BOULDER, Colo. — Brian Cabral has made a career out of calming the storm at Colorado.

Just like in 2004, the longtime Buffaloes assistant coach will be called on to fill in as the interim coach following the firing this week of Dan Hawkins, who went 19-39 in five seasons in Boulder.

This time, Cabral's performance in guiding the struggling squad may just be viewed as a job audition, a chance to show the administration, players and disgruntled Buffs fans that he's qualified to take over a program he's been a part of for a period spanning four decades.

Not that he sees it in quite those terms.

"I look at this time as an opportunity to stand in the gap for these players and these coaches and to make the most of the rest of the season," he said.

Cabral played linebacker at Colorado in the 1970s and began coaching at his alma mater as a graduate assistant in 1989. He was given the interim coaching tag in the spring of 2004 after then-coach Gary Barnett was suspended for insensitive comments he made about former kicker Katie Hnida. Cabral's task back then involved steadying the program in the wake of turmoil.

Again, he will be asked to stabilize the program.

But his challenge also centers on boosting the spirits of a team that's coming off an epic meltdown in Lawrence, Kan., last Saturday. That collapse proved to be the final straw for Hawkins, his team squandering a 28-point lead as the Jayhawks scored 35 points over the final 11 minutes for a stunning 52-45 win.

With three games left, the Buffaloes still have a remote shot at a bowl game. But it's hardly easy as they host Iowa State and Kansas State, before traveling to rival Nebraska in the final meeting of the two schools as members of the Big 12.

The Buffs haven't won a road game since 2007.

"I believe there is enough talent on this team to win some games," said Cabral, whose squad has dropped five straight after starting 3-1. "We'll make the best out of it."

Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn has encouraged Cabral to apply for the position, along with former CU coach Bill McCartney, who led the Buffaloes to their only national title in 1990 but has been out of football since 1994.

Other names being bandied about include Air Force's Troy Calhoun — always a hot coaching commodity every offseason, but who has long maintained he's happy at the Academy — and local high school coach and former Buffs standout Dave Logan. College football analyst and former Oregon coach Mike Bellotti's name has also surfaced.

However, the next coach may have to come at a bargain rate, especially considering the roughly $2 million buyout for Hawkins and the financial constraints of the program. Higher profile coaches typically come at a cost of about $4 million annually, a pricey figure for cash-strapped Colorado.

"Right now, we are going to be looking for the best coach and the best fit for CU," Bohn explained. "That will be a big challenge for us. I think that as we rally our faithful, our constituents that make it go for us, our donors, our fans, our students, our alumni, it's really going to be important for us to demonstrate our best foot forward now because our next coach is watching."

Or perhaps already even pacing the Buffs sideline.

When asked if wanted the job, Cabral replied, "Yes sir."

"I care about this program," the 54-year-old Cabral said. "My heart bleeds black and gold. There's no question. I care about this program, and I care about our players. I care about these coaches."

There's no doubting that in the opinion of former Colorado standout Justin Bannan, who's now with the Denver Broncos.

"It's in great hands with Cabral," Bannan said. "He cares about what goes on there. He bleeds black and gold. And I think right now that's exactly what they need over there."

Cabral was a captain for the Buffaloes before playing nine years in the NFL, including six seasons with the Chicago Bears. It was there, learning from the likes of Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan and head coach Mike Ditka, that his coaching philosophies really began to take root.

In his 21-year stint as a full-time assistant at Colorado, Cabral has worked under four different head coaches, including McCartney, Rick Neuheisel, Barnett and Hawkins.

Now, it's his turn — at least on an interim basis.

"I need to find the competitor within these guys. There is no question they are great guys," Cabral said. "We've gone through some things together, and we're going to work through this together. I'm confident that we can do this together."

The Buffs certainly have his back, believing in what Cabral can bring to the field.

"We are lucky because there is not a guy who loves Colorado football more than coach Cabral," said senior quarterback Cody Hawkins, the son of Dan Hawkins. "Having him step in has really reassured the seniors and let us know that it was up to us; not just me but the rest of the captains and the rest of the seniors that we have to lead the way on this football team and play better football than we ever have."

AP Sports Writer Arnie Stapleton contributed.