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Woelk: Boyle Has Built Enduring Culture Of Success With Buffaloes

Jan 11, 2022

BOULDER — For Colorado coach Tad Boyle, last weekend's career win No. 300 was little more than another day at the office.

"Just a number," he said after the Buffaloes' 78-64 victory over Washington.

Boyle, whose record at CU is now 244-146 (he won 56 games as Northern Colorado's head coach), pointed out that he's never scored a basket, handed out an assist or grabbed a rebound in a Colorado uniform.

Fittingly, he placed credit where he believes it belongs.

"It means I've coached good players, I've had great assistant coaches and I'm very fortunate to be the head coach of Colorado," Boyle said. "You don't get wins without good players. We all know that."

But fact is, you don't win 300 games at any level in any sport without the person at the top doing something right — and Boyle has done plenty of things right since taking the job in 2010. 

He has indeed recruited and developed good players. He has had six NBA draft picks in his tenure in Boulder, and just about every coach in the conference will tell you this:

Boyle's players get better during their time in Boulder. They learn, they grow and they improve. They develop their skills, they gain an advanced appreciation for the nuances of the game and they become not only better players, but better teammates.

But there's more to Boyle's success in Boulder than just teaching the game of basketball. He hasn't become arguably the most successful coach in program history by simply teaching his players what to do on the court.

Boyle has accomplished what many coaches pay lip service to but far fewer actually execute.

He has built a culture of excellence, an environment that breeds success on and off the court. His players come to Colorado ready to become part of the system, eager to help add another building block to the program's tradition and willing to take part in the growth process necessary to get there.

On the court, Boyle's team have put together the best 12-year stretch in program history. His .626 winning percentage is the best in CU history. He's produced five NCAA Tournament teams (the number would be six if not for the canceled postseason of 2020) and he owns eight of CU's 12 seasons of 20-plus wins.

Off the court, Boyle's players go to class, get solid grades and they graduate. They take part in community activities. One of his constant focal points is "Be prepared for the day that the ball stops bouncing," and he makes sure they understand that day is coming.

Of course, "culture" has become a catchphrase in recent years for coaches across the country. It's an easy go-to term. They talk about building culture, developing culture and instilling culture. They preach accountability and discipline — but fact is, too many are too often willing to take shortcuts or compromise their ethics in order to win.

There are no shortcuts in Boyle's program.

Rather, he has steadily built Colorado into a year-in, year-out competitive team that is respected across the country by doing things the right way.

"We get great kids from great families," Boyle said about getting to win No. 300. "We need to continue that mantra."

Indeed, Boyle has never believed in taking unnecessary risks on players who might blow up team chemistry as easily as they might blow up the scoreboard.

He recruits players who he believes will fit into the team philosophy he has patiently built in Boulder. That philosophy means players who will trust each other, trust the process and take pride in playing for Colorado.

The result is a program that is now at the point of reloading rather than rebuilding.

No doubt, this year's team is young. Boyle has a couple of seasoned veterans in Evan Battey and Elijah Parquet, but the rest of the roster is relatively inexperienced — and they are still 11-3 overall and 3-1 in the Pac-12.

(By the way, that early season win over Stanford became a little  more impressive Tuesday when the Cardinal knocked off previously unbeaten and fifth-ranked USC).

The reason for Colorado's success?

That youth is quickly maturing. Jabari Walker and Tristan da Silva, two sophomores who saw some good minutes last year, are taking their game up a notch. Sophomore Keeshawn Barthelemy is settling into his role at guard.

Meanwhile, sophomores such as Nique Clifford and Luke O'Brien, who played sparingly last year, are contributing solid minutes. And, true freshmen Julian Hammond III, K.J. Simpson and Lawson Lovering are making quality contributions as well.

"There's just so much growth that we still have," Boyle said after the win over UW. "We have a lot of depth that we're still finding out and guys are getting more opportunities every night. But the depth of this team is starting to grow up."

No doubt, youthful mistakes still occur. There are stretches when Boyle's frustration shows.

But despite the lapses, this group has found a way to win close games and make plays when absolutely necessary. They are learning as they go, and this is a team that will grow and improve as the season progresses.

These next two weeks will have plenty of opportunities for learning moments. The Buffs play at No. 6 Arizona on Thursday and head to Arizona State on Saturday before returning home next week to host No. 5 USC and No. 3 UCLA.

That's a stretch that will no doubt test Colorado's youth and Boyle's patience. But it is a stretch the Buffs will embrace — and one they will utilize as an opportunity to improve.

That is how the Colorado basketball program has been built.