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July 8, 2010

Buffs' Boyle hopes latest gamble pays off

Tad Boyle inherited a high-risk situation by taking over a Colorado program that has made just two NCAA tournament appearances in the past four decades.

Then again, this hardly represents Boyle's biggest career gamble.

Boyle was making a good living as a stockbroker and coaching high school basketball on the side in the mid-1990s when he rolled the dice on his future. He gave up trading stocks to accept a job as a restricted-earnings coach on Jerry Green's staff at Oregon. Boyle was earning a six-figure salary as a stockbroker; the Oregon job paid $16,000.

Boyle, 47, was single at the time. He didn't have any children. He didn't even have car payments. Why not take the risk?

"I didn't want to be 55 years old as a stockbroker thinking, 'What if I would have done this? What might have happened? What could have happened?' " said Boyle, now married with two sons and a daughter. "My philosophy was that I could always go back if it didn't work out."

It's worked out quite well. After spending 12 seasons as an assistant at four schools (Oregon, Tennessee, Jacksonville State and Wichita State), Boyle got his first head-coaching opportunity at Northern Colorado.

Northern Colorado went 4-24 and finished last among all Division I teams in the RPI during Boyle's first season in 2006-07. This past season, Northern Colorado was 25-8 and finished second in the Big Sky Conference.

His latest job offers an equally tough challenge.

Colorado had suffered three consecutive 20-loss seasons before improving to 15-16 last season; coach Jeff Bzdelik then left to become the head man at Wake Forest. Colorado has won one NCAA tournament game since 1969. The Buffaloes have produced a winning conference record just five times in the past 41 seasons.

Naturally, Boyle calls this his dream job.

"You don't have a lot of past traditions to build upon, so you have to create your own," Boyle said. "That's the challenge I've put forth to my players. We have an opportunity to do something that maybe other players and coaches have yet to do here at Colorado, and that's build a winning program that can sustain itself.

"The similarities to Northern Colorado, there are a lot of them. But we have a lot more resources here at Colorado than at Northern Colorado."

He also has a lot more talent. Alec Burks and Cory Higgins give Colorado two of the top guards in the Big 12. Baylor guard LaceDarius Dunn and Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen are the only returning players in the conference who posted a higher scoring average than either of those two last season.

The presence of Burks and Higgins has raised hope that Colorado can deliver its first winning season since the 2006 team went 20-10 and reached the NIT. The question is whether Boyle can attract more players of that caliber.

Colorado hasn't earned an NCAA tournament bid since 2003. The Buffaloes' lone NCAA tournament win since 1969 came when Denver native Chauncey Billups led the Buffaloes into the second round in 1997. Not a single player from Colorado is ranked among the top 150 prospects in the 2010 or 2011 recruiting classes. You also won't find a Coloradoan rated among the top 100 recruits in 2012.

The lack of in-state and regional talent made it tough for Colorado to compete in the Big 12 and will make it difficult for the Buffaloes to contend in the Pac-10. Colorado will leave the Big 12 for the Pac-10 in time for the 2012-13 school year.

"There aren't a whole lot of high-major players when you're talking about Colorado and Wyoming," said Jerry Meyer, a national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com. "There are some in Utah, but BYU and Utah usually protect their home turf. There aren't a whole lot of players in Kansas, and obviously you're going against Kansas there."

Meyer said the key to success for any Colorado coach is pursuing prospects in Texas and California.

"Those are two hotbeds of talent," Meyer said. "There are tons of players in those states. You've got to try and develop connections and network there."

Boyle understands he will have to do plenty of recruiting outside his state's borders, but that doesn't bother him. He believes Colorado's geography offers as many benefits as drawbacks. That's a reason Boyle wants his teams to run as much as possible.

Rocky Mountain lows
Colorado coach Tad Boyle has one of the toughest jobs in any of the six major conferences. Colorado made eight NCAA tournament appearances from 1940-69, but the Buffaloes have returned to the tournament just twice since (a second-round appearance in 1997 and a first-round loss in 2003). Here's a look at Colorado's year-by-year record since advancing to the second round in 1969. NCAA appearances are in bold.
"One of the things we have going for us is we're over a mile high here -- 5,300 feet," Boyle said. "We have to get up and down the floor and try to use the altitude to our advantage."

Boyle's Northern Colorado experience suggests he knows how to turn a losing program into a winner, though it's a lot tougher to rebuild in the Big 12 or Pac-10 than in the Big Sky. Boyle believes his players should feed off the skepticism surrounding Colorado's potential.

"What it comes down to is we need to have an edge, a chip on our shoulders so to speak," Boyle said. "We have to come to our office as a coaching staff every day and relay to our players that every time we stop on the floor we have something to prove. Until we prove that, we have to have that [chip]. We're climbing the mountain right now. We have to have that chip on our shoulders to get there."

Boyle already knows plenty about basketball in the Rocky Mountain region. Boyle is a former Colorado high school state player of the year who led Greeley Central High to the 1981 Class 3A championship. After playing for Larry Brown at Kansas, where he served as team captain in 1985 and earned a degree in business administration, Boyle spent six years coaching high school basketball in Colorado.

That's when he was approached by former Kansas teammate Mark Turgeon about joining him on Green's staff at Oregon.

"I'd watched his high school teams play and knew he could be a good coach," said Turgeon, now the coach at Texas A&M. "I just felt with his personality and his character, he could be a really good recruiter and be successful at the college level.

"[Life as a stockbroker] just wasn't getting it done for him. I think the timing was perfect. If he had been married and had kids, it never would have happened. He didn't have kids so the timing was right and he took a chance on it. I knew it was in his blood. Just from our conversations, I knew it was something he wanted to do.''

Boyle spent three years at Oregon before following Green to Tennessee in 1997. He spent one year at Tennessee before moving on to Jacksonville State, which had just hired Turgeon as its coach. Boyle remained on Turgeon's staff for two years at Jacksonville State and for six seasons at Wichita State.

Northern Colorado then gave him the opportunity to launch his head-coaching career in his home state. Four years later, he has accepted his dream job.

At the time he pondered leaving the business world behind, Boyle had just survived a scary car wreck in which another motorist ran a red light and knocked him unconscious. Boyle believes a seat belt and air bag saved his life that day.

Boyle said the incident changed his perspective and convinced him to chase his dreams. Boyle was making plenty of money but wasn't fulfilled. It was time to try something new.

"When my head hit the pillow at night, I was thinking of my high school basketball team," Boyle said. "I wasn't thinking about what the stock market would do or what the interest rates would do the next day. I knew [coaching] was where my passion lay."

He certainly has no reason to second-guess that decision. Why shouldn't he believe this latest gamble also will pay off?

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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