Jeff Bzdelik was still undecided when he met with his Air Force players late Tuesday afternoon, but he told them at that point he was leaning toward taking the CU job. He said ultimately the trigger point amounted to what he saw as the challenge of coaching at Colorado – long since regarded as a place you can't win in men's basketball on a consistent basis.
"There's always a trigger point with everything," he said. "When somebody said to me, ‘You're never going to win there…' That motivates me.
"I like when people doubt me."
Big 12, Big Time
Bzdelik has now joined a conference that boasts some of the top college basketball coaches and programs in the country. He'll go up against the likes of Bobby Knight, Rick Barnes, Bill Self and Billy Gillespie on a regular basis.
"I understand what the Big 12 is about, I understand where CU is right now. But I also know with the leadership that is to my left and right (CU AD Mike Bohn and Chancellor Bud Peterson) that it's going to be done the right way," Bzdelik said. "We play in what I think is the most challenging conference in the country. And to take a program from here to where it should be, to me is a great challenge, and I'm really looking forward to it.
"That challenge along with the leadership and the people here and all the resources here, I'm really excited about it."
Since most Colorado fans' orientation to Bzdelik is as a Nuggets coach and Air Force coach, the question has often been raised: Can he recruit? (He could only target a narrow range of players at the Academy).
Bzdelik addressed the issue head on. He will not be shy about pulling out his NBA credentials when he hits the recruiting trail. Also, he mentioned his 10 years as an assistant and head coach in college.
"I have a career of 10 years in college," he said. "One in the things I really prided myself on was never burning a bridge when I recruited. I kept my relationships up.
"Coaching in the NBA is I think a huge asset. I can do something that other coaches can't when I go into a home. I can tell them what it takes to play in the NBA. I've been there with Wes Unseld, I've been there with Pat Riley. I've been in the NBA playoffs nine times.
"The players that we want to recruit, they aspire to play at the next level. Well I can help them get to the next level with their preparation.
"I love recruiting. I'm one of those sickos that enjoys it. I can't wait to get out there."
As things stand now, Colorado has no more scholarships to give for the 2007-08 season after signing Levi Knutson and Caleb Patterson to LOIs last November. They will have three scholarships to give the following season. The early signing period is in November.
Bzdelik is still forming his staff. He will hire three assistants and one director of operations. Mike Bohn said their compensation packages will likely be better than what Ricardo Patton's staff had. (They ranked 12th in the league in compensation).
Bzdelik promised his staff would be dynamic recruiters.
"I'm putting together a staff that has great recruiting records and connections," he said.
One name that's surfaced in the rumor mill is Tom Abatemarco. Bzdelik said "no comment" when asked about Abatemarco specifically. A former CU assistant under Joe Harrington, Abatemarco is well traveled and considered an aggressive recruiter. He has also had stints at Utah, Sacramento State, Virginia Tech, Maryland, St. Johns, Davidson (where he coached alongside Bzdelik), Lamar, Drake and Iona. He was also on Jim Valvano's staff at NC State when the Wolfpack won the NCAA title in 1984.
Abatemarco is currently an assistant with the WNBA's Sacramento Monarchs.
Another name to look for is Air Force assistant Jeff Reynolds.
AFA athletic director Hans Meuh was quoted in newspapers as saying he was disappointed in the manner that CU went after Bzdelik. He implied Mike Bohn and company were unprofessional in their conduct.
Wednesday, Bzdelik defended Bohn and CU in how they went about their business.
"The professionalism of the leadership here is unparalleled," Bzdelik said. "They were very, very patient through this whole process."
Pressed on the issue, Bzdelik answered a reporter who said Meuh would disagree with him on CU's conduct during the search by saying, "I don't want to get into (a tiff) in the press, but they were professional. I mean that. There was so much stuff going on in the press, a lot of it was kind of comical, to be honest with you."
He said the most outrageous aspect occurred Tuesday when TV trucks showed up at his house in Lone Tree, causing his wife to have to sneak into their house through the back door to avoid the cameras.
Bzdelik said he will move his family to Boulder at some point in the future.
While Bzdelik praised CU officials for their patience in the process of courting him, having to wait until Air Force was knocked out in the semifinal round of the NIT to get down to brass tacks of their negotiations, many CU fans began to clamor for something to happen in the search.
Part of the impatience can be attributed to the unusual length of the search. It basically began when Patton announced he wouldn't return on Oct. 25.
But Tom McGrath, who headed the search committee, said CU looked at that length in a positive way.
"In some ways it might have been less challenging (than a typical, shorter, search)," McGrath said. "We had time. We chose to look at it as an opportunity. I think it created a great opportunity to do what we did – reach out."
CU spoke with former players, people in the community an boosters in an effort to get feedback during the process.
"We're a program that for a number of years has not achieved what we think we need to achieve," he said. "We wanted to analyze that problem, reach out to people and find out why that was the case."
One of the criticisms often leveled at Bzdelik's predecessor was that Patton wasn't a visible figure in the community. Some argued if you took a poll of CU students or people in the community, a majority wouldn't recognize nor even be able to name the CU head coach.
Bzdelik said he plans to become a visible person on campus and in the community.
He also said rallying interest from the CU student body is on his agenda.
Colorado suffered terrible attendance numbers this past season, and has rarely been able to fill the seats at Coors.