Can Colorado Recruit Nationally?

First-year head coach Mel Tucker was not a name known to most Buff fans before he was hired by the University of Colorado in December.

The former Georgia defensive coordinator had no collegiate head coaching experience on his resume, so he was not on the radar of most casual college football fans.

But Tucker was well known within the inner circles of collegiate football, producing a dominant defense for the Bulldogs over the past few seasons. Tucker also had a resume which included stints under Nick Saban (at three different schools), Ohio State’s Jim Tressel and Georgia’s Kirby Smart.

What Tucker was also known for was his recruiting prowess, a factor which certainly played a role in his hiring at Colorado.

Recruiting success is, after all, the lifeblood for any successful program.

So it was no surprise then, when Tucker spoke about recruiting at his introductory press conference. What did raise a few eyebrows, however, was when Tucker, who has never coached west of the Mississippi, announced his plans for going about luring prospects to play for the black-and-gold.

“We’re going to recruit every single day,” Tucker vowed. “We’ll recruit nationally, we’ll do a great job in our state. We’ll go to California, we’ll go to Texas, we’ll go to Louisiana — and everywhere else there is a player, we’ll be there.”

Sounds good in theory – who would argue with competing with SEC and Big Ten schools for highly regard recruits?

But can it work in practice?

CU historically doesn’t recruit nationally

Over the years, Colorado has relied on three states for the majority of its recruits, with prospects from California, Colorado, and Texas filling up most of CU’s rosters.

According to CU’s December Signing Day media notes, Colorado has signed 984 recruits since 1973. Of those recruits, 275, or 27.9%, have come from the state of California. A total of 261 recruits, or 26.5%, have come from Colorado, while 138 signees, or 14.0%, have hailed from Texas.

Translation … Overall, a total of 674 players (or 68.5%) on CU’s rosters over the past 45 years have come from only three states.

While we’re here … Any guesses as to which state has provided the fourth-most players to CU over that time?

Anyone? Anyone?


As it turns out, it’s the state of Florida, with 26 signees since 1973, followed by Illinois, with 23, Louisiana, with 22, then Hawai’i and Washington to with 21.

(No, I didn’t get it right, either. My guess was Louisiana).

Still, if you add up all of the recruits signed from the five states noted above, they make up just over 11% of CU’s rosters over the years.

For the Buffs to become a national force in recruiting, it’s going to take a seismic shift in priorities.

Finances and other roadblocks

One of the primary reasons Colorado doesn’t recruit nationally is that the Buffs haven’t had the resources or the proper staff makeup to recruit on a national scale.

As to finances, there was a story which came out around the time Mel Tucker was hired, indicating that CU athletic director Rick George was going to make a pitch to CU’s larger donors to contribute an extra $500,000 for the assistant coach pool, and another $500,000 for the recruiting budget.

If true, it certainly makes sense.

Colorado, like other Power Five schools who are similarly situated (much better financially than the “have not” Group of Five schools, like Colorado State; not as well off as the “have-have’s”, like USC and Oregon) need all the dollars in the assistant coaching pool of funds as possible, lest they lose quality coaches to other programs.

Extra dollars for recruiting will also be welcome.

Coach Tucker held on to some CU mainstays in naming his coaching staff who have recruiting ties to Texas and California, namely Darrin Chiaverini and Darian Hagan. Many of the new assistant coaches, meanwhile, are primarily from Coach Tucker’s side of the college football world, which is to say the southeast.

If Colorado is going to entice recruits from Georgia and Florida and other geographical destinations outside of Colorado, California, and Texas, to come to play football in Boulder, there are going to be some added expenses involved.

Priming the recruiting budget pump is a good first step.

But offering four- and five-star talent is one thing … obtaining Letters of Intent is another.

The Mel Tucker era at Colorado will rise or fall depending on how well he is able to share his vision for a program with high school recruits who do not currently have Colorado on their list of top options (and have grown up knowing CU as a program which loses many more games than it wins).

No small feat.

Is Colorado already making a statement that it wants to recruit nationally?

If the commitments from the Class of 2019 made since Mel Tucker was hired are any indication, the answer is “yes”.

Of the nine commitments Coach Tucker has either signed (in December) or received commitments from (for February 6th Signing Day), four are from CU’s normal base of operations (two from California; one each from Colorado and Texas). Meanwhile, the other five new Buffs-to-be are from Mississippi (2); Georgia; Michigan, and Kansas.

It’s a very small sample size, and we certainly have to factor in that Tucker & Co. are also bringing in junior college prospects to fill immediate needs.

Still, the writing is on the wall that the new coaching staff is willing to search far and wide for recruits.

Can Colorado be a national player? 

There are only a handful of schools which have the ability to recruit nationally on a regular basis.

From the Pac-12 … USC can recruit nationally because it has a national brand; Stanford has an “in” with scholar athletes who wish to compete at a national level; and Oregon … well, Oregon has more money than it knows what to do with, giving the Duck coaching staff the opportunity to lure national recruits.

Colorado does not have a national brand like USC, does not have the academic reputation of Stanford, and, as for Oregon … well, until one of us wins the lottery and decides to become CU’s Phil Knight or T. Boone Pickens, that ain’t happening, either.

That being said, the opportunity is there for Colorado to make an impact on a broader stage.

There is little in the way of regional competition. Draw a 750-mile circle with Boulder at the center, and the only national football power within that radius is Nebraska. Otherwise, you are looking at the Kansas schools, Utah, and the Arizona schools.

There is nothing screaming “national power” about the Jayhawks, (KSU) Wildcats, Utes, Sun Devils or (Arizona) Wildcats, so there is a void in the region when it comes to garnering national attention.

Boulder is great place to live, and CU coaches from Bill McCartney on down have said, “If we can get them to Boulder, we can sign them”.

McCartney, for his part, did sign national classes in his heydey, but even Coach Mac didn’t stray far from the tried and true CU recruiting script. McCartney’s final six recruiting Classes (1989-94) consisted of 123 players. Of those, 68, or 63.4%, came from the Big Three of Colorado, California, and Texas.

McCartney did pick up recruits from as far east as Washington D.C., and as far west as American Samoa, but his primary focus – other than the Big Three – was Louisiana. Between 1989 and 1994, McCartney brought in ten Louisiana players (most notably quarterback Kordell Stewart).

Even when Colorado was at the pinnacle of its success as a national program, therefore, the Big Three recruiting states remained CU’s bread-and-butter for recruits. CU’s foray into “national” recruiting focused in one extra area – Louisiana – and that additional excursion outside’s CU’s normal boundaries paid considerable dividends in the early 1990’s.

And that is, perhaps, the lesson Coach Tucker can take from Bill McCartney.

Coach Tucker, and many of his coaching hires, are very familiar with recruits in Georgia and Florida, along with other southeastern hotbeds for recruits.

Maintaining those relationships certainly makes sense in the short term, as the new coaches on the staff familiarize themselves with programs and recruits in California, Colorado, and Texas.

Perhaps, when Coach Tucker declared, “We’ll recruit nationally”, he wasn’t speaking about being a true national player in recruiting battles.

He wasn’t proclaiming that Colorado was going to regularly be in the mix for the handful of five-star prospects in each Recruiting Class.

What Coach Tucker was stating was that he was willing and able to expand the fight for recruits outside CU’s traditional borders.

Which is not a bad idea at all …


9 Replies to “Can CU Recruit Nationally?”

  1. This is interesting. Probably best taken w/ a large grain of salt, but… maybe CU doesn’t need to recruit nationally after all? Seems the CA and TX focus should remain strong, for sure. I imagine they will.

    But, I guess it’s also a question of where the next tier guys are most likely to come from. So far, it seems that Mel and Co feel that 2-3 star guys from SEC and ACC land are maybe better prospects than those 2-3 star guys from Pac 12 land (and historic CU recruiting grounds, too). We’ll know a lot more about all that as the 2020 class starts taking shape, I guess.

    Go Buffs

  2. Q: Can CU Recruit Nationally? A: Depends.

    Can Tuck close the deal like McCartney ? Ya gotta recruit their Mamas. Coach Mac could sell to the parents…. especially their mothers…. it didn’t make a damn bit of difference where he recruited, the kitchen table is where the transaction takes place.

    The story is told that Barry Switzer had a higher closure rate on recruiting than anyone who coached at that time because his favorite food was anything he could smell emanating from the kitchen at the recruits home.

    Only time will tell, however I have liked what he’s said so far and how he’s said it. Will that translate across a kitchen table ? We’ll see.

    C’mon Tuck. Up your game.

  3. what happened in the past doesn’t matter, history is not destiny. Since Tucker is from the south he can get kids to come here from there. I’d suggest 4* and 3* kids, skip the south 5* as they won’t come but get in tight with a few schools and watch the pipeline grow. Most of us came from other states and loved CO, so will these kids.

  4. As with other schools, but fact, we could have had Faulk if we would have let him be a rb vs. a db out of Louisiana when he came out.
    Nice write up, curious the 10 we did sign from Louisiana, the bulk was in the early 90’s no? Obviously coinciding with good days. We also miss Cabral…Dizon, Big Chris, etc.

  5. Sure is gonna be interesting, Gotta offer and then close so we will see.

    Just for fun

    2018 6 five stars were offered and 77 4 stars per 247
    2020 8 five stars offered and 51 4 stars;……so far.

    Im a gonna look at those in more detail later. You know cross sections etc. Early morning work assignment assigned to me by me.

    But in the mean time

    Total offers by state
    2020 (111)……………..2018 (210)
    Texas (49)..71
    California (26)..64
    Colorado (7)..7
    Washington (7)..1
    Louisiana (6)..5
    Arizona (2) 3
    Florida (2)..14
    Georgia (2).. 0
    Oklahoma (2) 1
    Alabama (1)..2
    Arkansas (1)..0
    District Of Columbia (1)..0
    Kentucky (1)..0
    Maryland (1)..1
    Massachusetts (1)..1
    Pennsylvania (1)..0
    South Carolina (1)..2
    New York (0)..1
    New Jersey (0)..1
    Nevada (0)..5
    Utah (0)..5
    Mississippi (0)..5
    Alabama (0)..5
    Illinois (0)..1
    Tennessee (0)..3
    Ohio (0)..1
    Michigan (0)..1
    Missouri (0)..1

    GoBuffs eh?

  6. It would be so much easier if the big boy donors would just go pay players. Errr, give them part time jobs…

    Seems to work in other parts of the country pretty well.

    Go Buffs

  7. Hello Stuart!
    How much therapy was required after typing the following “Draw a 750-mile circle with Boulder at the center, and the only national football power within that radius is Nebraska.”
    Please link your gofundme page! We’ll do our best to help.

  8. I do not know what will come of it – although one of my law partners is a very active Bergen Catholic alum and told me that Tyler Devera and his family loved Boulder – but I was pleased to see a big high school stud from NJ in Boulder for an official visit. Devera was a first-team All-State tight end at a school that is annually among NJ’s best and that sends a representative number of kids to D-1 programs. I don’t know if Devera will end up in Boulder but I’d love to see CU develop a presence here in the swamps of Jersey. I know a number of CU students are from NJ and our second-to-none cross/country-track coach, Mark Wetmore, is a Jersey boy too.

    I do not pretend to read everything written about CU football (I count on Stuart for that) but so far I’ve liked what I’ve read about Coach Tucker’s approach and his action plan. Time will tell.

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