Fairchild, Rams seek return to college football's national scene

Updated: December 13, 2007, 8:38 PM ET
Associated Press

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild needed Sonny Lubick's blessing before pursuing the Colorado State opening.

Turns out, one of Lubick's last requests after he was ousted was that the school consider Fairchild for the position.

The university heeded Lubick's advice, awarding Fairchild the job and offering him a five-year deal worth $700,000 annually. The deal could bring up to an extra $475,000 if he would reach the incentives in his contract.

Fairchild was thrilled that Lubick backed him.

"Sonny is a dear friend of mine," Fairchild said Thursday in a teleconference call from Buffalo. "He has been a mentor of mine. The more we talked, the more I thought about it, and it started to become something that was an interest of mine."

Fairchild, a former Rams quarterback and assistant coach, knows he has big shoes to fill in replacing Lubick, who in 15 years led the Rams to nine bowl games and at least a share of conference titles in six seasons.

That's just the way he prefers it.

"If you don't ever raise the bar high, then you are going through life just going through the motions," Fairchild said. "This is an opportunity for me and it is a big one. It is a challenge and I think that's how you live your life."

Colorado State athletic director Paul Kowalczyk gave Fairchild a hefty pay increase to lure him back to town. Fairchild will make $150,000 more than Lubick did last season. Kowalczyk also gave Fairchild $1.15 million to spend on his coaching staff, an increase of $300,000 from the budget Lubick had to work with.

The message from Kowalczyk is clear -- the Rams want to be contenders. Not just in the conference, but on the national scene.

"When you're on the outside of the BCS looking in, as we are, it's a struggle," Kowalczyk said. "But look at Utah, Boise State and Hawaii: What do those programs have that we don't have? I think Steve would be cheating himself if that wasn't something he wasn't aspiring to."

The clauses written into Fairchild's contract allude to Colorado State's lofty ambitions. Fairchild could make an extra $100,000 for appearing in a BCS game and $250,000 if the Rams are ranked No. 1 in the final BCS ranking.

Fairchild also has incentives kick in if he wins the conference title ($25,000), is named the conference's coach of the year ($20,000) or guides the Rams to a non-BCS bowl game appearance with a minimum 7 regular-season wins ($20,000).

"Boise State has set the bar as far as schools flirting and getting into the BCS," Fairchild said. "So it can be done. It's been done at CSU, as far as competing year in and year out for the Mountain West championship. That would definitely be a goal of ours."

Fairchild has already started lining up assistant coaches, bringing in Larry Kerr as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator, and Marc Lubick in a role to be determined. Fairchild will also keep Tom Ehlers in the position of director of football operations.

"I would say there wasn't 30 seconds that went by after I hung up with Paul that I was doing one of my best recruiting jobs on Larry Kerr," said Fairchild, who, along with Kerr, was on the original coaching staff brought in by Lubick. "I cannot say enough good things about Larry."

When Kowalczyk fired Lubick after the Rams' 3-9 season, he was one of the most despised people in Fort Collins for the way it was handled.

However, the hiring helps soothe the wounds.

"I haven't quite gone from the outhouse to the penthouse yet," Kowalczyk said with a grin. "But the reaction has been favorable."

The players like the hiring of Fairchild, especially considering his ties to the school and Lubick.

"It's one of the best things they could've done," Rams defensive end Tommie Hill said. "A lot of people were loyal to Sonny, so bringing in someone who was under Sonny will get a lot of support."

Still, it took Lubick's sincere blessing for Fairchild to throw his name in the hat for the job.

"He was very happy for me," said Fairchild, who will finish out the season with the Bills before joining Colorado State. "I have more respect for him than just about anybody I've worked for in the profession. I will continue to use him as a friend and a mentor, as long as he'll answer my phone calls."

Kowalczyk flew out to Orchard Park, N.Y., last Friday to interview Fairchild. He pretty much knew on his flight home that he'd found his next coach.

"He's a sharp guy," Kowalczyk said. "He's a straight arrow, an old-school guy. I respect that. He's definitely the right guy for the job."

Kowalczyk has one more big task -- convincing Lubick to come back as an ambassador for the school.

"With having Larry Kerr back and Marc on staff, I think that decision is easy for Sonny to make," Kowalczyk said. "He's our biggest asset. He'll be welcomed with open arms when he makes that call. But if he decides to retire to Boca Raton, then God bless him. But he's always a Ram."

Fairchild couldn't agree more.

"The eight years that I spent with coach Lubick were the best and most enjoyable and rewarding years that I've had in the coaching profession," he said. "I just hope to continue to build on the program that he has established at CSU."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press