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Exclusive Interview with CU Associate AD Lance Carl – Part One: “A Committee of Two”

 

Lance Carl then … A member of Bill McCartney’s first recruiting Class (1983), Carl was a 12-letter winner (football, baseball, track and basketball) out of Fort Madison, Iowa. Carl, a wide receiver who led the Buffs in receiving in 1986, was a member of the team when the Buffs ended a six year run of losing seasons in 1985 – McCartney’s fourth year as head coach. Carl was on the receiving end of one of the most memorable touchdowns in Colorado football history, a 52-yard halfback pass from O.C. Oliver on the first play of the fourth quarter of CU’s epic 20-10 upset of No. 3 Nebraska in 1986 (You Tube video of the touchdown can be found at the end of the page).

Lance Carl now … Carl signed as a free agent with the Washington Redskins, and also had a four year run as a scout for the Philadelphia Eagles. More recently, Carl spent six years with the Colorado Department of Higher Education, where he was a director for student motivational outreach. In November of 2013, Carl was named to a newly created position, associate athletic director for business development. The largely external role which encompasses business development, community partnerships, Carl serves as the coordinator for non-game day events (such as the Dead & Company playing at Folsom Field the last three summers – returning again this July). Carl is also the sports supervisor for the football program, and teamed up with athletic director Rick George as a “committee of two” when it came to the hiring of Mel Tucker. He has daily interactions with head coach Mel Tucker, the assistant coaches, support personnel and the student-athletes.

Note … For regulars here at CU at the Game, you may recall that Lance has been  gracious enough to do similar interviews the last three springs. If you would like to look back at those interviews, you can find the 2016 interviews here, the 2017 interviews here, and the 2018 interviews here.

The hiring of Mel Tucker

What role does a search firm play in the hiring of a new head coach?

They aren’t involved in identifying coaches. Once you have identified coaches, they contact agents, help with logistics like setting up meetings, setting up phone calls. But as far as the search in general, I was in charge of identifying candidates, and then going over them with (CU athletic director) Rick (George), and identifying what was the best fit for us.

Was it a “committee of two”?

Yes. A committee of two.

Was it the plan to wait until after the SEC Championship game to make the announcement (it was leaked on the Georgia side the day before Georgia played Alabama in the SEC title game)?

We were sensitive to that, wanting him to be with his players before the game, but he was coming to CU after that game (even if Georgia had won, and earned a berth in the College Football Playoff).

Rick George identified certain criteria for a new head coach (from the Rick George press conference, November 18, 2018): “The most important thing is, I want a coach that cares for the student athletes,” George said. “I want a coach that can be on the same level that can talk to the players. I want them to be a great coach. They’ve got to be a great recruiter. I want somebody that’s got the right character, the right integrity, that is going to do things the right way.”

And, he added with emphasis, “Most importantly, I want a coach that has the same passion about this place that I do and I want somebody that’s going to come in here and guide these young men to great things in the future.”

… how do you feel that Mel Tucker meets those criteria?

When you look at it, there was only one “con” about Mel Tucker, and, when you think about it, was it really a “con” or not? The fact is he had never been a head coach (at the collegiate level. Tucker did serve as an interim coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars for five games in 2011). But ultimately I said, ‘This isn’t about his skill level, or his competence, this is about an opportunity. I don’t think he’s had the opportunity to be a head coach’. Once we identified him as a candidate; one we were able to interview him, and get to know him personality-wise, passion-wise, experience-wise, we knew he had what we wanted in a candidate. Mel checked all of our boxes, and, ultimately, we knew he was our guy.

Had you ever met Mel Tucker before (annual coaches meetings, or otherwise)?

No, I’d never met him. Being in the NFL as I was, we had some mutual friends, but I had never met him before we interviewed him.

When did you first meet up with Coach Tucker?

We (Rick George and Lance) went to his house, outside of Athens. We met his wife, Jo Jo. We met his sons, Christian and Joseph. We talked for four hours … and it went well.

We knew it was a good time when … Rick and I went to an Outback Steakhouse, trying to find someplace to eat, and the only thing we could find was an Outback. We walked in, and I looked to my left, and there, just outside Athens, Georgia, was a guy with a CU hat. I said, ‘Look at this guy – I think it’s a good sign’.

Tell us about Mel Tucker

He’s very structured; very disciplined. Tremendous attention to detail, in everything he does, and that came through in the interview. He has a great deal of energy. He was very prepared for his interview, very excited to not only talk about himself but CU, and the opportunity he saw ahead of him.

And now we have someone, who has not only coached in the NFL, but at the highest level in college football. He understands the dynamics, the culture of building a team – what a winning team looks like. He wants to build a team to be like him … it’s impressive.

What struck you first about Mel Tucker’s personality during the interview?

His presence; his preparedness. His ability to articulate his vision for the program.

It appeared from the video of his tour of the Champions Center that he hadn’t been to Boulder before taking the job, and that he was entering into his new position “sight unseen”. Is that correct?

Correct. He hadn’t been here. Hadn’t seen the Champions Center. Buff Vision has done a great job, but social media and video don’t do it justice. You really have to see it to believe it, and he’s taking that measure of excitement to our recruiting. He’s telling the kids, ‘Yeah, you can see the video, but, just like when I came here , you have to see it to believe it’.

Here is the video of Mel Tucker getting his first look at the Champions Center, hosted by CU athletic director Rick George and CU assistant athletic director Lance Carl:

It the CU hires over the past 20 years, there has been a certain familiarity with the coaching hire (either ties to CU – Neuheisel, Barnett, Embree – or success as a head coach – Hawkins, MacIntyre). There wasn’t that familiarity with Coach Tucker. Did that give you any pause?

No trepidation; no hesitation. When people meet Mel, when they sit down and talk with Mel, and not just about football, but about life, politics, his experience as a student-athlete at Wisconsin, his experience in the NFL, there is so much depth there. There is so much knowledge – we weren’t concerned that people didn’t know him. When people meet him, they feel the same way about him when Rick and I met him.

Has Mel Tucker indicated that there is anything about the Colorado program that he needs, or is lacking?

No. He has everything he needs in the weight room. Nutrition-wise, we are elite in the country with (Associate Athletic Director/Performance Nutrition) Laura Anderson. When he sat down with Rick he said, ‘Everything is in place’.

Now, it’s about leadership; it’s about recruiting. He has his own philosophy. He knows what he wants as a coach. He’s not going to be swayed by the latest fad – he knows what he wants in a team. He knows what he wants in recruits.

One other thing – he trusts his coaches. When they are out recruiting, if an assistant sees a kid, and he calls Mel and says, ‘I like what I see, do I need to wait for you to offer him?’ Mel’s response is: ‘You are on this staff for a reason. You offer him. I trust you and your eyes.’

As a result, the offer sheet will expand. That being said, are you going to end up taking every kid you offer? No. But you are expanding the pool of players to choose from. Chip Kelly is going through this right now at UCLA. He’s not identifying a lot of kids to go out there and offer. So, the hit-and-miss ration has got to be large for him. He’s got to hit on the guys he’s offering, because they are not offering people.

You want a certain type of player at Colorado. They must be physical. They must be mentally tough. If you are going to play against Power-Five schools, you have to be physically tough. Mentally tough kids, you look at their high schools, you talk to the janitors at the high schools – you want to know who these kids really are. How is that kid around his peers? That janitor has seen that. That academic adviser at that high school, they know that kid personally.

Mel’s got his coaches talking to everyone at that school. It’s not just talking to the head coach. The head coach wants to get his kid signed … the janitor doesn’t give a crap.

One thing Mel Tucker might not have at Colorado that he did at Georgia is unlimited resources. Has there been a push made to increase the pool of dollars available for assistant coaches and recruiting?

Every year, Rick identifies what the pool is going to be, and what you are going to do for recruiting. All that is dictated by, of course, ticket sales, television revenue, there are a number of factors impacting your budget. The great thing for us this year is our home schedule (Nebraska, Air Force, Arizona, USC, Stanford, Washington) – there will be a lot of people coming out to see us play, and that is going to help our bottom line going forward.

When our fans come to Folsom Field, so many of our fans have high expectations. Some, at this point, have no expectations. One thing that Mel has talked about is putting out a team that is physical, that doesn’t beat themselves. When fans see that – that you are physical; that you are tough, not beating yourself – they’ll support you.

It’s almost a cliche that athletic directors have a list in their desks of potential replacements for their coaches. But, based on the realities of coaches not only being fired, but moving on to other opportunities, that can’t be far from the truth, can it?

I have an updated list every year. My list in 2016 was ready and prepared because all of the success we had, and Mike being wooed by an SEC school or somebody else, so I am ready every year. Because like you said, you never know what is going to happen. You don’t want to get caught saying, ‘Oh, my God! Who do I talk to?’. I always have a list ready, coaches come and go, and you’ve got to be prepared. And that’s whether you are talking about the head guy, or positionally.

Was Mel Tucker on that list for this year?

I’ll say this: He was a surprise to a lot of people. He wasn’t a surprise to me. I take my job very seriously. One of things I take pride in is being prepared. So, when we got to a certain point in the season, I got my list out, and updated my list, to make sure that coaches we were interested in were in the same places they were before, but I also started drilling more down into people. So, mentally, I was prepared to Rick, ‘Here is my core group of guys that I believe can help Colorado’.

How does the vetting process work (i.e., that there are no skeletons on the closet that will become an embarrassment later on)?

That’s me doing some of the background, but also the search firm that we used. I’ll say, ‘Here’s what I have on this guy. Does that match up with what you have? Do you have anything in addition to that?’. More often than not, they don’t. If I am identifying someone, then I may know someone that he knows, and I’ll them and say, ‘Hey, is there anything I need to know about so-and-so’. I have friends in the industry, who are search firm guys, that I can talk to … you don’t want to be surprised.

We understand that no one is perfect, and that there are going to be some blemishes on people’s record, but, if they are up front and honest, we can work with them.

Still to come … Lance Carl on CU’s new assistant coaches (3/24) and CU’s football roster and prospects for the 2019 season (4/1) …

Here is Lance Carl’s touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter of the 1986 game against Nebraska. The score gave the Buffs a 17-7 lead over the No. 3 Cornhuskers, with the Buffs going on to a 20-10 victory. If you are a Buff fan of a certain age, this replay gives you chills every time you see it:

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2 Replies to “Lance Carl Interview: The Hiring of Mel Tucker”

  1. This guy, Mel Tucker, makes me want want to believe. That catch by Carl. Wow, it takes my breath away. Do you hear Folsom? I want to hear that again. I was an eighteen year old kid back then. Now I am a fifty year old man. Ever since Neuheisel with a brief exception under Barnett it feels like one long nightmare. Bring back the wins coach!

  2. Wow
    If the video doesnt do the Champions Center justice……….
    That video the best look at it I have seen. Hopefully we have a coach now that can match it and for how many years now? the coach doesnt have a kid on the team. Thats not a knock against Jay as a player(it is one on cody) but it is one him and his dad as a person. Having your kid on the team is Pop Warner stuff. At this level no matter how great a guy you are as a player or how neutral you are as a coach, just that situation is going sow doubts in the minds of other players.

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