Ed McCaffrey couldn’t cut the mustard. Many people outside of Greeley knew him. More than that, the staff inside the UNC football offices also knew this.
“(He) didn’t really have a system, no organizational skills,” Dave Baldwin, former offensive coordinator for the CSU Rams and Bears, told me earlier this year when I asked about his experience working under McCaffrey in 2020 and ’21.
“He was proud of saying, ‘I do things at the last minute and they seem to get done.'” Well, when you’re dealing with 105 kids, it’s a little different. And I think it took about a year or two for him to understand.
(But in the beginning) I was in the office every day. And he wasn’t. I’ve never had a ‘snow day’ in my college football life. Every college coach I’ve met, he’s in the office, grinding. That wasn’t the case (with McCaffrey) “.
Let’s give UNC Athletic Director Darren Dunn credit for this much, in hindsight: He tried.
The Bears, who fired McCaffrey on Monday after 22 games and a 6-16 record, probably had nothing to do with playing Major League Soccer, especially given where the sport is headed. Name / photo / similarity wars. Transport portal. Players who now think of themselves as free agents of the NFL at 17, 18, and 19. Catch them or they’ve been poached. Go big or go home.
The Bears can get pretty big, so they swung hard at a college coaching candidate with no collegiate coaching experience. The person who gives fuzzy FCS might stop instant beep, instant name recognition, and instant cache.
Ed McCaffrey, a two-time Super Bowl winner with the Broncos, opens the doors. From a purely business standpoint, it made perfect sense, especially for a show that became Vanderbilt of the Big Sky.
But from a football perspective, it was a disaster from jumping off. As a name, Ed McCaffrey was too good for UNC. As a coach, he was still the man from Valor Christian, convinced that talent would make up for the holes in the game plan. Sadly, what works against Mountain Vista or Rock Canyon won’t fly against Montana State or Eastern Washington.
“He hired everyone he knew instead of going out and bringing in experienced guys,” said Baldwin, who was left by McCaffrey in the spring of 2021 and replaced by Ed’s son Max. “I think he did a really good thing (when) he hired two coaches who were in Idaho, and that gives you experience (on the Big Sky).
“He hired instructors who had never before been trained at that level… You gotta have guys that were there. Recruit plans—how many offensive linemen, how many enemies, you gotta (make) plans. And there wasn’t a plan.”
In the end, the problem was not so much attracting talent to Nottingham Field as it was keeping them. One tracking site this past January linked UNC to 28 entries in the gateway; By June 30, the number of bears was reported to be as high as 41.
There were whispers. Whispers of nepotism and family know the NCAA. The decision to promote Max McCaffrey, who was originally hired as the receivers coach and had never served as offensive coordinator at the collegiate level before, raised more eyebrows.
“It was definitely a crowd investment,” McCaffrey Jr. told me Monday. “A lot of the people involved in this program… worked on (the exercises) to help leave this place better than we found it.”
What’s much better, though? Officials were upset last October when the younger McCaffrey was accused of hitting a Montana State fan with a piece of a clipboard in the wake of a 40-7 defeat in Bozeman. Things got… weird.
Nepotism is old news in college football. One of the perks of royalty is the green light to hire friends and sweethearts. However, when friends and loved ones said – they look at you, Nathaniel Hackett – also stink in their wagons, and everyone can see it, the players start to turn around behind your back.
More whispers. That Dylan McCaffrey, Ed’s son, has moved to UNC from Michigan with all kinds of gadgets. But those tools—Dylan has thrown 12 touchdowns and 12 picks this season after five points and seven interceptions last fall—made him just a strong Big Sky QB, not exceptional. Whispers that the coaching staff’s default position is that it was never Dylan’s fault. Because, deep down, his family name and enlistment profile were too good for UNC, too.
Max replied: “I didn’t feel there was any favoritism that way.” “We treat our players as equals and treat them with respect.”
However, the McCaffreys needed more outside voices. Seasoned voices. Voices weren’t afraid to stand up to the Broncos icon.
“(UNC) hired a guy without any experience,” Baldwin said. “And that’s difficult at the college level.
“It’s about relationships. If you’re in the community and you’re in their living rooms, you go to their classes, you check in with them, you go to their team meals — do everything[so that]he knows and can watch you care. At UNC, that’s the only way.”
Take care of Baldwin. Still caring for Ed, too, he was McCaffrey’s senior coach at Stanford in the late 1980s, under Jack Elway, father of John Elway, and part of a staff that also included future Rams icon Sonny Lubeck.
As offensive coordinator under Jim McElwain, he helped draw some of the best offensive runs in CSU history. Baldwin probably did the same thing at UNC. If given the chance.