Stephens: Fire Mike Bobo? Nearly healthy, he’s coaching Colorado State back from the dead

FORT COLLINS — Mike Bobo could’ve done his best Lou Brown impression Saturday and lifted his halftime pep talk off the pages of the “Major League II” screenplay. Still riding the high of a win last week coupled with an 11-point lead over New Mexico put Colorado State in unfamiliar territory.

“OK, we won a game yesterday. If we win today, it’s called ‘two in a row.’ And if we win again tomorrow, it’s called a ‘winning streak.’ … It has happened before!”

Instead, CSU coach Bobo chose positivity over snark; a more inspiring approach to the tactic he took earlier in the week when he told his team the blunt truth.

They stink.

“You’ve got to be honest with them,” Bobo said. “You have to be honest of what you see on tape. You have to be honest of things you do as a coach.”

But as out of place his players had often been, and as in-over-his-head as defensive coordinator John Jancek looked through the first season’s first five games, suffering blowout losses to Hawaii, Colorado, Florida and Illinois State (that is actually a school), no one stunk more than Bobo. Not because he’s the head coach, defaulting everything back on him. He’d been a bad coach.

From a pointless failed two-point conversion attempt in the season opener that he admitted was a poor decision to a quarterback carousel that actively made the Rams worse, Bobo struggled to deliver a nickel’s worth of value out of his $1.8 million salary.

He was the laughingstock of the Mountain West. A punch line across Colorado. Even his own fans had no issue chanting disparaging comments from the west stands. That was, until the Rams won at San Jose State last weekend. And again Saturday, 20-18, against New Mexico in front of a sellout homecoming crowd. Suddenly, the conference’s most overpaid coach has his team halfway to its fifth straight bowl trip.


That miserable man who belittled everyone after losing to CU is gone.

Call it the good fortune of (moderately) good health. He’s still slow in his saunter with numb feet, and that limp isn’t going away, but the pain that’s made watching him on the sideline a heartbreaking event has subsided, and with it so have the Rams’ struggles.

Blame the health issues for this year’s sluggish start. Bobo won’t, but there’s no denying their impact. Beyond the 10 days of practice he missed before the season, he’d often leave practice early, leaving his staff to figure everything out without their boss. His feet felt too much pain. For the past two weeks, though, his meeting attendance has been perfect. Better yet, he’s calling the plays.

“He’s taking much more responsibility for the offense than prior,” quarterback K.J. Carta-Samuels said. “With calling the plays, but also on the nights before games, we have a 30-, 45-minute meeting and he goes through a bunch of plays with the offense and he really talks through what we’re thinking here, what we need to do, what calls we need to make.

“I think he’s feeling better, for sure. I know he’s still going through some stuff and still struggling. I think anytime we get a win, he’s feeling a lot better, too.”

Since Bobo resumed play-calling last week, a role he previously held since Day 1 in 2014, the Rams have had their first 100-yard rusher of the season (Izzy Matthews, 125, at San Jose State), and Carta-Samuels provided the first turnover-free performance of his career, completing 57 percent of his passes for 311 yards and a touchdown against the Lobos, while rushing for another score on a brilliantly designed naked bootleg.

If that’s not enough to believe this Bobo is a better Bobo, consider the final play Saturday. Every ounce of football logic dictated his end-game decision. Yet all 36,514 fans at Canvas Stadium were ready to launch their hot chocolate toward the field and run their coach out of town if it backfired.

Third-and-goal from the 4 with 20 seconds to play, down by one point, one timeout to spare. Percentages say center the field and kick the game-winning field goal with Colorado State’s all-time leading scorer. But that same kicker, Wyatt Bryan, missed an 18-yard field goal two minutes earlier, and your offense was averaging better than 8 yards per play on the drive – one more attempt at the end zone hardly felt ill-advised with the season on the line.

Instead, Carta-Samuels took the snap, walked a few strides to his right and took a knee. Bryant then delivered a 26-yard field goal as time expired, and the celebration was on. Don’t underestimate the ability of a coach to make a rational decision when backed into the corner.

Season saved?

Not quite. Colorado State needs to win three of its remaining five games — and only two of those are at home — in order to become bowl eligible. But Bobo is proving that when healthy, he can be one heck of a coach.

And that’s reason for hope.


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