By Tyler Fenwick | @Ty_Fenwick
Sports Capital Journalism Program
TAMPA, Fla. — When Mike MacIntyre was 19 years old, his father George, the head coach at Vanderbilt University, told him to go with him to the locker room.
“Hey Mike! Come here really quick,” he remembered hearing his father say.
MacIntyre followed his dad to the locker room and noticed there was a football team standing there. It was from Grambling State University.
“Come here,” his dad told him. “I want you to meet Eddie Robinson.”
That was MacIntyre’s first time meeting the man who would go on to become the first college football coach to reach 400 wins.
On Saturday night, MacIntyre’s connection with the late Robinson came full circle when he was named the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year by The Football Writers Association of America.
Robinson, the legendary Grambling State coach, compiled a then-unprecedented 408 victories during his 57 seasons with the Tigers. He sent more than 200 players to the National Football League, including Super Bowl XXII MVP quarterback Doug Williams of the Washington Redskins, the first African-American quarterback to win a NFL championship.
As a testament to how dominant Robinson’s Grambling State teams were, MacIntyre remembers seeing Tiger players going into the locker room at Vanderbilt before a game against Tennessee State and his teammates thinking, “Whoo! We’re glad we’re not playing Grambling.”
“They had some dudes!”
As MacIntyre grew to know Robinson the win total continued growing, but he became more impressed with the way he worked “to truly transform lives and give people an opportunity to live their dreams and reach their future dreams.”
Those qualities were instilled in MacIntyre as he joined the head coaching profession, first at San Jose State and now at Colorado.
Eddie Robinson III, the grandson of Robinson who presents the award on behalf of the family, does his homework each year on the coach who joins his grandfather’s legacy by winning what he calls “The Eddie.”
“Whenever the recipient of The Eddie is announced … I do my research to see if there are any similarities between the winner and coach Robinson as far as coaching approach and your philosophy,” Robinson said.
He found quite a few.
Robinson offered a quote from MacIntyre’s son about how every player has gone away “knowing he cares for them and loves them more than just as a football player.”
Kind of like Eddie Robinson.
The same sentiment was reiterated by another quote from Colorado defensive tackle Jordan Carrell, who remarked that, “He’s also a great man and a great mentor to us, and he teaches us a lot about life.”
Kind of like Eddie Robinson.
“We’re all gonna leave a legacy,” said MacIntyre. “If it’s just about wins and losses, it’s going to be very short.”
MacIntyre acknowledged that wins and losses are important in his business, but above that is understanding that his players are also people, and that’s how they should be treated first and foremost.
“All the things that we do in our program have let the kids know that they’re not just a player, they’re a true person,” he said.
Along those same lines, what MacIntyre wants to be remembered for is not just a winning percentage or conference championships. He wants people to one day look back and see someone who cared for his players and advocated for good decision making in life, reminding them that if they invest themselves, they can make their dreams come true.
“I’d like to be able to say I kind of helped them be a dream maker,” he said.
The Eddie Robinson Award became part of a string of coaching honors for MacIntyre, who was also named the Walter Camp Coach of the Year, the ESPN Home Depot Coach of the Year and the Associated Press Coach of the Year. MacIntyre said he began to recognize the qualities that would lead to a successful season during the summer.
On the 15th day of preseason practice, MacIntyre said, he wrote some thoughts in his notebook.
“We’ve had 15 days that I haven’t had to get on them,” he said. “They came to practice everyday. They worked. And I said we’re gonna have a good football team.”
The good news for the program at the time was that it had doubled its win total from 2014 to 2015. The bad news was that the improvement still only resulted in four wins, giving MacIntyre a total of 10 through three seasons, and he’d only won two Pac-12 games.
MacIntyre knows his Colorado teams weren’t very good then.
“It was a tarnished buffalo,” he said.
But in his fourth season, MacIntyre had an early feeling that this would be the year.
“Halfway through camp I realized we were gonna have a really good team,” said MacIntyre. “….Now, did I think we’d win 10 games or more, double-digits? No, but I thought we’d definitely have a winning season.”
Then he told his players their goal was to win the Pac-12 championship. Then he took a step further and told the media.
“Most coaches don’t do that,” said MacIntyre, but he felt his players had been through so much that they needed to see that.
The media didn’t agree. Colorado was picked to finish last in the Pac-12 South. But after a 4-1 start, with the only loss coming in an upset bid on the road against Michigan, it looked as if MacIntyre might have been on to something.
Following a four-point loss at USC, Colorado hosted Arizona State, a team that handled the Buffaloes easily in MacIntyre’s first three seasons. This time, Colorado won big, 40-16.
“After we beat Arizona State, I honestly didn’t think we’d get beat again,” said MacIntyre.
That was true until Colorado lost to Washington in the Pac-12 championship, falling just one game short of MacIntyre’s preseason vision.
Even without a conference title, MacIntyre and Colorado had plenty to be proud of following the 2016 season.
Colorado’s No. 11 finish in the Associated Press Poll was its highest since finishing No. 3 in 2003, and it won the Pac-12 South for the first time since joining the conference in 2011. The Buffaloes also became only the ninth Power-5 team since 1972 to go from four wins or fewer one year up to 10 or more the next.
MacIntyre gives credit to what he calls the three P’s: passion, perseverance, prayer.
“We are back,” said MacIntyre, “and we plan on staying back for a while.”