Pope: Colorado State football ends up as Gator bait

Keegan Pope

Keegan Pope
Keegan Pope

Three years ago this month, a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Jim McElwain was introduced as the newest head football coach at Colorado State University. He spoke of committing to Colorado State long-term, building a program, and that he wasn’t looking to “bounce.”

And unfortunately, everyone bought it – hook, line and sinker. Hopeful Colorado State fans thought they had the new and improved version of Sonny Lubick. Wishing for a coach who didn’t see CSU as a stepping stone, Ram fans believed “Coach Mac” would never abandon them.


They were wrong.

Could anyone really expect a man who had won two national championships at Alabama to hang around at a place whose athletic budget ranks just ahead of the University of Delaware and just behind James Madison and Old Dominion?

Not a chance.

While he talked of commitment and loyalty, McElwain also spoke of thinking big and not being afraid to be great. And in the case of college football, Colorado State was never going to be great. A 10-2 season and two consecutive sellouts of Hughes Stadium were groundbreaking. A Heisman aspirant and Biletnikoff Award finalist were unheard of.

To put it simply, the current ceiling of Colorado State is equal to that of your garden-variety lawn shed.  At Florida, whose football program earned twice as much revenue as the entire Colorado State athletic department did last year, the possibilities are as endless as the Florida skyline overlooking the Atlantic Ocean.

So instead of holding on for dear life to McElwain’s $7.5 million buyout, CSU President Tony Frank made a deal that benefitted everyone involved. Florida will pay $3 million to Colorado State over the next six years, while McElwain pays another $2 million to CSU over time. Along with that, CSU will travel to Gainesville sometime between 2017 and 2020 to play the Gators, receiving an extra $2 million for a body-bag game.

In the end, it was the only deal he could make. If Florida had simply said, “No, thank you,” and moved on, CSU would have been stuck with a coach who had made it pretty clear he wanted to be elsewhere and players who could no longer trust him. Frank could only do so much after Florida flexed its collective muscle and bullied Colorado State into renegotiating the buyout by making details of the entire ordeal available to everyone.

Unlike in 2004, when Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley quietly maneuvered then-Utah coach Urban Meyer into the Gators’ open head coaching vacancy, the Gators’ athletic program displayed this coaching search for all to see. They know who they wanted and they knew just to how to get him.

As McElwain left a meeting with his players Thursday morning, in which he broke the news of his departure, an era of Colorado State football ended before it ever really began.

Despite their best efforts, CSU was gator bait, and they gotten eaten up whole – hook, line and sinker.


The Pope has spoken.

Collegian Sports Editor Keegan Pope can be reached at kpope@collegian.com and on Twitter @ByKeeganPope.