Colorado State coach Mike Bobo is eager to get the 2019 season started after a disappointing 3-9 mark last year. ( Ron Fried / For the Loveland Reporter-Herald )
FORT COLLINS — Nobody had to tell Mike Bobo just how bad 2018 went for him. Personally and professionally.
He dealt with a serious medical issue, his Colorado State football team was losing games and he was even losing at corn hole.
The bad vibe was one he couldn’t shake, not even at home.
"I was whining to my wife that for the first time in 21 years I haven’t been to a bowl game," Bobo said. "She said it’s the first time in 21 years I’ve seen one of your offenses suck. Kind of hits home when your wife tells you."
On Dec. 19, the first day of the early signing period, Bobo stressed he couldn’t wait for 2018 to flip on the calendar. It was his ailment, diagnosed with a peripheral neuropathy in August, right in the heart of fall camp. It was the result of a season gone awry, 3-9, his first losing mark in four years as a head coach, making him 24-27 at CSU.
From the start, it all went wrong and Bobo is determined to not let any of it carry over into this next season.
"Looking from the outside, you see 3-9 and it doesn’t look like anything special is going on, but I believe we have a chance to build something special here," he said. "Sometimes you get in a new stadium, think it’s supposed to align with the new stadium. I feel really good about the last two signing classes."
Athletic director Joe Parker remembers sitting down with Bobo after the 2017 season, a third consecutive 7-6 mark. It was a season that started with promise and went down in flames with a tight loss to Wyoming, a meltdown against Boise State and another day of being run over by Air Force. "Mike made a decision before the end of the season that he was going to have to make a change in his defensive staff," Parker said. "At that point in time, the only thing we thought we had a concern with was the way our defense was playing."
Which has been a common refrain for CSU football coaches for more than a decade now, and the entire defensive staff was replaced. It meant the third defensive coordinator in four seasons for the Rams, and John Jancek’s group did not progress.
CSU allowed 12.5 fewer yards passing per game, but gave up 32.4 more on the ground. Opposing offenses gashed them with big gainers at a higher rate, giving up 44 more plays of 10 or more yards in 2018, almost four more per game.
The worst of it all, the scoring defense ranked 117th in the country, a big fall from 72nd the year prior, allowing nine more points per game, up to 36.8.
It wasn’t pretty, but Bobo made it clear there were not changes coming, not even after the defense closed by allowing 260 yards to Air Force fullback Cole Fagan the final game of the year, a 20-19 loss.
"Continuity is important at any time when you’re dealing with young guys and having that same message and a clear message," Bobo said, a statement Parker finds logical. "There’s going to be change when you’re coaching at a place like Colorado State. I want to hire men and women that aspire to be coordinators or move up in his profession. That doesn’t scare me, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to having some continuity for the first time here on staff that’s bought in."
As of this time — and Bobo knocked on the wood leg of the couch in his office on Monday — 2019 would mark the first time in his tenure the entire staff will return.
Continuity is just the first positive he sees, but it’s not the only one on defense. While some key veterans have been lost to graduation, he still witnessed growth and development, and he feels more is coming into the program.
"We played a ton of young players, a ton of freshmen. I feel like we’ve added depth to that group with the class we’ve signed, especially in the secondary and up front some," he said. "We still have to add a couple of pieces at linebacker and with pass rushers."
Offensively, there was no continuity, and definitely no running game as the Rams averaged 105.6 yards per game on the ground. The Rams had another game-changing receiver in Preston Williams, yet were less explosive and scored 10.6 fewer points per game. There was a disconnect early on due to his treatment, and Bobo felt he and new offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Dave Johnson were never able to gain a rhythm with each other.
To rectify the situation, Bobo will be even more hands on in calling plays this spring.
"I think a lot of it had to do with obviously there’s a little bit of change in terminology and the way things are done, and the play caller was out such a long period of time," Bobo said. "Dave and I didn’t really jell this season. I think that will improve this offseason.
"The last couple of springs I didn’t even really call plays in the spring, I let some of the young guys do it because I had such a rapport with (former offensive coordinator/line coach) Will (Friend). This spring I’m going to be all in, calling plays and getting a better rapport with Coach Johnson".
The special teams were not good, either. While Bobo has some changes in mind, he said he has not yet discussed them with his staff.
So, to be clear, 2018 was not good. To be clear, Bobo is excited about 2019.
The Xs and Os are part of it all, but Bobo knows it extends far beyond the scheme and into structure.
That will be as much of a priority as anything for him as spring camp is set to begin on Feb. 14, with the team opening that camp with three days of practice in a row, ending on March 14 with the spring game, capping another three practices in succession.
The camp will cover five weeks, and after that is an extended six-week period of strength and conditioning, a change he sees producing far-reaching benefits to cover real target areas.
"It’s not a wholesale, do-over change. We’re not as far away as the record may indicate," Bobo said. "I feel there’s some things we need to get in line as a football team. I feel like we need to get stronger, we need to get tougher, we need to become a calloused football team. When I say that, it’s you’re calloused because you’ve worked extremely hard, so any kind of adversity is not going to affect you.
"We were not a tough football team last year, in my opinion. Mentally and physically. We showed flashes of that, coming back to win three games in the fourth quarter, but we’re not the type of football team that I want."
He said a team’s identity will change from year to year, depending on strengths and weaknesses. A program’s identity doesn’t have to change, and he feels the Rams strayed from being a tough-minded, physical team, traits he wants to be pillars.
The work on the field, in the training room, in the weight room, he liked. He does not believe the same level of dedication was followed away from the stadium, and that’s a change he’s not requesting, but demanding.
He shoulders that blame, aiming at the time he was away, causing him to lose a handle on the team he oversees, and it opened the door to problematic issues.
The first step for 2019 is to close that opening, part of an overall awakening.
"I don’t think we did our job as well as we could have this year," Bobo said. "Sometimes those are eye-opening things that help you take the step you need to take to move forward."
Mike Brohard: 970-635-3633, firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter.com/mbrohard
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