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Knudson: CSU Looks to Calm the Waters


By Mark Knudson, The Mtn. Insider
April 16, 2012

They’re not used to all this hubbub in normally-settled Fort Collins, Colorado, but the past four and a half months have been perhaps the most tumultuous period ever for the Colorado State athletic department.

It has featured high times, like a stirring run to the NCAA basketball tournament for the Men’s basketball team and the hiring of two highly regarded new head coaches. It has also featured low points, like losing popular hoops coach Tim Miles (who took the job at Nebraska), some bumpy moments between the new football coach and the local media and the involvement of three football players in an off-the-field assault that could end up costing them their spots on the team.

You know what they say: It’s not what happens to you that matters, it’s how you handle it. For the CSU Athletic Department, handling things the right way will be of paramount importance moving forward because there’s a whole lot at stake.

New athletic director, Jack Graham, whose hiring kicked off all the fireworks in the first place, has promised “A Bold New Era” for CSU athletics. There are big plans, like a badly needed on-campus football stadium and increased efforts to connect with the school’s largest alumni base in Denver. There are skeptics to quiet, like those who oppose the stadium (evidently they like tiny, isolated, single use stadiums with dirt parking lots) along with students and citizens that need to be convinced that the new football coach will not allow his players to get out of control off the field.

Graham’s first move was a very good one, hiring Alabama offensive coordinator, Jim McElwain, as the Rams’ new head coach. But McElwain’s relationship with the media got off to a bumpy start. He raised some eyebrows when he would not discuss specific players during his Letter of Intent Day press conference and again when he closed spring practices (which is the norm at virtually all big-time football programs). Things got a bit more strained when McElwain made published comments that weren’t too complimentary about the school’s two-year-old, $20 million indoor practice facility.

Saying that, “what it really showed is that we are not going to really be able to use this much,” about a facility that two-thirds of the cold weather schools in the country would love to have was not a smart comment. McElwain needs to re-address the issue and spin it into a positive sometime soon. Moving forward, he needs to gradually become more Sonny Lubick-like in his presentation to the public and a little less Nick Saban-ish. That’s what will play well in The Fort. He’s handled the situation with defensive stars Mike Orakpo and Nordly Capi as well as he could. By most accounts, the players were involved in something they should have certainly steered clear of. If found guilty, they will pay the price.
As for the basketball situation, Graham appears to have gotten the best man for the job in Larry Eustachy. While the new coach is best known for off the court incidents that derailed his coaching career nine years ago, he appears to have successfully battled alcoholism and is now widely considered one of the best coaches in college basketball.

Eustachy’s introductory press conference came at the end of a three-day, sleepless odyssey that included several plane flights back and forth to Hattiesburg, Mississippi where he had to say goodbye to his former team at Southern Miss while making arrangements to relocate to Fort Collins. The exhausted coach’s press conference can be described as “uncomfortable,” but having Eustachy in the fold should make Rams fans very comfortable in the season’s to come.

All in all, it seems like the CSU brass has things under control now and pointed in the right direction moving forward. With both new coaches in place, Graham can laser focus on getting the stadium project off the ground while calming the waters and helping Fort Collins get settled in again.

See all of Mark Knudson's blog entries HERE.
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