Musings on the Loss of Jim Leavitt


The loss of Jim Leavitt to another program is a blow to the ego of the Buff Nation …

The rumors of Jim Leavitt leaving Colorado for another coaching position had been swirling around the Buff program all season … and not without good reason.

In 2014, the year before Leavitt arrived, the Buff defense gave up 39.0 points per game. In 2015, the first year under Leavitt & Co., the Buff defense dropping that total to 27.5 point per game. This season, the points allowed dropped to 20.5 points per game.

For those scoring at home, that’s a drop from 116th in the nation in points allowed to 18th in the nation in points allowed.

In just two seasons.

With mostly the same personnel.

It’s not surprising that the nation took notice of what has transpired under Leavitt’s tenure in Boulder.

What was surprising was that Leavitt wound up at Oregon.

It was assumed (and pretty well accepted by Buff fans) that if Jim Leavitt were to be offered a head coaching position, that he would leave Boulder. Leavitt had been a head coach at South Florida, and, if given another chance to lead a program, few Buff fans would begrudge him for seizing the opportunity.

When no head coaching offers materialized, however, a lateral move to the SEC (specifically Mississippi) became a possibility, as the money made by assistant coaches in the South is significantly higher than that made anywhere else in the country. The idea of Leavitt leaving Boulder for a similar position at another school upset many Buff fans, but most understood that money talks.

And nowhere else is money thrown around like candy as it is in the SEC.

Except in Eugene.

Phil Knight University has more money to spend on its athletic department than almost any other school. Now that the rest of the Pac-12 has caught up with Oregon in terms of facilities, the Ducks are turning to coaching salaries to try and again separate themselves from the rest of the conference.

Jim Leavitt was the highest paid assistant coach in CU history, at roughly $512,000 per year, but will reportedly make over $1 million per season at Oregon.

Colorado athletic director Rick George said CU did make an offer to Leavitt to extend his contract and give him a raise, but was nowhere close to offering what Leavitt will make at Oregon.

“I wasn’t going to touch that money,” George told the Daily Camera. “I want people that want to be in Colorado and we want to pay them fairly, no question about that; but we don’t want to overpay and overreact because somebody is throwing a ton of money at him.”

We’ve talked before about the “have’s” and the “have nots” of the college football world, with a further distinction between the “have have’s” and the “have not have’s”.

Colorado, in a Power Five conference, is a “have”.

Colorado State, in a Group of Five conference, is a “have not”.

Oregon, which has bought its way into the upper echelon of college football over the past two decades, is a “have have”.

Colorado, which does not have, and will not have, equivalent resources, is a “have not have”.

Yes, the Buffs won the Pac-12 South conference this year, while the Ducks finished last in the Pac-12 North.

Yes, the Buffs posted ten wins this season; the Ducks four.

But one season does not a seismic shift make. Oregon will be back … no matter how many millions of dollars it takes to get there.

but it’s not like it hasn’t happened before

While the Buff Nation is wringing its collective hands over Oregon buying their defensive coordinator, it’s important to recall that this is far from an unprecedented occurrence.

In fact, it’s commonplace.

Teams lose coaches to other schools ever season. Every year, the most successful coach among the Group of Five schools (this season being Houston’s Tom Herman and Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck) are always on the top of the list for Power Five schools looking for a fresh start.

(Not to mention the fact that CU plucked two recent head coaches – Dan Hawkins from Boise State and Mike MacIntyre from San Jose State – from successful Group of Five conference schools).

Still, it does hurt more when your coach leaves you to make a lateral move to another school.

But Buff fans have endured that feeling before.

Recall the final week of 1998.

Colorado had just defeated (ironically enough) Oregon in the Aloha Bowl on Christmas Day to conclude an 8-4 season. CU head coach Rick Neuheisel had just completed his fourth season as the head coach for the Buffs, accumulating a 33-14 overall record.

Colorado was enjoying its most successful decade in the history of the school. In the first 100 years of Colorado football, there had been exactly one ten-win season (in 1971). In the previous decade concluding with the Aloha Bowl win, however, the Buffs posted five ten-win seasons (1989, 1990, 1994, 1995, and 1996 … the latter two under Rick Neuheisel).

All was in place for continued success, with Neuheisel having recruited many of the players who would lead the Buffs to the Big 12 championship in 2001.

In short, if there was ever a time in the history of the program when Colorado was a “have have”, it was the 1990’s.

And yet, upon returning home to Boulder after defeating Oregon in the Aloha Bowl, Neuheisel left Colorado for Washington … and a $1 million payday.

Colorado … even at the zenith of success … was still a “have not have”.

… and can even be spun as a positive … 

Successful programs don’t become successful without quality assistants coaches.

And quality assistants move on.

Exhibit “A” is the Bill McCartney coaching tree. The first coach Mac produced – and lost to other programs – a number of quality assistants, many of whom went on to become head coaches in their own right.

Here is the list of assistant coaches under Bill McCartney who became college head coaches:

  • Gary Barnett … Northwestern, Colorado
  • Jim Caldwell … Wake Forest, Indianapolis Colts, Detroit Lions
  • Ron Dickerson … Temple
  • Gerry DiNardo … LSU, Indiana
  • Karl Dorrell … UCLA
  • Jon Embree … Colorado
  • Mike Hankwitz … Arizona, Colorado
  • Steve Logan … East Carolina
  • Les Miles … Oklahoma State, LSU
  • Rick Neuheisel … Colorado, Washington, UCLA
  • Bob Simmons …  Oklahoma State
  • Lou Tepper … Illinois
  • Ron Vanderlinden … Maryland
  • John Wristen …  CSU–Pueblo

… Not a bad list.

If Mike MacIntyre can turn Colorado back into a program which breeds coaches who are successful elsewhere, well, bring it on!

It was certainly a disappointment to hear the news that Jim Leavitt was leaving. He brought an energy and a passion (not to mention a love of Pepsi) to the Champions Center. He was certainly a leader, and an inspiration to his young charges.

The disappointment of his leaving turned into a body blow, though, when the Buffs not only lost Leavitt, but lost him to a conference rival.

Colorado will not play Oregon in 2017 or 2018 regular season. By the time the 2019 season rolls around, the landscape of the two programs may well shift, and Jim Leavitt may not even be on the opposing sideline when the two teams meet again.

By then, resentments will have eased. Anger will have subsided.

That being the case, Buff fans should thank Jim Leavitt for what he brought to Boulder. It can be debated how much credit he deserves for #TheRise, but it cannot be debated that Colorado was brought back from the abyss, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, during his tenure as the defensive coordinator.

And it shouldn’t be as difficult this time around for Mike MacIntyre to fill the vacancy created by Leavitt’s departure.

Wanted: Defensive coordinator to lead a defense which in 2016 was 18th in the nation in scoring defense; 17th in the nation in total defense. Plenty of talent departing, but plenty of talent remaining. Apply at the beautiful new Champions Center, Boulder, Colorado.

CU should have plenty of quality applicants.

Am I upset that Jim Leavitt left? Yes.

Am I upset that Oregon was able to lure him away with an offer the Colorado athletic department could not match? Yes.

Am I upset to be reminded – yet again – that CU is a “have not have” in the world of college football? Yes.

But it is what it is.

Thank you, coach Leavitt, for all you brought to the Colorado program.

But we’re moving on  … we have a bowl game against Oklahoma State to win.











22 Replies to “On the Loss of Jim Leavitt”

  1. Yo Stuart,

    Just wanted to point out that Oregon does not throw money around like the SEC. Stanford, USC, Utah, Washington, and UCLA ALL paid more for their head coach than Oregon dis last year. That puts Oregon right smack dab in the middle of the Pac-12.

    The Big 10 also really pays well, with the #1, #3, #10 and #11, while the SEC has 4 of the top 8.

    The Pac-12’s top paying program only ranked #19, and Oregon got outspent by 29 other programs.

    It doesn’t matter a whole lot, I just thought it important to point out that Oregon is not throwing unthinkable wads of cash around. Also, everyone seems to be saying that Leavitt is now the highest paid assistant coach in the Pac-12, when in fact no one knows how are payig their much Stanford and USC are paying their assistants. As private schools they don’t have to report the data.


    1. Your numbers are for the past – I’m looking at the future. With Oregon putting its coordinator in the millionaires club, it sends to me a signal that Oregon is going to try and throw its money at assistant coaches. Other Pac-12 schools have caught up in facilities, so Oregon is launching its next salvo in the spending wars. Watch as Oregon fills out its list of coaches with $$$$ … and dare the rest of the Pac-12 to keep up.

  2. I’m sorry but not surprised to see Leavitt leave. There were too many positives for him. The practicality of the AD’s budget limitations is a real problem. Unless we can pay for these top coaches, we will continually experience high turnover at key coaching positions with the resulting impact on recruiting and continuity in coaching philosophy. I hope we find a DC with strong FL/TX/SoCal recruiting ties who won’t want to rebuild the defense from the ground up!

    Clemson, a smaller public school in a poorer state, seems to have solved this problem with Swinney and Venables. What they do have going for them is a stadium that holds 85,000+ and rabid fans that regularly fill it to capacity.

    My aspirations for CU have been to again have a perennial top 10 team. Realism suggests that I should be happy with the top 25 and an occasional foray into the top 10.

  3. I was disappointed to see Leavitt leave but expected him to move somewhere after this season for a HC role given the years he has left in his career. The lateral Oregon move was a surprise at first but there was simply too much money to turn down plus he may be able to use that as a springboard for a HC role in the near future. I view it as business that makes sense. I am glad he came here for a couple of years, he was key to the turnaround. I also feel, after he accepted the Ducks job, that he should not hang around for the bowl game. People will have feelings that are not necessarily positive after a move like that so just cut the cord and move on. It is also gives Tumpkin a chance to show what he has at the DC level in a key game. I am pumped about this game. Let’s get the bad taste of the Washington game behind us and finish the season with a bowl win against a Top 12 team and an 11 win season. Go Buffs!!

  4. That’s correct about recruiting But his performance in the game plan
    And the in game adjustments is not debatable

    And yes Mac2 never gave him his due

    Just how it was. Tension.

    Oh well next man up

    1. Right, VK. Because, as some people think, the coordinators, whether on offense or defense, go into their dark room, by themselves, in a vacuum, and cook up their game plan, like some spirited voodoo.

      Then, in the game, they shut off their headsets, and don’t take input from any of their assistants, and make all their decisions, again, in isolation. Yep. That’s how it is done. I mean, at least that’s how Lindgren and Leavitt did it. Or something like that.

      As to tension? I’ll say it again. You’ve got two lively personalities, who are passionate in their beliefs, and one of them’s had the head job before, and was pretty good at it, and his boss now has it, and he’s also proven to be pretty good at it. Recipe for a little tension? Say it ain’t so. Who’d think that there’d be any tension between a couple – or few – personalities like that. Crazy, I know.

      Just go look at that picture of Mac and Leavitt sharing their passion in a classic embrace after one of their big wins this season (I forget which one). Yeah, they didn’t get along at all. Total tension all the time. Because RG hired Leavitt to replace Mac, then let him leave. Or something like that.

      Go Buffs!

      1. Eric,
        The picture was at the end of the Oregon game. I couldn’t post it in the comments, so I posted it at the bottom of the article (see above)

      2. Coordinators set the tone and expectations of his assistants, and that is the key. If Leavitt didn’t make THE difference, then why did he and not Kent Baer get the call to go to Oregon? After all, few of the impact players and almost none of the defensive staff changed when Leavitt arrived, so JL isn’t to be the reason for the improvement? Give the man the credit he deserves because the rest of the college football world did. Absolutely no one is saying Baer set up Leavitt for success like they were with Kelly and Helfrich. For some reason, Leavitt was the man on everyone’s wish list. Everyone else is stupid??????

        There was tension and it wasn’t unnoticed. MM never publicly made much of JL’s contributions, and that also didn’t go unnoticed. A picture of two coaches embracing doesn’t erase a seasons worth of snubs. Nor does it change the public confrontations that happened on the sidelines. Don’t forget MM shoving Tumpkins on the sidelines last year in the Oregon game. I was there and was absolutely stunned to see a head coach manhandle another coach that way. Completely unprofessional and unnecessary. Who knows what was going on between MM and JL in private?

        None of us are in the locker room or coach’s office, so as I have stated before, maybe Leavitt leaving was a good thing. There was public animosity between the two on the sidelines, and that is never good. Maybe it was even worse behind the scenes. I am glad Leavitt came here and contributed the way he did. Things have now changed and that means that the defense can either get better or worse, there are no other options. The program definitely benefited from the brief time JL was here, so let’s be glad for that. If Tumpkins is the next DC and he learned valuable lessons from JL that he wouldn’t have any other way other than to work with him, even better. But to not give JL any credit is to discount two years worth of improvement and success at CU, and that is not fair to the man.

        1. WB. Welcome to the fight. Just kidding. Friendly discussion. I agree that coordinators set the tone for their side of the ball. Head coaches set the tone for their program.

          I hope I’ve not ever come across as saying Leavitt isn’t a good, maybe a great coach.

          What I have said, is that it looks to me like Mac brought him to CU, through his relationship w/ Patrick Willis, formed while Mac was at SJSU, and Leavitt w/ the ‘9ers. As I’m sure you know, Mac and Willis are pretty tight. And, as we know, Mac wanted to shift his scheme to a more 3-4 and hybrid/multiple defense.

          As you said, we’re not in the room, so, none of us really know. But, that’s what seems most plausible, as Mac wanted to change the tone, to use your phrase, of his defense. After interviewing a lot of people – Tumpkin included – for that job.

          I think there’s little doubt that Leavitt was a great choice and a good fit.

          As to what changed defensively? In addition to Leavitt and Tumpkin, what changed was having three of five DBs who’ll probably play on Sundays next year. And, the fourth and fifth, Oliver and Laguda, probably will when they’re done at CU, too. Now, those guys weren’t playing at that level two and three years ago, I don’t think. Did Leavitt and all the coaches (Clark, Tumpkin, Mac, everyone) help them develop? Absolutely. But, to overlook the caliber of talent and football IQ the staff recruited seems like not taking in the entire picture.

          Beyond that, they’ve also got a nose tackle who’ll play in the NFL next year, and potentially a linebacker, as well. I believe those players were at least as integral in the defensive improvement as the coaching, scheme, and time developing within it.

          So no. Everyone’s not stupid. Similarly, those same people recognizing Mac as Coach of the Year are not stupid.

          As to the tension between Mac and Leavitt? Again, all any of us know are what we see in limited times – during games – when emotions run high. And, potentially some rumors, aka people’s perspective, on that relationship. For each alleged or perceived outburst people think they saw, there were equal moments of shared joy and celebration. And again, that game time is a small fraction of their time working together. That one picture I referenced is just one example of the good times.

          I mean, does Mac hang out and BBQ w/ any of his staff, “off hours”? I’ve no idea. But, my sense is that’s not his style. Do they work well together and generally respect each other? I’d think so.

          Regardless, again, in my eyes, a little periodic tension between Mac and any of his staff wouldn’t be out of the range of normal. Sure, we could argue pushing Tumpkin was a bit much. But? When he caused that penalty, I was screaming at my TV. And, that’s me. At my TV. Not the head coach, trying to claw and scrap a win any way they can, and that penalty was a huge, untimely mistake in that game. But ultimately, they’re all professionals, working together for their common goal.

          You mention a “season’s worth of snubs”. I’m curious, how much praise do we hear Mac lavish on any of his coaches? Jeffcoat? Clark? Lindgren? Any of them?

          Perhaps ego stroking isn’t Mac’s style. Maybe it is, privately? He does, it seems, generally put things on the players. More so the credit than the criticism, but we’ve seen him do both. I tend to agree. To steal his phrase, players make plays, players win games.

          When you hear Sefo say of Leavitt leaving “I was surprised by the announcement, but…wish him luck” to me, that doesn’t speak to a whole lot of tension in their ranks. Granted, that’s just one off-hand comment. And, Sefo’s not going to see the whole picture of their relationship, but…certainly more than any of us.

          And again, as we know, good coaches on Mac’s staff will come and go. At least, we hope that’s the case. That means the dude’s doing something right. Doing more right, that is. And, keeping it going. Which, I think is what we all want to see.

          If I had to rank where the “tension-o-meter” between Mac and Leavitt was in Leavitt’s evaluation of whether to move on, or stay at CU, I’d say it’d be closer to the bottom, than the top.

          Now, for my part, I’m really interested to see how Leavitt does in Oregon. In my eyes, their defense is very similarly positioned to CU’s two years ago. Plenty of talent. Just pretty young. I think he’s set up to succeed there.

          I, for one, will be pulling for him. I pull for all the people who’ve come through our football program, and institution. Buffs for life, baby. Leavitt helped CU put the lost decade of football behind us. Now he’s on to his next big gig. Good for him.

          Go Buffs!

          1. I will add, and I’ve said it before, but? I actually think CU’s defense will surprise people by how good they are next year. I don’t expect much of a drop off.

            Why? Because, in the four years we’ve seen since Mac and Co got here, the next group of players has almost always been able to supplant those before them. The only difference – hopefully, but as I think we’ll see – is that we’ve not had to see the youngsters forced into early action, so…we don’t yet know what we’ve got in the cupboard.

            The staff sure do though.

            And the offense? Wow.

            Is it Sept. 2017 yet?

            Oh. Beat dem Okies, first.

            Go Buffs!

  5. No one can begrudge Coach Leavitt for looking out for his family first, but he did have 1 year left on his contract and he left before the first bowl game we’ve played in a million years, pretty low rent stuff.

  6. I loved Leavitt, I wish him so much luck in these next 2 years that he gets a head coaching job in the ACC (haha), I think it was obvious that he and Mac weren’t “besties” but I don’t blame either, I don’t think it is a big deal that Worlk said he wasn’t responsible for the recruiting, I’m glad George didn’t pay him over $1M, and I hope the Buffs get another great one as next DC.

    I still like the idea of offering Les Miles a chunk of change to come here, recruit some Bayou DLs, fully expect he’ll leave after 2 years for an HC position, and that Tumpkin will be ready to take over at that point. Tumpkin has been so good as DB coach, that if Buffs decide he is ready for DC, I”m ok with that, too. I have no idea who else they would bring in. Can anybody speculate? Does anyone think the Buffs want to see Tumpkin execute a plan in the bowl game because they consider him the frontrunner? Hope his gameplan and the seniors destroy OSU!


  7. Yo Stuart,

    Neill Woelk shows how unappreciated that Leavitt was at Colorado. Mac was more than happy to take the wins and the glory that followed (a great deal on the back of Leavitt’s defense) but unwilling to praise his coaches in public. Woelk was just continuing that disrespect.

    My own history with Neill goes back to the Daily Camera and the old glory days under Bill McCartney. Neill was in sports working for Dan Creedon and I was a manager in circulation before moving to the newsroom to work for managing editor Gary Burns and VP of News Barrie Hartmann.

    I’ve always respected Neill, but his article about Leavitt was bush league. And now, since he writes for CU, he represents MY school as being bush league too. It ticks me off, but I’ll get over it. I can cut him some slack for publishing something stupid. It happens.

    Jim Leavitt is a great coach, and I appreciate what he brought to Boulder. I wish him nothing but the best in Eugene. And, truth be told, his next head coaching gig may very well be heading the Ducks program.

    Oregon’s new head coach Willie Taggart is a quickly rising and very bright star in the coaching world. If Taggart and Leavitt can do what Kelly and Helfrich couldn’t do (win a national title), Taggart may be coaching in the NFL before the end of this decade. And if that does indeed happen, Leavitt would be next man up in Oregon.

    Plus, Jim Leavitt just turned 60. He knows he’s only got so many years left coaching and he wants to make sure his family’s finances are secure. I could never fault him for that. Plus, while Boulder is stunning, Eugene is beautiful too (and there’s the Pacific Ocean 50 miles away). It’s not like he moved to upstate Mississippi.

    Let’s hope that Leavitt has great success, because that will reflect well on Colorado. And let us hope that MacIntyre can continue the success he has found in Boulder and that great coaches will want to come here.

    And please (pretty please even), let Rick George and Colorado realize that it is a golden time for coaches these days. Good coaches are making good money, and great coaches are making MAD money. We all know that Mac is the lowest paid coach in the Pac 12, but he wasn’t the lowest paid when he signed his contract. Wages for coaches are increasing at an incredible rate right now. They will stabilize eventually. They always do.

    Go Buffs! Beat them Cowboys.


    1. Props for your prose on Leavitt. Totally agree that Leavitt’s contributions were underappreciated by the press and in particular coach MacIntyre (at least by all outward appearances that seemed to be the case). Here’s hoping MacInyre can hire an equally good DC to replace Leavitt.

      I was thinking 2017 is going to be a little step back from this year’s defense merely because so many key seniors are leaving. But now having a new DC who might want to run new schemes and use new nomenclature, there has to be some catch-up. While these JC signee’s are huge, they still will have to learn a new system so it isn’t going to be a reload next year.

      Let’s hope they all can atone for a poor performance in the PAC-12 Championship game and the seniors can go out on top as 11 game winners!

      Go Buffs!

  8. Who’s the #1 prospect for DC? Would think recruiting ability in Texas or California would be the main factor.

  9. Thank you for the article Stuart!!! His departure, while disappointing, is not the end of Colorado football as some commenters on your sight would make it seem. No matter what people say, it is hard to turn down $1.3M no matter how nice Boulder is. I’m sure that is at least twice what the Buffs could offer.

  10. Interesting that RG stated that “I want people that want to be in Colorado”

    Stuart, had you heard any rumblings that JL did not want to be here, or is this more indication that there was a serious rift among some of the coaches? Maybe I am reading to much into that comment.

    1. I wouldn’t read too much into it. I read George’s comments as, “I’m tired of being told I had to keep Jim Leavitt at any cost. I’m trying to balance the budget, and CU can’t afford to pay its assistants over $1 million”. There have been many comments about how MacIntyre and Lindgren didn’t get along particularly well, but winning tends to heal all wounds.

    1. Neill Woelk on Leavitt and recruiting: Meanwhile, to be brutally honest, Leavitt’s recruiting influence was not a major one. The vast majority of players in CU’s current recruiting class are the responsibility of other assistants. There’s no reason to think those coaches and MacIntyre won’t close the deal with them — and no reason to think CU’s recruiting success won’t continue on the same path.

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