The spring game serves as an annual renewal of optimism, a preview of what might be in the fall months ahead.
But after two consecutive 3-9 finishes, there was a certain emptiness to Saturdayâ€™s Green and Gold game at Hughes Stadium.
Roughly 4,000 fans were scattered about the 35,000-seat stadium, with overcast skies and mild winds creating an appropriately dreary setting.
Since accepting the head coaching job at Colorado State in December of 2007, Steve Fairchild has done little to prove himself worthy of the position. In 2008, the Rams surprised many by going 7-6 and winning the New Mexico Bowl in Fairchildâ€™s inaugural year. Though Fairchild and his staff deserve credit for the success enjoyed in â€™08, it should be noted that the team was made up largely of Sonny Lubickâ€™s previous recruiting classes.
In the past two years the Rams have compiled a 6-18 record, with only one win coming against a team that finished with a winning record (Nevada â€™09). Worse yet, one of the wins came courtesy of Division I-AA Weber State by a single point in 2009, after the Wildcats fumbled a snap deep in CSU territory with just seconds remaining.
After seeing Saturdayâ€™s turnout, the question must be asked: Has the Fort Collins community lost faith in this once-proud program? And is that apathy justified? Or do we need to â€œBelieve in Steveâ€ a year longer before deeming the Fairchild era a failure?
The answer to these questions can be found by first identifying the problem at hand.
In the seven years prior to accepting the head coaching position at CSU, Fairchild held coordinating jobs with both the St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills of the NFL. Fairchild has implemented a pro-style offense during his three years at Colorado State. Along with his professionally influenced offensive scheme, Fairchild has brought with him a professional approach to CSU football.
Problem is, there are tasks involved in running a collegiate program that shouldnâ€™t be handled in the same manner as a professional organization would; namely, the dynamic between players and coaches, which is markedly different between NCAA football and the NFL.
Since I began covering the team in early 2010, Iâ€™ve sensed a disconnect between the head coach and his players, at least on an emotional level.
You may be thinking: What does this kid know about running a major college football program? Very little, Iâ€™ll give you that. If I were to take over the CSU football program beginning tomorrow, the Rams would finish the 2011 season with a record of 0-12 and would score 1.2 points per game.
I might make a lousy head coach, but I do know sports and that the college game is one built on emotion. The National Football League is a business, where built-in motivation is already provided to players by means of massive pay checks that show up in their mail boxes every few weeks.
Not so in college football (or at least not that we know of; Iâ€™m looking at you Cam Newton), which is why itâ€™s so important for young collegiate athletes to have a leader who not only teaches but also inspires. In order for the latter to exist, a rich emotional connection must be in place between the coach and his players.
I donâ€™t spend enough time with the team to know if this disconnect is anything more than speculation, but in talking to sources close to the team, my suspicions were echoed.
Perhaps Fairchildâ€™s past NFL experiences have influenced the way he has conducted business at CSU.
My last point involves Fairchildâ€™s decision to retain the exact same staff after a disastrous finish to the 2010 campaign (with exception to incoming linebackers coach Bernard Clark). After consecutive 3-9 seasons, it was shocking to most of Ram Nation that almost no changes were made throughout the staff. Instead, the coaching staff was rearranged in a strange manner, with several members of the staff moving to positions they had no previous experience with.
The move couldâ€™ve been made to create the illusion of change. Perhaps Fairchild is exceptionally loyal, or maybe heâ€™s simply stubborn in his ways.
With a favorable schedule in 2011, itâ€™s about time Steve Fairchild and the Rams gave the students and greater Fort Collins community a reason to truly believe again. And not just in terms of wins and losses, but in the way the program itself is run.
Sports Editor Joel Hafnor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sportsstatement.