Virginia football fans of a certain age will remember that the opening game of the 2002 season pitted UVa and visiting Colorado State in the Jim Thorpe Classic.
Colorado State, then coached by Sonny Lubick, held on to beat the Cavaliers 35-29 when Rams’ cornerback David Vickers recovered a Marques Hagans fumble with 10 seconds remaining.
My game story indicates that the ball was only inches from the goal-line, but my recollection is that Hagans intentionally fumbled the ball into the end zone when it appeared that he had been stopped.
Hagans, then a redshirt freshman, was backing up junior Matt Schaub at the time. In hindsight, it’s remarkable to think that Schaub, who would later break all of UVa’s passing records, was sharing time with Hagans in the first game of his fourth year in the program.
Schaub was redshirted in 1999, played in three games and had eight pass attempts in 2000 and split time with Bryson Spinner in 2001.
Nowadays, a talent like Schaub would have been long gone if he wasn’t the full-time starter as a redshirt sophomore. Times were different, but so was Schaub. He patiently waited his time and look where he is now, coming off a second Pro Bowl appearance last weekend in Hawaii.
BUT, I DIGRESS. While Virginia and Colorado State have met before, Steve Fairchild was not with the Rams that day.
He is a former Colorado State quarterback, an offensive coordinator under Lubick and the Rams’ head coach from 2008-2011, but in 2002 he was coaching running backs for the Buffalo Bills.
Nonetheless, in his eight-year stint as a Colorado State assistant, 1993-2000, Fairchild was part of a staff that put the Rams in a position where they would be selected for one of the preseason games that were popular at that time.
Colorado State won 10 or more games in 1993, 1997 and 2000 and was ranked in the final poll after each of those three seasons. Fairchild was the offensive coordinator for the 1997 and 2000 teams.
“I think you’ve hit a home run with Steve Fairchild being your offensive coordinator,” Lubick, who retired in 1997 and lives in the Fort Collins area, said earlier this afternoon.
(Presumably, Lubick was talking about Virginia hitting a home run and not the media, which will consider it a home run if Fairchild is a quote machine).
Lubick, himself, served as Colorado State’s offensive coordinator during the mid-1980s. But, when he became the Rams’ head coach, it wasn’t a case of Fairchild having the title and Lubick calling all the shots.
Immediately preceding his appointment as Colorado State head coach in 1993, Lubick was the defensive coordinator at Miami (Fla.) from 1989-2002.
FAIRCHILD HAS BEEN described as a proponent of a strong running game, but who isn’t?
“He’ll adapt his philosophy to the players he has,” Lubick said. “It depends on what kind of quarterback he has, whether he has a running quarterback or a throwing quarterback.
“He’s not going to make them do something they can’t do. He’s pretty good at changing his philosophy to make it work for the players. He’ll get the best out of the players by letting them do what they can do best.
“We had some teams when he was here where he had a running quarterback. We had some where we were pretty much strictly drop-back and the quarterback couldn’t run a lick, and we could still do our thing.”
Lubick said he envies Fairchild for getting to live in San Diego for the past year and now moving to Virginia.
“Those are two pretty good places,” he said.
IN ST. LOUIS, Fairchild had access to one of football’s most innovate football minds in head coach Mike Martz, whose teams were described as “the greatest show on turf.”
Martz had a bacterial infection of the heart that caused him to leave the team during the 2005 team, his and Fairchild’s last with the team. Fairchild was hired by Buffalo, where his second stint lasted two years before he took the Colorado State head-coaching job.
Fairchild was 16-33 as the Rams’ head coach but the program had started to go downhill before his return. Colorado State was 17-31 in Lubick’s last four seasons.
In San Diego, Fairchild worked this past season as an offensive assistant under head coach Norv Turner, one of the few head coaches who called his own plays.
Of course, Martz and Turner are known for throwing the ball, as was Fairchild as a college player. As a senior at Colorado State in 1980, his only season as a full-time starter, the economics major passed for 2,573 yards and 15 touchdowns.