU’s state­ment vic­tory at Ore­gon this sea­son, MacIn­tyre said thoughts turned to Wither­spoon’s par­ents and the joy he imag­ined they were feel­ing at the time.

“Peo­ple say you build a ‘win­ning cul­ture,’ and I don’t think that’s the right term,” Cut­cliffe said. “You build a ‘strong cul­ture,’ and you build ev­ery as­pect of it. Ev­ery­thing you do is im­por­tant in a strong cul­ture, and win­ning be­comes a byprod­uct of that cul­ture.”

Grigsby, now work­ing in busi­ness de­vel­op­ment and serv­ing as an as­sis­tant coach at Cren­shaw High School, won’t be able to make the trip to Santa Clara on Fri­day like many of his for­mer team­mates. He will be watch­ing, though, his old coach’s lessons al­ways at the fore­front of his mind.

“His first game at San Jose State was my first game,” Grigsby said. “I was al­ways go­ing to ride with Coach MacIn­tyre. We grew to­gether. He taught me when you work hard, you stick to the process and you be­lieve, you al­ways win.”

Cliff Grass­mick, Daily Cam­era

Coach Mike MacIn­tyre has worked won­ders at CU, but the story is just a se­quel. He per­formed a sim­i­lar feat at San Jose State.

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