It's a perfect storm for sports talk. The story of the firing of Jon Embree is layered enough to keep Colorado’s talking heads debating all day and all night. It has an entire cast of characters, passion, intrigue, long-held loyalties and even racial undertones. Several of the personalities surrounding the saga even work for the stations. What could be better? Mile High Sports host Peter Burns referred to it as “sports radio Christmas”.
The once-proud University of Colorado football program fired its third head coach in six years on Sunday. Jon Embree was a home-town guy who was popular within a certain sect of people whose fuzzy memories of the glory days clash with modern-day realities. Embree has a number of close friends working in the Denver sports media, some of whom even helped push to get him hired, who’ve now been tasked with reporting and discussing his removal with CU Athletic Director Mike Bohn, various CU alumnus and Embree himself.
Embree is seen by some as a coach who was under qualified and ineffective - who was hired only as a stop-gap. By others, he’s considered a martyr, who was never given a reasonable chance to succeed. Best of all for radio talk jocks, his blackness been broached as a reason for his removal, not just by Embree, but by the progenitor of CU football, Bill McCartney.
The legendary coach “Mac”, who drafted a delusional “open letter” to the State of Colorado in support of Embree, appeared on air with Nate Kreckman and former Buff Charles “CJ” Johnson on ESPN Radio 102.3 FM yesterday afternoon. He didn’t beat around the bush when it came to stating that Embree’s termination was hastened by his ethnicity. The assertion, which most people find preposterous, only served to fan the flames of a discussion that has already been burning hot. Coach Mac’s media tour has since continued, and he’s offered the same perspective (or lack thereof) to National outlets, pushing the CU story to another level.
Besides Charles Johnson, two other “Buffs 4 life”, Alfred Williams and Joel Klatt, both of whom work at 104.3 the Fan, have carried the torch for Embree over the past several days.
This morning Klatt and phone-in guest, Channel 4’s Vic Lombardi, treated listeners to a full-blown on-air battle royal that had Klatt pound-the-desk angry and shouting at the top of his lungs. He’s convinced that, despite winning just four games in two seasons, Embree was given a raw deal. Lombardi clearly disagrees, and told Klatt that he has been too close to the program to see the forest for the trees. Klatt told Lombardi that, since he had never played for CU, he had no business commenting on the situation. Their spat was real – and the emotions that it spilled were visceral.
It’s the emotional element that makes the CU football story sports radio gold. The racial component blackens it by dragging it into the mud.
Every program on every local station has thrived on discussing CU football this week. Starting Monday morning, the topic has bumped even the Broncos from the agenda. There hadn’t been much about the program worth discussing until the shake-up, but now there’s almost too much.
What role did race really play in Embree’s firing? How about his hiring? Will the program step up to level of others within it’s new conference, the Pac 10? Who will the next coach be? How much will he be paid? What will the school do to improve recruiting? What about fund raising? Does Mike Bohn have the tools to get the job done? Should he be fired, too? None of these questions appear to be anywhere close to being resolved. Until they are, expect Denver sports radio to continue feeding on Embree’s corpse.