It was mid-December in 2019 when the University of Northern Colorado’s football program made national news by hiring Denver Broncos legend, Ed McCaffrey. I remember that day vividly. I had just pulled into Colorado State’s campus parking lot near Canvas Stadium, eager to attend Steve Addazio’s first press conference as the Rams new head football coach. As I made my way to the west side of that breathtaking stadium I received a call, several calls, about some big news stirring in Greeley, Colorado. The Bears announced that former Broncos wide reciever and high school football coach at Valor Christian in Denver would be the next head football coach. Stunning. I had no idea. No one did. Well, save for maybe a handful of folks at UNC, but even the closest insiders were shocked. I kept walking but clearly, this news sucked the air right out of CSU’s upcoming presser. Addazio wasn’t exactly the sexiest hire anyway so when a hometown hero’s name popped up as a new area head coach, the day was lost to that tiny little FCS program in that tiny little town Southeast of Fort Collins. The Bears just hit a home run while the Rams bunted.
The very next day, UNC set up McCaffrey’s first press conference inside the Campus Common building in Greeley. The auditorium was packed. Every seat was full of fans. Some holding signs like you’d see at a game while others wore Bronco’s gear. The front two rows were reserved for media, which were also full. Most of the time, the Bears football program’s media coverage consists of the Voice of the Bears,1310 KFKA, and the Greeley Tribune. But not on this day. Denver media, Fort Collins media, Colorado Springs media and on and on and on it went. Never before had I witnessed so much excitement around UNC football. That was the power of McCaffrey’s name.
UNC Athletic Director, Darren Dunn, made the biggest hire in school history. Dunn had his mic drop moment. In what was supposed to be a call in support of another candidate, Dunn flipped the conversation around and ultimately convinced Ed to take the job. I say convinced because hiring a guy with the popularity and brand like McCaffrey’s comes with certain expectations. Dunn needed to convince him that the Bears were ready to commit to the program. (Hear Ed McCaffrey talk to me on the Hull Show about the state of the program by clicking link below)
There is no doubt that the hire was the right call. UNC football had been irrelevant for more than a decade and the program desperately needed a shot of life. But was it the right “football” hire? Can UNC live up to Eddy Mac’s expectations? Can he become a fixture in the Greeley community? Does he want to? Of course we won’t know those answers until after next season but those were my concerns from day one after the initial shock wore off. He coached just two seasons at Valor Christian High School and while he won a state championship it’s not exactly a rarity for that school to win gold balls. They’ve won 8 titles since 2007 and being a private school, their student athletes want for nothing as their facilities, for a high school, are second to none. Not taking anything away from Coach McCaffrey, but it’s worth noting that regardless of who’s coaching at Valor, they are a perennial favorite to win it all. So can being a pretty good NFL receiver and a high school football coach for two seasons equate to success on the college football stage? He’s never even been a position coach at that level so if you are skeptical, you have every right.
The Bears recently broke ground on their $4 million, donor funded, Empower Center for athletes, a strength and training facility. Coach McCaffrey told us on the Hull Show recently they just put in a new turf field at Nottingham field so it appears that President of UNC, Dr. Andy Feinstein and Dunn are holding up their end of the deal and committing to the program. Will that be enough? If UNC has a losing season the next, say, two years, will the blame be shifted to a program that simply can’t/won’t do enough to foster a winning culture? Ed told us that he was used to being on winning teams with a championship mentality. Before he was hired, that was simply not the case for the football program. Since 2011, the Bears are 28-72 under former head coach, Earnest Collins Jr. There was a lot of losing going on in Greeley and seeing as Collins Jr. kept his job for as long as he did with that abysmal record, it was fair to assume the University didn’t have big plans to build up the program. That seems to be changing.
Right now, things are good. They are great, in fact. Even though we have yet to see Coach McCaffrey’s first game as the Bears head coach (did not play in 2020 due to COVID-19), the optimism is still through the roof. Community leaders are hopeful that he will begin to lay down a foundation by supporting local entities throughout the area. Being a bit of an “in the know” guy throughout Greeley myself, I cannot exactly prove that he’s been out and about as much as some would like. However, we are just recovering from a pandemic so to judge his Greeley support based off 2020 is a bit unfair. Only time will tell if Ed will earn the trust of the community.
So again, as I write this in mid-June, there’s excitement surrounding UNC football like never before. Just recently, the Bears announced that McCaffrey’s son, Dylan McCaffrey, transferred from Michigan to UNC. Think about that statement for a second. A QB on a D1 school, one of the most popular football programs in the country, transferred to an FCS school in the Big Sky Conference. I’m not sure Jim Harbaugh even knows there IS a Big Sky Conference. So on top of the schools biggest hire in history, they get their biggest transfer in history. The power of the name McCaffrey.
The Bears open up their season on September 3rd against the PAC 12’s Colorado Buffaloes. Should be a Buffs blowout but what a way to start this thing off for Ed and UNC. Going up against his old receivers coach in Karl Dorrell and the big brother school of the state. The stage is as big as it could get for a Bears program that has not had much to cheer for.
For now, enjoy the ride. My guess is, at some point, this thing will get a bit bumpy, but for now, it’s smooth sailing.