After his playing days ended, in 2007, Darrin Chiaverini immediately jumped into the coaching profession and began working his way up the ladder. That also happened to be the year the Buffaloes last played in a bowl game.
Before Chiaverini returned at his alma mater last winter - during his stops at Mt. San Antonio College, Riverside Community College, UCLA and Texas Tech - the former Buff receiver watched with disbelief as CU suffered losing season after losing season.
“It was frustrating as a former player, as someone who was a part of some really good football teams, some 10 win teams. It was hard to believe the bowl drought lasted as long as it did,” Chiaverini said. “When I saw them struggling, I felt like there was something calling me to come back and help.”
Former CU receivers coach Troy Walters left Boulder to become the offensive coordinator at Central Florida last winter, opening the door for Chiaverini.
“I knew [CU associate athletic director] Lance [Carl] really well so I reached out to him and said, 'Hey, I want to come back and help,'” he recalled. “Lance talked to Coach Mac[Intyre] and Coach Mac called me and said he wanted to interview me.
“I had been a special teams coordinator but I wanted to keep moving up and obviously becoming an offensive coordinator was important to me. So the stars aligned. But I needed to meet Brian [Lindgren] first to see if we could get along.”
Lindgren held the offensive coordinator label by himself for three seasons at CU before Chiaverini arrived. Starting quarterback Sefo Liufau admits he was not quite sure how that dynamic was going to work when it was first announced.
“I had never really heard of a co-offensive coordinator kind of system but throughout the year, as the year progressed, it has been wonderful,” Liufau said. “The cliché of saying two minds are better than one [applies here].”
There is also the cliché “too many cooks in the kitchen.” Had Chiaverini and Lindgren not meshed well, the experiment of having co-offensive coordinators would not have worked.
“I am a real Type A personality so I had to see how Brian's personality is,” Chiaverini said. “I couldn't work with myself. You get too many people with the same type of personalities and you will end up butting heads. Brian and I meshed well because we could play off each other.”
Added Lindgren: “It wouldn't have worked if we were both like Darrin. We talked about that when he first got here. We both gave a little bit of ground on both sides and found a middle ground. It was a lot of work those first couple months putting everything together and meshing it all but I think it has worked out for the best and I know I am a better coach because of it. I have learned a lot from Darrin.”
During the regular season, game planning began on Sunday morning as Chiaverini and Lindgren studied their upcoming opponent separately. They come together in the Champions Center that afternoon to begin sharing ideas.
“By the end of the year, we kind of understood what each other were looking for. That made creating the game plan a lot easier as we went along,” Lindgren said. “At the beginning of the year we might be in two different places but as we moved through the season, our offense kind of had more of an identity.”
On game days, Lindgren plays the role of a cerebral chess player up in the box, while Chiaverini runs around the sideline giving players chest bumps.
“I've been with Coach Lindgren for four years now and he's always on me in a quiet way. And then Coach 'Chev' is more outgoing with fire,” Liufau said. “Each one has their strengths and weaknesses, and they've both helped me grow a lot as a quarterback. They've helped this offense grow tremendously and allowed us to do positive things.”
Assuming Chiaverini and Lindgren stay in their current coaching roles in 2017, they will have a lot of experienced talent to work with. The Buffaloes are only set to lose two offensive starters, and Steven Montez showed flashes of big time potential while filling in for Liufau at times this season.
“Being a former player, this is not a job to me. This is very, very personal,” Chiaverini said. “I am proud of what our guys have done and it has been a fun year. But we still have a long ways to go. We're still putting it together. I think we can be even better and take it to another level next year.”
“Jay-Mac” recaps sophomore campaign
Prior to the season, slot receiver Jay MacIntyre told BuffStampede.com, “hopefully we can get some big wins for coach,” of course referring to his father. Mission accomplished. All the external chatter of Mike MacIntyre being on the hot seat was replaced with praise for his multiple National Coach of the Year honors in the span of three months.
“It has taken a lot of pressure off my family for sure,” Jay said. “At the beginning of the season there was pressure but we tended not to really look at it. We just took it one day at a time, one practice at a time, one game at a time. I think the whole team did that. We trusted the process and believed that we could win.”
Jay had a forgettable night returning punts against Arizona State, but overall he had a successful season with 30 receptions as Devin Ross's back-up. He had a career-high seven catches for 90 yards in the Buffs' win over Washington State. Five of his receptions in that game went for a first down.
“The Washington State and Utah games, those games are probably the favorite two games of my playing career. And my dad says those are his favorite games of his coaching career,” the younger MacIntyre said.
Jay also got an opportunity to throw two passes this season. He completed a 14-yard pass to Sefo Liufau on the Buffs' first offensive play at Michigan, and later in the season, he had a pass attempt dropped by a tight end.
Fellow receiver Bryce Bobo threw a 67-yard touchdown strike to Phillip Lindsay against USC and Shay Fields completed a pass earlier in his career with the Buffs. MacIntyre believes he is the best throwing receiver on the roster, though.
“Bryce has a cannon. He is just not very accurate, that is his problem,” Jay said with a smile. “Shay thinks he can throw, but he can't. They all can throw it kind of far, but who knows where it is going to go. I played quarterback in high school so I have been teaching them some lessons so we'll see.”
Haigler has bright future
Despite being undersized at 6-foot-7, 270-pounds, right tackle Aaron Haigler did not get flagged for any penalties until the Pac-12 Championship game this season.
“He had a holding call against Washington on a naked. And it was a hold. How the hell do you hold on a naked?” offensive line coach Klayton Adams said half-jokingly.
Overall, Haigler did show improvement over the course of his redshirt freshman campaign. He received his best grades for his play in the Buffaloes' last two games against Utah and the Huskies.
“In a perfect world you would like for him to have had another year to kind of develop and play some here or there but he had to play a lot,” Adams said of Haigler. “He has got to get stronger this off-season. He knows that. He is an incredibly hard worker. He is really, really bright.
“I don't feel like there was ever a moment that was too big for him. He went out and competed. He has great length, he has got really good balance, and has great feet. I am really, really excited about his future.”
Haigler has a rangy frame, but Adams believes he can naturally hold 295-300 pounds.
“Shoot, he went from about 240 to 270 his first year and he was able to hold that weight well throughout the season, which some guys are not able to do,” Adams said.
Starting left tackle Jeromy Irwin intends to take advantage of a medical hardship, so he will be back to compete with the Buffaloes in 2017. Adams is not sure if Haigler will eventually slide over to left tackle after Irwin's eligibility is exhausted.
“Some guys are just really comfortable on one side or really comfortable on the other,” Adams said. “I know when I moved Aaron around a little bit in the spring, it kind of threw him off. But that probably has more to do with him just being young.
“That left side/right side thing, at the end of the day with what we do offensively, I don't know if it makes a real big difference. I just try to play guys where they are comfortable. And just in terms of pass protection, our right tackle does as much as our left tackle.”
*** For a time it looked as if Colorado would have a historic offense until tailing off a bit toward the end of the season. Still, the 446.3 yards per contest average is the sixth highest in school history. And the Buffs did tie the school record with 500 yards in six games this season, tying the season mark set in 1994.
*** Jeromy Irwin admitted earlier this week it took him most of this season to get back to 100 percent. He suffered a torn ACL in the second quarter of the Buffs' second game in 2015.
“I told the media I was 100 percent in camp but I was like 85-90 percent,” Irwin said. “And then I got back into games and it took me a while to actually go out and not worry about my injury. It is more of a mental challenge than a physical challenge.”
Irwin gave up his May break last year and during that time, he bonded with Liufau, who also stayed back in Boulder to rehab his injury.
“Since I am his left tackle, it was pretty beneficial for us,” Irwin said. “We had a lot of time together in the training room, at least two hours a day.”
Irwin graded out better than any other CU offensive lineman this season and he earned second-team all-conference honors.
*** Liufau will attempt to bounce back from arguably his worst performances as a Buff. He threw as many interceptions as he did completions in the Pac-12 Championship game. Does Liufau sometimes put too much pressure on himself?
“Sometimes. We actually talked about that with him,” Lindgren said. “He is definitely his biggest critic. He is a perfectionist, so yeah, he can be hard on himself. We talked about just kind of letting loose with this being his last game. He should go out there and enjoy it.
“He and I have been through a lot together. Just to see his progression starting as a freshman and then going through all the ups and downs, and him coming back from the injury, it would be really nice to be able to see him go out on top after all the work he put in.”
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