HOLDEN: Forget just basketball, Tad Boyle has saved CU athletics

Colorado Buffaloes

University of Colorado head men’s basketball coach Tad Boyle has made it a goal to interact with CU fans on a regular basis as he’s turned the school’s basketball program into an NCAA Tournament team. Many of the photos, like this one with a CU fan at the 2014 Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, have been posted to Twitter. (Credit: Twitter / @PatrickDFischer)

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BOULDER, Colo. – For a moment, forget about CU basketball.

Forget that season tickets to see the Buffaloes play basketball in Boulder sold out for the first time ever before this season. Forget that on Thursday, CU will make its third straight March Madness appearance. Forget that this is the highest tournament seed the Buffs have received since the field was expanded in 1985.

Instead, consider that on Monday, a heavy media contingent showed up to a press conference hosted by CU’s athletic department, and one of the topics of conversation centered on improving the parking, concessions and seating options at basketball games – not rape, racism or a CU quarterback’s right hook.

The University of Colorado has Tad Boyle to thank for that.

It’s hard to believe how much and how quickly one coach has altered the dialogue about an athletic program that has been mired in controversy for a decade. Boyle would have you believe it’s not all because of him – “It’s a credit to our players,” CU’s fourth-year basketball coach has often said this season.

B.G. Brooks, a reporter who has covered CU sports since 1987, knows better. When asked how much credit Boyle deserves for turning the buzz about CU athletics back to, well, athletics, Brooks said “about 1,000 percent.”

It seems equally uncanny that it’s a basketball coach who’s cleaning up the trouble CU football created for the university. Put it this way: Before contributing to three coaches, two athletic directors and one president losing their jobs in the last 10 years, football was king at CU. The program had, after all, won a whopping 26 conference titles.

Meanwhile, before Boyle showed up, CU basketball had yet to win one conference tournament in more than a century.

Things got so bad for CU basketball in the early 1990s that several football players, who were competing for national titles at the time, used to joke with Brooks that “if they wanted a quiet place to study, they’d go to Coors Event Center during a basketball game.”

Since Boyle took over before the 2010-11 season, CU basketball has yet to have a losing season and has played in a postseason tournament every year. As for CU football, let’s just say it’s entering the ninth year of what has been a painfully-long rebuilding process.

But Boyle doesn’t want to talk about CU becoming a basketball school.

“I don’t buy into the notion that you’re either a basketball school or a football school. Not one bit,” he said, clearly perturbed by the question.

And that’s why Boyle had to be the one to lead CU’s athletic resurgence.

He wants success for CU football as much as he does for CU basketball. He wants success for CU’s athletes on the court and the field as much as he does in the classroom and beyond. He made that evident when chiding us previously-absentee reporters who showed up on Monday to talk about the NCAA Tournament.

“A lot of you weren’t here in January,” Boyle said. “So much focus is put on the end goal, which, in college basketball, is the NCAA Tournament. Sometimes, when you don’t reach it, the kids feel like failures. They shouldn’t feel that way. A kid should never feel that way.”

Statements like that are why you can’t help but want anything but success for Boyle, especially if you’ve ever met him personally. As gregarious as Boyle is, many CU fans have had that opportunity.

They’ve have found out Boyle is from Greeley. They’ve found he won a Colorado state title as a senior. They’ve found out his first college head coaching job was back in Greeley at the University of Northern Colorado – the other UNC.

What most CU fans don’t know is anything about the other UNC’s basketball arena in Greeley, Butler-Hancock Fieldhouse. Frankly, a lot of UNC students don’t know anything about Butler-Hancock Fieldhouse.

For better or worse, I know a whole lot about Butler-Hancock Fieldhouse.

After the five years spent covering sports, I can tell you this: Butler-Hancock is the only basketball facility I’ve ever been to — be it high school, college or professional — that only appears to have one exit. That means, depending on the time you file out after a game, you might end up side-by-side with someone you were just screaming at on the court.

As I was leaving a game early in 2010, I bumped into Boyle.

From having interacted with him often over the course of three previous years as a member of the media, I knew Boyle was a nice guy — one of the easiest coaches to deal with in the Big Sky Conference. I also knew him to be a busy guy. At the time, he was coaching a UNC team that had just defiled the Montana State team I was in Greeley to cover. He was on the verge of setting a UNC record for wins and making his first of what will likely be many postseason tournament appearances.

In other words, I didn’t intend to take up a lot of his time.

But when I waved, Boyle approached. And when I introduced my dad, an old Colorado high school basketball referee who had come up from Denver to visit with me, it was clear my dad was also going to get a chance to visit with Boyle.

As it turned out, no one used Butler-Hancock’s only exit for the next 30 minutes.

So when CU announced Boyle as their new basketball coach later that year, it wasn’t just a special moment for Boyle and his family, it was a special moment for mine. My dad called, excited to talk about CU sports for the first time since I was a teenager.

Four years later, that excitement remains, finally ending controversy’s stranglehold on the headlines coming out of CU’s athletic department.

For anyone who was tired of reading them, you have Tad Boyle to thank for that.

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