BOULDER • There’s zero phony with Mel Tucker. Colorado’s new football coach is as real as a rug burn, and his introduction Thursday left a mark.
“Live tough, eat tough, practice tough,” Tucker explained of his vision for the Buffs program.
By the time Tucker and athletic director Rick George ended their on-stage bromance inside the Dal Ward Athletic Center, I wasn’t sure whether to start running the snow-covered steps at Folsom Field or wait for Coach Tucker to say, “Go!” The way his teenage sons made me feel old with an Air Force-y number of “yes, sirs”? Well, discipline is the name of dad’s game.
“This is a no-excuse program as of right now,” said Tucker, who ditched a sweet gig as Georgia’s defensive coordinator to cure an ailing operation that’s seen three straight coaches bought out.
OK, then. Since the 46-year-old football lifer carries a reputation as a straight shooter, let’s start off this era by getting real: CU will be the toughest football job that Tucker’s ever worked.
And he’s worked with Nick Saban.
“What’s most important is I think we hired the best coach in America,” George said.
CU’s football dreams wouldn’t fit inside Folsom. Its reality is much different. While Tucker came across as a coach that players won’t want to disappoint, his perception of where the program stands in college football’s hierarchy aligned way too much with boosters who still think 1990 was yesterday.
His memory of playing for Wisconsin in a game at CU, when Tucker left the stadium on crutches and the Badgers with a 55-17 defeat, is from 1994. Not to make you guys feel old, too, but the next teenagers who sign letters of intent will have been born in the 2000s.
CU’s football expectations are plagued with a serious case of Hoosier-itis. While Indiana basketball proudly worships a calendar stuck in 1987, the Buffs seem to think Kordell Stewart, Mike Pritchard and Alfred Williams are walking through that door. Tucker and George talked national championships. CU must think regional.
The best example for what Tucker and the Buffs should aspire to become is Utah, a steady and identifiable program that’s averaged 8.5 wins in 14 seasons under Kyle Whittingham. Plus, if Tucker sticks around, CU can end this messy business of paying coaches to not coach here.
Between the buyout awarded to fired predecessor Mike MacIntyre and Tucker’s $14.75 million deal, CU’s on the hook for almost $25 million. That’s nearly equal to the 10-year deal Utah gave Whittingham, who’s been to 12 bowl games and a spot in last week’s Pac-12 title game. Anyone else think that’s out of whack?
It was a step in the right direction for CU football when the new guy didn’t broach the subject of academics until 10 minutes into his first press conference. CU has forever waffled between striving to be Harvard from Monday through Friday or Alabama on Saturday. As noted philosopher and former Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones once tweeted, “Why should we have to go to class if we came here to play football? We ain’t come to play school.”
Unless your name’s Stanford it needs to be one or the other. When George raided the SEC to find his first football hire at CU, the AD delivered a message to Buffs fans: this is about winning.
Tucker preached toughness. When two cell phones went off in the middle of his address, it was clear local media wouldn’t last in his program. And his notion of tough love will resonate with the type of recruits that CU needs to beat up the pretty boys from USC and Oregon. As one Georgia insider put it, Tucker will either recruit really good players or make them really good through talent development.
“We’ll play fast. How do you play fast? You recruit fast players,” Tucker said.
If Tucker likes what he sees in verbally committed Palmer Ridge quarterback Ty Evans, he would be wise to keep Buffs quarterbacks coach Kurt Roper in the program. If not, there’s nothing wrong with Evans researching his options. Kids usually commit to coaches, not programs, and Evans’ pledge arrived thanks to the due diligence of Roper and MacIntyre.
“I’m not going to make any decisions on staff today or probably even this weekend,” Tucker said.
This was George’s first major coaching hire as the AD at Colorado, and he identified a winner.
“There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to compete at a championship level,” Tucker said.
Now all the Buffs need is a time machine.