Colorado coach back where he began, lifting Buffaloes to new heights
If Tad Boyle raised eyebrows around the college basketball world when he called Colorado a “destination job,” it's because he brings a unique perspective to the position.
A Greeley, Colo., native who chose Kansas over his home state school only to have a pedestrian playing career, Boyle won't say he regrets his college choice but certainly uses his experience as a selling point.
With a blend of players from California, Texas and, yes, Colorado, Boyle has built the Buffaloes into a program whose recent success is turning it into a destination school for Rocky Mountain players.
“When we got the job here four years ago, the goal at that time was to build Colorado into a nationally recognized program that can sustain success,” Boyle said by phone Tuesday from Boulder. “If you look at the history of Colorado basketball, we've had great teams and great players, but it's been pockets of success. They've had great seasons with great players like Chauncey Billups and David Harrison, but they've never been able to sustain it.”
Under Boyle, Colorado received its third consecutive NCAA Tournament bid for the first time in school history. The No. 8 seed Buffaloes (23-11) will play No. 9 Pitt (25-9) in a South Region second-round game at 1:40 p.m. Thursday at Amway Center in Orlando, Fla.
Prior to last year, Colorado hadn't made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA tourney since 1962-63 and hadn't been ranked since 2005-06.
“He built this program up in four years,” said Xavier Talton, a sophomore guard from Sterling, Colo. “To go to the NCAA Tournament three straight years is a great feat. It's his coaching. He's one of the best coaches in the country. That's what I believe. That's why I came here.”
Boyle has made recruiting his home state a priority, using his personal experience — as well as that of Billups, a Colorado native who starred for the Buffaloes and Denver Nuggets — to convince in-state stars to stay home. Five Colorado products play for the Buffaloes, including leading scorer and rebounder Josh Scott, and they have signed a top-75 recruit in Denver point guard Dominique Collier for the Class of 2014.
“It's critical,” Boyle said. “Anytime, wherever you coach, you want to make sure you take care of your own backyard in terms of the players coming up. You want to keep them home. Obviously, at a place like Colorado, we cannot field a nationally recognized team with players just from Colorado. What my business background has helped me with, working in securities, is being very strategic.”
Boyle spent nine years as a stockbroker in Boulder, making a six-figure salary and moonlighting as a high school basketball coach until being broadsided in a car accident. The near-death experience — he was saved by an airbag — was an epiphany that caused Boyle to reevaluate his life goals. He left his job, sold his house and took a position as a restricted-earnings coach at Oregon, making a $16,000 salary.
Never did Boyle imagine it would lead him back to Boulder 16 years later, coaching the school he once bypassed as the state's best player only to convince others not to make the same mistake.
“To come full circle, back in Boulder as head coach of Colorado, where I started, is surreal to me,” Boyle said. “When I got into college coaching — it's so unlike business in so many ways, yet so like it in so many ways — it's not something where you can have a five-year plan. You go from year to year, season to season, team to team, trying to grow and get better. You don't know where it's going to take you.”
It took Boyle to assistant coaching jobs at Oregon to Tennessee to Jacksonville State to Wichita State before he was hired as head coach at Northern Colorado, which was entering Division I basketball in the Big Sky Conference. His first team went 4-24, followed by 13- and 14-win seasons before going 25-8 in 2009-10.
When Jeff Bzdelik left Colorado for Wake Forest, Boyle was the choice to be the Buffaloes' next coach. In his first year, Colorado set a school record for most wins in a season (24) and reached the NIT semifinals. The Buffaloes won the Pac-12 Tournament title the next year and beat UNLV in the NCAA second round. Last year, Boyle became the school's first coach to produce three consecutive 20-win seasons.
This season, Boyle mixed his basketball and business acumen with his personal background to get the Buffaloes to overcome losing star junior point guard Spencer Dinwiddie to a season-ending ACL tear Jan. 12 at Washington. Colorado lost four of five games before the turning point, coincidentally, came in a 91-65 victory over Washington that Boyle has used as proof that the Buffaloes could play at a high level.
“He's made it a winning culture,” said Scott, a 6-foot-10 sophomore forward from Monument, Colo. “I think that's the biggest testament to what he's done. How he's brought a winning, championship attitude to the program is pretty cool.”