Hiring Brian Cabral to fill the Colorado football coaching vacancy on a permanent basis seemed far fetched just a few weeks ago because the 54-year-old longtime assistant coach had no head coaching or coordinator experience.
After two games with Cabral at the helm on an interim basis following the firing of former coach Dan Hawkins, the possibility of him keeping the job beyond this season is suddenly a real possibility. It is by no means a done deal, but after two impressive wins, no longer is anyone involved in the search dismissing him or underestimating his capability to do the job.
If the Buffs can pull off an upset on the road at No. 16 Nebraska on Friday, becoming bowl eligible and shedding a long road losing streak in the process, well, Cabral will be even more difficult to pass over.
Cabral has been at the school for 21 seasons as linebackers coach and is a former CU player. His allegiances are clear and that could be one of his best attributes in the eyes of the seven-member search committee and athletic director Mike Bohn.
Players and fans alike have responded well to the tradition-rich approach he has instituted in just two weeks, and the fact that he wouldn`t view the job as a stepping stone is a selling point. He brought the football team to the CU men`s basketball game Tuesdaynight at the Coors Events Center where an impromptu "Beat Nebraska" cheer began during a timeout in which Cabral and the Buffs were recognized.
Cabral`s loyalty and devotion to all things black and gold is a very attractive quality for a school and fan base weary of replacing coaches in the athletic department. If he was hired and continues to be successful, there is no reason to believe he wouldn`t still be in the job five or 10 years from now.
"In all reality, in the quiet moments, I think about the honor and privilege that I`ve had these last couple weeks," Cabral said this week at his media luncheon. "I represent every Buff that wore that helmet, every guy that put on black and gold. I represent them, and I`m living a dream."
Cabral is a native Hawaiian, and, if hired, would be only the second coach with Polynesian roots to lead a major college football program. The first is a good friend of Cabral`s -- Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo.
The coach of the Midshipmen admits he has been keeping an eye on the Buffs in recent weeks and pulling hard for Cabral. Like everyone else with a rooting interest in CU, Niumatalolo says he has been thrilled with the results so far, but he is not the slightest bit surprised by them.
"It`s just a matter of opportunity like anybody else regardless of what nationality or race you are," Niumatalolo said. "I`m hopeful Brian gets a shot to be there permanently because I know he`ll do a great job. He knows the game. He`s a great leader and I truly believe that people will rally around him."
Cabral serves on the board of directors for the Polynesian Coaches Association and regularly serves as coach in football camps on the islands and at the prestigious All-Polynesian camp in Utah. Niumatalolo said Cabral does everything he can to help fellow Polynesian coaches advance and become better coaches at the high school and college level.
Cabral said his roots are never far from his mind. He credits his high school coach Ron Marcial for getting him started down the path that brought him to Boulder and has allowed him to stay all these years.
"He showed me what hard work was all about," Cabral said. "He showed me what dedication was all about."
Niumatalolo played high school and college football in Hawaii about 10 years after Cabral made a name for himself there before coming to Boulder and eventually winning a Super Bowl ring with the Chicago Bears. He referred to Cabral as "an icon in the islands."
"Over the years, everybody who knows Brian, they talk the same about him," Niumatalolo said. "He`s a man of great integrity, a player`s coach and a very passionate person. I think players know that. Players, I think, play hard for Brian just because they know he`s a man who truly cares about them."
Cabral says he is ¼ Polynesian from his father`s side of the family and Polish from his mother. His dad was the first Polynesian player to play football at Notre Dame and Cabral grew up rooting for the Fighting Irish. His father met Cabral`s mother in South Bend, Ind., where Cabral hoped to attend college until Notre Dame broke his heart with "Dear John" letter.
"God had a better plan for me and for the Buffaloes," Cabral said.
Colorado offensive line coach Denver Johnson understands what it`s like to be in Cabral`s shoes. He previously served as the head coach of several college football programs, most recently at Illinois State. Johnson said he has real appreciation for how Cabral has handled the program since taking over for Hawkins.
"He`s been himself," Johnson said. "He hasn`t tried to be somebody that he`s not. What he is is pretty impressive. I think one of the best things that he`s done is do what I think a head coach should do, which is not try to coach every player on the football team but coach the football team.
"I think head coaches no longer coach football players. They coach the football team. They set the tone. They give direction, those types of things. I think he has done a marvelous job of that and players have certainly responded to him and the coaches have all rallied around him. It`s been a very pleasant experience so far."
Cabral has refrained from discussing his candidacy for the job and what he believes the priorities for the program should be in the future as the school joins the Pac-12 Conference. No one knows what his coaching staff would look like, what schemes the offense and defense would use or what other changes he might make.
"My goal, my purpose is this team, this game, this time," Cabral said. "I count it a great joy to be where I am right now."