When Sonny Lubick landed his first Division I-A head-coaching job, at Colorado State in 1993, then-Western Athletic Conference rival San Diego State was a natural place to search for assistants to run the offense.
First with Dan McGwire at quarterback and then with Marshall Faulk at tailback, the Aztecs were among college football’s most potent attacks during the early 1990s, and in 1992 they ranked among the nation’s top 15 in average yards and points.
So Lubick, a former head coach at Montana State and defensive coordinator at Miami, hired San Diego State offensive coordinator Dave Lay for the same position at Colorado State. In turn, Lay recommended that Lubick consider Aztecs quarterbacks coach Steve Fairchild for the same post with the Rams.
“He was a real passionate, young guy who wanted to learn football,” Lubick recalled last week. “Just a tremendous addition to our football staff. … Steve grew with the job.”
Indeed, Fairchild, a former Colorado State quarterback, went on to coordinate offenses at his alma mater and in the NFL with the St. Louis Rams and Buffalo Bills. On Wednesday, the University of Virginia named him as its offensive coordinator.
Fairchild coached Colorado State’s quarterbacks for four years. When Lay returned to San Diego State, his alma mater, Lubick promoted to Fairchild to offensive coordinator, and in the four ensuing seasons, Colorado State ranked eighth, 39th, 30th and 31st nationally in scoring.
Most important, CSU was a sterling 37-12 during that stretch and twice finished among the Associated Press’ top 20.
“He had the ability to be flexible to the type of quarterback we had, if we were going to run the ball with the quarterback or just drop back,” Lubick said. “We were so well-balanced. We were a physical offensive football team. We could run the ball most years against anyone.”
Four quarterbacks whom Fairchild coached at Colorado State -- Moses Moreno, Matt Newton, Terry Nugent and Anthoney Hill -- rank first, second, third and fifth, respectively, in program history in career touchdown passes.
“He developed the heck out of them and made them good players,” Lubick said. “He was hard on them and tough on them.”
Fairchild’s best offense, in Lubick’s mind, was his first, in 1997. With Moreno throwing for 2,252 yards and 20 touchdowns, and Damon Washington and Kevin McDougal each rushing for more than 1,100 yards, Colorado State went 11-2 and defeated No. 19 Missouri 35-23 in the Holiday Bowl.
Fairchild left Colorado State after the 2000 season to coach the Buffalo Bills’ running backs under Gregg Williams. He returned to the school as head coach in 2008, succeeding Lubick, whose program faded to 17-30 in his final four years.
In Fairchild’s first season, Colorado State went 7-6 and, thanks to Gartrell Johnson’s 275 rushing yards, defeated Fresno State in the New Mexico Bowl. But CSU went 3-9 in each of the next three years, never ranking among the nation’s top 90 in scoring or scoring defense.
“There’s not a lot of tradition (at Colorado State),” Lubick said of Fairchild’s head-coaching tenure. “Sometimes you wonder how you did it. It’s just hard to keep it going. You don’t have the resources. You don’t have the fan base.
“Colorado State, of the eight or nine teams (in the conference), we were always eighth or ninth, as funding goes. Eventually it catches up with you. … I know money doesn’t buy victories and that’s not everything. … But it’s a harder job than people think it is. You have to have a little luck.”
Lubick, who still lives near Colorado State’s campus, also believes luck brought Fairchild the Cavaliers’ way.
“The University of Virginia,” he said, “got a fine football coach.”
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