BOULDER, COLO. » He’s in the front row, first man going from left to right. A 34-year-old Brian Cabral, in his second year as a Colorado assistant coach. The photo is from 1990, the year the Buffaloes won the national championship of college football.
The picture is encased with the hardware earned that magical season, displayed prominently in the foyer of the impressive Dal Ward Athletic Center, which was built immediately following the championship.
Very few people other than Cabral in the photo still work in the school’s athletic department.
New head coaches always bring in their own people, but he somehow has survived four sometimes turbulent regimes; those of Bill McCartney, Rick Neuheisel, Gary Barnett and now Dan Hawkins.
"I was really surprised that (Hawkins) retained me. I’m very grateful and thankful," Cabral said in his office yesterday, between preparations for Colorado’s home game against Hawaii on Saturday.
The former Saint Louis School star who went on to stand out at linebacker at CU and win a Super Bowl ring with the Chicago Bears is in his 22nd year on the Colorado staff. His 21 seasons as a full-time assistant are a record for the school, in any sport.
He’s coached a Butkus Award winner, Matt Russell, and his most recent All-American was Jordon Dizon of Kauai. Cabral is widely considered one of the best linebacker coaches in the nation.
He’s 54 now, and not shy about stating his goal. Cabral wants to be a head coach — even if it means leaving his beloved Boulder.
"I have applied (at various schools he’d rather not name), and they’ve all been good experiences. I like to think I’m getting closer," he said. "I’m very hopeful."
The crazy thing now, though, is that continued bad things for the team Cabral loves could lead to him achieving his individual goal — again.
Colorado was crushed at Cal last week and is now 1-1. Some say it wasn’t as bad as the score, but 52-7 is 52-7. Hawkins is 17-34 in his fifth year at Boulder. If CU — a 10-point favorite Saturday against UH — were to lose to a team that never beat Hawkins when he was at Boise State, one from a midmajor conference at that, you’d have to think the hot seat might become volcanic.
And if Colorado were to make an in-season change at head coach, Cabral is the obvious choice.
He’s been down this road before, sort of. Cabral actually was CU’s head coach before, and he never lost a game — that’s because he was the interim head man in the 2004 offseason when Barnett was placed on administrative leave due to a recruiting scandal. Although he wasn’t personally implicated in any wrongdoing, Cabral did not apply to be the permanent head coach when Barnett was let go the next year. It was extremely unlikely CU would promote anyone from the current staff given the circumstances.
Now, Cabral has plenty of supporters, including former Kahuku standout B.J. Beatty, a senior linebacker at CU.
"He’d be an awesome head coach," Beatty says. "A lot of the time Coach Hawk uses him as an example of what Colorado football is all about. He’s been coaching here as long as I’ve been alive.
"I know he wants to be a head coach, and he’ll be a great one if he’s given a chance."
Beatty might be biased, and not just because Cabral is his position coach. He’s known him since he was a toddler.
"Funny thing, when he came to recruit me, I asked him, ‘Did you ever think you’d be coming back to this same house (in Kaaawa) for the little redhead kid who kept bugging you with, ‘Uncle this and uncle that?’ "
Chris Naeole is Beatty’s actual uncle, and Cabral also recruited the big Kahuku offensive lineman to Colorado. Naeole recently retired from a long NFL career due to injury.
Beatty, who is among five Buffaloes with Hawaii ties, and Cabral both say they are excited to play against UH for the first time.
Cabral, though, has competed against the Hawaii coaches for decades, recruiting local football talent.
"I think Colorado sells itself," he said. "But the thing is I can tell them I know exactly how they feel about things. I was in exactly the same place they are now at one time.
"Of course, there are adjustments. When I was a student, I’d wear my flip-flops all year ’round. I’d get so many colds. Finally I figured out maybe I should put some shoes on."
Beatty said he always knew he wanted to go to college on the mainland, and when UH coaches came recruiting, he politely told them so. Plus, Cabral had been on him since he was a sophomore.
"At that time, I had no thoughts about even playing college football," Beatty said. "But he made me realize at that age that I could do it."
And then the physical beauty of the area sealed the deal, Beatty said — like it did for Cabral three decades prior.
"It’s a place as beautiful as Hawaii, but in a different way," Cabral said. "Blue skies, mountains and snow. That’s what attracted me."