Can Elway Save CU?

The former Broncos quarterback may lead one more drive to victory.

John Elway to the rescue!

The former Broncos quarterback has been offered the head coaching job at the University of Colorado, and he's expected to accept the $1.6 million-a-year position pending final negotiations, which have reportedly snagged over university cutbacks in dental coverage. The 43-year-old Broncos great would replace embattled CU football coach Gary Barnett, who has been placed on paid leave by CU president Betsy Hoffman while a blue-ribbon panel investigates the recruiting-and-sex scandal that has engulfed the entire athletic department.

Although that panel's work won't be concluded until the end of this month -- the same time that Barnett's leave expires -- sources say that the current coach's time is already up.

 
Brian Bahr/Allsport
 
From Biff to Buff: John Elway discusses his future 
plans.
Mark Manger
From Biff to Buff: John Elway discusses his future plans.

And while CU's negotiations with Elway for the coach's position have been conducted entirely behind closed doors, the future Hall of Famer has already emerged as the leader in a movement to buff up the University of Colorado's tarnished football program. On April 2, Elway is slated to lead a group of Buff supporters in a "unity walk" for the team, which coincides with the first day of spring football drills on the Boulder campus. Elway will be at the head of a contingent marching from the Millennium Harvest House to the team's practice field at the Dal Ward Athletics Center.

"This is not something I take lightly, but it is worth making a stand," Elway said in a statement released this week by the CU athletic department. His announcement was cheered by members of the newly formed Buff Defenders, who praised Elway for "a bold vision and a willingness to stand tall for Colorado football."

While Elway took that stand publicly, behind the scenes he's been talking terms for becoming the permanent head coach and replacing the beleaguered Barnett. Although Elway lacks formal coaching experience, he has credited his late father, Jack Elway, with teaching him most of what he needs to know about the coaching profession. The elder Elway, who was head football coach at his son's alma mater, Stanford University, said back in 1989 that "John's a natural, and when he decides to become a head coach, it will be like a duck taking to water."

Even as CU has called on former Buffs coach Bill McCartney to provide some stability as an interim coach, sources within the university confirmed that negotiations with Elway for the permanent job are well under way. Barnett got the bad news at a meeting with university lawyers and Hoffman last week, and exited that meeting with CU's president muttering that "not only was she a girl, she wasn't any good," according to one witness.

Meanwhile, news of Elway's potential arrival rippled through the CU campus like a herd of recruits headed to a frat party.

"He's gonna be great for business. I mean, we were looking at eating a whole bunch of tickets next year, but this should be hot," said Alpha One, a student who runs a "ticket exchange" from his Cockerell Hall dorm room. "Seriously, half of Denver would pay to see him do anything."

"You know what this does for our Ultimate Frisbee team? It totally rocks. The guy can, like, throw it a mile," added Sunshine Baumgartner, a former CU standout turned Pearl Street busker. Others greeted the arrival of National Football Hall of Fame electee Number 7 with high-fives.

But several student groups say that an Elway appointment won't put a stop to their protests over CU football, global warming or several hundred related topics. "Frankly, while Mr. Elway is a local icon, we're not about to be conned again," insisted Susan Applehoffer of Coloradans Against Tainted Sexuality (CATS). "We are hoping for a more meaningful dialogue. Why can't there be a female head coach?"

In fact, Ceal Barry, CU women's basketball coach, was mentioned as a possible contender for the permanent coaching position, but Barry said she prefers to stay with the Lady Buffs, working on her top priorities of "gaining equal funding under Title IX for women's football and female wrestling -- the good kind." CU is currently battling three Title IX lawsuits filed by women who claim they were sexually assaulted after a football recruiting party.

Response to the possible Elway move was more positive nationally.

"I was hoping the Buffs would keep stumbling around, shooting themselves in the foot, or the hoof," said Bill Callahan, the former Oakland Raiders coach who took over Nebraska's football program. "I was led to believe all the recruits east of the Rockies would come here. But now, with John Elway? He's got some star power." Still, Callahan promises that he'll be able to diagram a defense against an offense "based on the bootleg and two-minute drills."

Hearing of the possible signing of Elway, Representative John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan who blasted the "culture of sex and drugs" and called for congressional hearings into college recruitment practices, responded: "You know, if Elway was at Colorado, we would probably take another look. This guy is the real deal, and it's likely that kids will sign up without even visiting the school, just for a chance to play for him. I don't think there'll be any hanky-panky, as the kids say."

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