Commentary

Fairchild weathering whirlwind transition from NFL to CSU

Updated: January 18, 2008, 12:32 PM ET
By Heather Dinich | ESPN.com

There are four rather large boxes sitting smack in the middle of Steve Fairchild's office floor at Colorado State, and there's a good chance they'll stay there for a while longer.

"I may not open them up 'til after the signing date," said Fairchild, on his cell phone in the midst of rushing to the next stop on his first recruiting trip as the Rams' new head coach. "I'm not even sure what's in there."

[+] EnlargeSteve Fairchild
AP Photo/The Fort Collins Coloradoan, Rich AbrahamsonNew CSU coach Steve Fairchild played for the Rams from 1978-80.

Fairchild, who just a few weeks ago was wrapping up a seven-year coaching career in the NFL, has had more important things to do than actually move in -- like, you know, recruit, hire nine assistants and game plan how to turn around a program that hasn't had a winning record in its past three seasons ... that sort of thing.

It's been a whirlwind tour for Fairchild, who resigned as offensive coordinator for the Buffalo Bills to be the head coach of his alma mater -- where he met his wife and was an offensive assistant from 1993-2000. It's a move only one other current coach in the Mountain West Conference has made; Air Force coach Troy Calhoun also left the NFL to coach his alma mater.

"It's been challenging," Fairchild said, "but I enjoy it. Kids this age keep you young."

Fairchild, 49, accepted the job in mid-December, which meant he had three more games with the Bills, and he wanted to honor his commitment there. Fairchild said he tried not to spend too much time on "head coaching responsibilities" while he was still working in Buffalo, but it wasn't always easy to separate the two.

He would use Friday afternoons -- when NFL assistants seem to get a little downtime -- to start learning about recruits and figure out which assistants he wanted to hire.

"That gets awfully hectic when you're trying to do two jobs and you're going in another direction," he said. "That was a very busy time, but I thought that was the right way to do it, rather than just run out of the NFL in midseason. That wouldn't have been the right thing to do."

Dozens of coaches have made the transition from the NFL to the college level, but like Fairchild, many who began their careers in Division I wound up coming back (Nick Saban, Bobby Petrino, Al Groh, Bobby Ross, to name a few).

South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who made the jump to the Redskins after a successful career at Florida, said he couldn't wait to get out of the NFL after two seasons.

[+] EnlargeSteve Fairchild
David Drapkin/Getty ImagesSteve Fairchild served as the Buffalo Bills' offensive coordinator from 2006-07.

"It was no fun," Spurrier said. "It was best to ease on out of there. I think we have more fun; we answer to the athletic director and the president, so we don't have a general manager and an owner. I'm more in control of what we do around here."

(Plus, as Spurrier pointed out, there's actually an "offseason" in college football, which means ample time to play some golf.)

He also gets along a little better with his personnel.

"In college they don't quite have all the answers," Spurrier said with a laugh. "They listen a little bit better."

Although the Rams haven't had time yet for a team meeting (the school is still on Christmas break), the players at Colorado State seem ready and willing to listen to Fairchild.

"I just think he's going to bring some new stuff to our offense, which we need, and maybe open it up a little bit," said senior Mike Pagnotta, a starting strong safety. "We've had good coaches before, but having that experience from the NFL will benefit our team.

"Hopefully it will raise the level of the play of guys," Pagnotta said. "Here you've got a guy who has seen the highest level of play … to come back down and work with us can only benefit us."

No doubt the Rams could use some help.

In 2006, Colorado State finished 4-8 -- including a seven-game losing streak to end the season. The Rams followed that up with a 3-9 record this season.

During Fairchild's first stint at Colorado State, the Rams were 67-29, went to five bowl games and won five conference championships. Only recently did the program take a dip.

"I just felt like if I could get the right group of guys around me -- we had won there before when I was an assistant -- we could do it again," he said.

Fairchild has hired his entire staff. Now, he's trying to get the players.

"When you go to the NFL combine and the Senior Bowl as an NFL assistant to evaluate talent, it's a little different than when you're going into high schools and picking up transcripts and meeting parents," Fairchild said. "I think the development of kids at the college level -- we brought in some guys that weren't maybe highly recruited but in four or five years were all-conference players. To see them grow not just as athletes, but as young men, it's kind of a neat process to be a part of, and you can affect it in a really positive way."

Heather Dinich is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Heather at espn.hd@hotmail.com.

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