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Colorado's decline started when Bill Mallory, who wasn't a strong recruiter, was coach. He was fired in 1978, and the chance arose to get Fairbanks, then the highly successful head man of the New England Patriots. The Buffs got him, which is to say, the Buffs stole him. That incensed Patriot owner Billy Sullivan, who himself had stolen Fairbanks from Oklahoma. Acrimony ran wild, and Colorado, through the Flatirons Club, headed by Denver oilman Jack Vickers, had to ransom Fairbanks from his New England contract. That cost $200,000, plus $100,000 in legal fees. Essentially, a recruiting season was lost.
But Fairbanks finally arrived, and the state was thrilled. "We were so proud," says one Coloradoan. "We had hired God, and he would lead us to victory over Oklahoma. So he comes in and loses to Drake." However, before it was discovered that Fairbanks might be flawed as a deity figure, he said he had to remodel the Buffs' 12-year-old dressing room. Ring up $620,000. "The place looked shabby," says Fairbanks. So must have his office. Ring up $50,000.
Ah, yes, The Office. Nothing could have infuriated Coloradoans more. Amid a wave of cost-cutting, King Chuck is ensconced regally while the amount of money used to gussy up his place would have kept the men's gymnastics team on the bars and mats for a year. The Office. It has carpeting you would love—trust us—in your house: it has that barnlike paneling you want in your den but can't afford; it has indirect lighting, elegant furniture, a wet bar, a microwave. And the desk! Chuck, what is it? Fairbanks, colder than the winds that whip across the Front Range in winter, says, "It looks like pine to me. I don't know."
In fairness, some other coaches have nicely turned-out offices, too. But also in fairness, in this year's competition for Office You'd Most Like to Have, Fairbanks wins. And none of those other coaches fall behind 56-0 at halftime.
The Office. They'll never let him forget it. But, darned if he doesn't look like he belongs in it. He rests a cowboy boot across the corner of the pine(?) desk, he smokes Marlboros, he drinks black coffee. And he looks, he stares, he plots, he calculates. "Before you ask anything, the whole story is on the wall," he says.
In a way it is. For there are three pictures of derelict cowboys, as down and out as humanity allows. In the first picture one says, "I put all my profits back into ranch improvements." The next picture has one saying. "If this business is so damned good, how come there ain't more people in it?" And in the third one—Fairbanks' favorite—one of the cowboys says, "Reckon we'll just have to tighten our belts."
And then he starts talking. Slowly. More slowly than the slowest speaker you've ever heard in your life. Grass growing? Indeed, when somebody says hello, Fairbanks seems stuck for an answer. Around the university it's said, very softly, that Fairbanks has had the world's only successful charisma bypass operation. That hurts him because while his coaching ability is unquestioned—his numbers at Oklahoma (52-15-1) and New England (31-13 in his last three seasons) speak for themselves—his personality needs a little work. With an innocent smile and sly tongue, he could quip away a lot of the dollars—which are athletic-department dollars, not taxpayer funds. Lee Corso, the flamboyant Indiana coach, offered this advice in a discussion of Stone's demeanor: "Humor is not a sign of weakness."
Fairbanks started things off at Colorado—this is his second season—by refusing to speak to the Boulder Buff Club, a group of boosters who pay to belong to the club, pay for their lunches, donate to the football program. They care about Colorado football. This year, wisely, Fairbanks has relented. But his talks have club members nodding off. He sounds nice enough but he doesn't say anything'. His delivery doesn't stir the juices and get folks reaching for their checkbooks. The highlight of his talk last Thursday at the Flatirons Country Club came when he looked over the crowd of 127 (compared to 45 the week before) and said, "Damn, I hope we don't win one or we'll have to get a bigger hall." All the boys fell off their chairs laughing at that one, probably because they knew it was going to be their only chance to yuk it up.
But Fairbanks does get high marks for candor.
What shape is the football program in?