Steve Fairchild sits in his new office at the McGraw Athletic Center, boxes still left unpacked near the window. Buffalo Bills playbooks rest on the shelves behind his desk.
A hat sits nearby with the initials and number of Bills tight end Kevin Everett, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury in a September game against the Broncos. The back of the hat reads: “Adversity introduces us to ourselves.”
Since leaving his job as offensive coordinator for the Bills in January to take over as the Rams’ head football coach, there has been plenty of adversity for Fairchild, including having less than a month to secure his first recruiting class.
The new coach takes over after the 15-year career of Sonny Lubick, whom Fairchild worked under as quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator for from 1993-2000.
As things slow down before spring workouts in March, Fairchild sits down to talk about the challenges he has faced, as well as the future of Ram football.
Collegian: This has been a whirlwind process for you since your hire in mid-December. Are you beginning to feel more adjusted?
Steve Fairchild: “Well, there are a few boxes left to unpack, but I’m getting a little bit more at home and getting situated. The schedule has slowed down a little now that recruiting is over. But we’ve got about a month to get ready for spring football and really we’re starting up recruiting for next year as well.”
C: You played for the Rams from 1978-1980 (starting at quarterback in the 1980 season) and then coached from 1993-2000. Now you’re back as head coach. How has Fort Collins and CSU changed over the years?
SF: “When I went to school here, the community was, I think, 75,000, which was kind of nice. I’ve kind of seen it – both in the size and growth of the town and the university and the growth of the facilities – I’ve seen it in three different eras. Each time there has been some growth and some new things happening. One thing’s for sure, this is a great place to be.”
C: You worked with a lot of talented coaches (Mike Martz, Dick Jauron) and players (Marc Bulger, Marshawn Lynch) in the NFL. What lessons did you learn that you bring to CSU?
SF: “There’s a dedication and a professionalism both to the players and coaches that exists in the NFL that I think would be good for us to emulate. I’m sure it’s the top of anybody’s profession – the way the best in any field – the way that person prepares and conducts themselves is usually admirable. That’s the reason they’re doing it at that level. I was just amazed at their professionalism.”
C: You were a part of one of the biggest stories this NFL season with the injury and recovery of Kevin Everett. How challenging and inspiring was that situation for you?
SF: “That changed me forever. I tell you what, and this sounds corny, but I have no reservation at all to say that I witnessed a miracle this fall, I really did. First of all, I’d never been involved, in all my years of football, I’d never seen an injury that devastating. One minute you’re hugging a kid, yelling at him, interacting with him, and the next minute he’s fighting for his life.
I just remember going down to the hospital that night and how dire the circumstances were, not just for his life but if he did live, his wellbeing. I did get to see him that first Friday in intensive care and he just . he didn’t look very good, had trouble speaking. And then to see what those doctors did, and the progress he made and then he came back for our last home game. That was very emotional. He actually walked into the building and he looked good – a good look in his eye. I just gave the guy a hug – it truly was a miracle.”
C: Clearly, you had ties to CSU, but what brought you back to the college game from the NFL?
SF: “Professionally, in my mind, I’ve always thought I’d like to be a head football coach. When it happened that it was my alma mater, it definitely peaked my interest. The more I got involved with it the more it seemed like the right thing to do.”
C: When you were here as a quarterback coach and offensive coordinator in the nineties, the Rams had unprecedented offensive success along with five conference titles. What can fans expect to see from the CSU offense in the coming seasons?
SF: “I think a little bit of a mix of what we were doing in the nineties, which was a power run game, and then I’d like to think we can add a little bit of the NFL stuff from where I’ve been. I think to really define it now isn’t fair because we need to adapt to our personnel. We’re going to learn in spring ball exactly what we have and try to play to our strengths a little bit.”
C: CSU is coming off a 3-9 season and is 17-30 the last four years. How do you get the Rams back on the right track?
SF: “I just think there’s a way to prepare and a way to practice and condition that lends itself to finishing games. I don’t know. I can’t speak to what’s gone on, I wasn’t here. I just know that we have a plan as a coaching staff and we believe in that plan and even when things aren’t going well we’re going to stick to that plan. Persevere would probably be the right word.”
C: In five years, where do you envision CSU football being?
SF: “I’d like to think we could compete for a conference championship every year. We’ve done that in the past, so it’s certainly feasible. Sometimes it takes time – how much time, I don’t know because I’m not that familiar with our team yet or our opponents, to be honest with you. But I know this: I’m here, I’m paid to put a winning team on the field and I intend to do that. First and foremost, we’ve got to get better every day and if we do that eventually we’ll have a breakthrough. When the timing is, I wish I could say, but you never can.”
C: How do you want CSU students to feel about this program moving toward the future?
SF: “Optimistic. I hope, enthusiastic. I hope they support us. They always have in the past. As a player and a coach I’ve always loved going out to Hughes (Stadium) and looking up at the student section – it’s always brought a smile to my face. I certainly understand that it’s our job to put a nice product out there for them. We’re going to work our butts off to do that.”
C: Have you had the opportunity to speak with Sonny Lubick since your hiring?
“Oh yeah, I talked with Sonny a bunch even prior to getting this job. He’s always been a mentor, probably the most influential guy on my professional career and as a person as well. He’s a special, special human being and I’m very fortunate to have worked with him. I talk to him all the time. In fact, I probably call and ask him too many questions.”
The Steve Fairchild File
Hometown: San Diego, Calif.
Family: Wife, Nancy, and two daughters, ages 18 and 20.
Hero growing up: “My father passed away when I was very young. I was fortunate to have coaches that served as role models for me.”
Favorite sport other than football: “None. Football was always my thing.”
Favorite sport to watch: “Sports interests me, but I’m not a real big TV guy, for whatever reason. I don’t sit still very well.”
In your CD player right now: “Whatever is on my TV and what’s in my CD player are what my 18 and 20-year-old daughters put in there for me. They actually make CD’s for me. I’m musically challenged, I rely on them to guide me.”
On recruiting process for youngest daughter to come to CSU: “I fully intend for her to come here, but she’s playing hard to get.”
Favorite Fort Collins restaurant: “There are so many cool places to eat here; I’d hate to name one. I told my wife, we’re going out have a year straight of eating out just to catch up.”