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Happy Anniversary! A Review of Year One of the Mel Tucker Era

On December 5, 2018, Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker was introduced as CU’s 26th full-time football coach.

While not a household name to casual football fans, Tucker brought to Boulder 22 years of coaching experience, which included 130 games as a full-time college coach (with a .777 winning percentage – 101-29 – and ten bowl appearances).

While Tucker may not have had name recognition, he wasn’t lacking for confidence.

“Colorado has always been a place that I thought should be relevant in the national championship conversation year-in and year-out, because of its tradition and a seemingly endless list of what the school has to offer,” Tucker said at his introductory press conference.  “What we have to offer are some of the best facilities in the country, strong academics, and an amazing environment as a whole.  Colorado should be a ‘no excuse’ program.  There’s absolutely no reason we can’t achieve success at an extremely high level.

“As you walk through the facilities and you meet the people here, the leadership in place here, the question that comes to mind is: why not us? Why not the University of Colorado? Why not the Buffs? Why not CU? There is no reason why we shouldn’t be able to compete at a championship level and win championships. It’s been done here before. This is a great place. It’s a great University, great tradition, great facilities. The time is now.”

There was no talk about a “Year Zero” from Mel Tucker. No talk of the 2019 season being a “rebuilding” year.

And you didn’t hear that kind of talk from Tucker’s new boss, either.

“All of Mel’s experience as a player and coach will serve him well in Boulder,” CU athletic director Rick George said of his new head coach.  “We want to consistently compete for and win championships.  There’s no learning curve with Mel.  He’s been in the business.  We want to consistently win, graduate our student-athletes and help them make that next step in their lives.  We brought him in because we have a great freshman and sophomore class, and another solid recruiting class in the works.  We brought him here to win now, and I truly believe Mel will make us a winner next year.”

We are now 365 days into the Mel Tucker era at Colorado … how did he do in Year One?

Won/Lost record

Bill Parcells is credited with the quote, “You are what your record says you are”.

At that base level of review, everyone can agree that Mel Tucker is 5-7 at the University of Colorado. The Buffs finished one game short of a bowl for the third consecutive year, with the loss to Utah being the 11th consecutive game the Buffs have played with a bowl bid on the line … only to finish with a loss.

While the pundits will focus on the final record – and lack of bowl eligibility – the Buff Nation knows that the 2019 record of 5-7 has a much different feel to it than did the 5-7 records of 2017 and 2018.

The 2017 5-7 finish, on the heels of the 10-4 record in 2016, was a major disappointment, while the seven-game losing streak to finish the 2018 season was downright disheartening.

Buff fans may not be excited about the 5-7 finish this fall, but they are not discouraged.

Mel Tucker’s Buffs went 2-2 against ranked teams (after Mike MacIntyre went 2-20 during his six years in Boulder). The Buffs thumped rival CSU, and then came back for a memorable finish in beating Nebraska in Tucker’s first home game. These Buffs also defeated a ranked opponent on the road in beating Arizona State, the first win by CU over a ranked team on the road since 2002 (0-29 through four coaches). The two wins in November were not only memorable (including the first win over Washington since joining the Pac-12), they gave the team – and its fans – a much needed boost heading into the off-season.

True enough, the Air Force loss continues to sting (although, with the Falcons going on to a 10-win season, that loss is looking less like an embarrassment and more like a missed opportunity). The Buffs also – no excuses – should have beaten Arizona and USC. Both games were at home, and both were right there for the taking.

No one is satisfied with the 5-7 final record, but it’s very encouraging that the Buffs finished the season strong. Comments from the players show excitement about the future, not remorse about the past.

Hires

When you have a first time head coach, there are concerns about their ability to put together a quality staff.

“I feel very comfortable with them”, said Tucker about his staff when I interviewed him this past summer. “I was told, I have been told many, many times over the years, that when you do find the right head coaching opportunity, that you can’t hire your friends. I’ve seen that mistake made quite a few times over the past twenty-plus years.

“Everyone is important. It’s all about the details. When you have 85 guys on scholarship, and you have up to 130 guys on your team total, including the walk-ons. We are responsible for these guys, both on and off the field. So every person on our staff, whether it’s the training room, nutrition, weight room, coaching staff, recruiting folks. Everyone has an impact on the players at some point. There is contact, there’s interaction, there’s communication. We have to surround our players with the very best people that we can to help them on and off the field. We want high character people, who care about young men, that are experts in their fields.”

The jury is still out on the Tucker coaching staff. Some of the new coaches appear to be solid, if not excellent, hires. Some of the others, meanwhile, may need to be replaced over the next few seasons.

There were no obvious misses in these hirings, however.

For a first-year, first-time head coach – that’s a very good sign.

Recruiting

Mel Tucker’s “Why not us? Why not the University of Colorado?” is a song the Buff Nation has been signing for generations.

Why would a recruit want to live for four/five years in a place like Lincoln, College Station, or Pullman … when they can live in Boulder?

Like other CU coaches before him, Mel Tucker has uttered the phrase, “If I can get them here (for a visit), I can get them to sign”.

Well, it appears that Tucker & Co. are doing a very, very good job of getting players to Boulder for a visit.

At present – with Signing Day now less than two weeks away – the CU Recruiting Class of 2020 is ranked 28th in the nation by Rivals (fourth in the Pac-12); 29th in the nation by 247 Sports (also fourth in the Pac-12). That’s heady stuff for a program which is used to a Class ranked in the 40’s and 50’s nationally, and in double-digits in the Pac-12.

Mel Tucker’s first Class, which was signed just a few weeks after his hire, was ranked in the mid-40’s nationally. Much of the Class was in place when Tucker was hired, and most of those commits stayed with the Buffs. A number of recruits, though, came on board after Tucker was introduced, like offensive lineman Austin Williams (who may start as a red-shirt freshman next year); linebacker Marvin Ham; defensive back K.J. Trujillo (who started the last six games of the season at cornerback); and one of the two four-star players signed last year, wide receiver La’Vontae Shenault.

And, it bears noting, these rankings do not include graduate transfers Tucker brought in, including Arlington Hambright, who started every game at left tackle this fall, and Mikail Onu, who only missed starting one game at free safety this fall  – and that one non-start was due to him being injured in practice the week before the Utah game.

And, of course, there is defensive tackle Antonio Alfano. While Alfano will not be counted as part of the CU Recruiting Class of 2020, Alfano was considered either the No. 1 overall recruit from the Class of 2019 (247 Sports) or the No. 5 overall recruit from the Class of 2019 (Rivals). Alfano is scheduled to enroll in January, and, if he obtains a waiver from the NCAA, will have an immediate impact upon CU’s 2020 fortunes.

You know what they say: You need the “Jimmy’s and the Joe’s” to execute the “X’s and the O’s” … and it appears that the recruiting Class Mel Tucker and his coaching staff are putting together will have CU heading down a path which it hasn’t been on for decades.

Culture

There seems little doubt that the culture of CU football has improved since Mel Tucker first walked into the Champions Center.

You hear it from the players.

“There’s been a culture change here at CU, and definitely a lot more intensity with coach Tuck,” senior receiver Tony Brown told the Daily Camera. “He brings that SEC culture here and he’s a players’ coach and we all like that, but I think the culture was what changed.”

“(The foundation) has definitely set in,” redshirt freshman receiver Dimitri Stanley said. “Me actually getting to experience what it was like last year versus this year, definitely a culture change. Definitely a different sense of urgency when it comes to just where we need to be. I think coach Tuck will definitely have us ready and prepared to win games next year.”

Mel Tucker has embraced all things Colorado and CU. From attending CU basketball games, to attending games of Colorado Rockies, Denver Nuggets, and Denver Bronco games, to launching a podcast, Mel Tucker’s Inside Zone (highly recommended) in which he has interviewed such Buff luminaries as Phillip Lindsay, Bobby Anderson, Gary Barnett and Alfred Williams.

Going Forward

“Obviously the expectations are high,” Tucker said on December 5, 2018. “We’re here to win championships. I’ve never been in a game, as a player or a coach, that we weren’t expecting to win. Ever. So there’s one thing that I can tell you, there’s no one on this planet that can put more pressure on me than I can put on myself. The expectations I have for this university and this program are extremely high. We’re going to start working today to get this thing going in the direction it needs to go.”

Almost a full year later, on Saturday, November 30th, in the post-game press conference after the Utah game, Mel Tucker hadn’t changed his mind:

“I believe that we have the right coaching staff here to be able to get the job done with our players, on and off the field. I feel like we have the right coaching staff to be able to go out and recruit and get the players that we need to be able to win championships here. Our players in our program, our returning players, they see it and they have experience and they know, ‘Ok, now this is what we need to do; this is what’s required,’ and we’re gonna compete at the highest levels in this league and throughout this country. Right now it’s just a matter of just rolling our sleeves up. This is just the beginning for us, in my mind, in terms of our program and the direction we’re headed.”

If you are not already on the Mel Tucker bandwagon, you should jump on while there is still room.

Happy Anniversary, Coach!

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19 Replies to “A Review of Year One of the Mel Tucker Era”

  1. So Stu,

    Riddle me this.
    A freshman can play in 4 games and the able to be a RSF next year. I like it
    So…
    If a sophomore, who has not redshirted, plays in only 4 games his sophomore season, can he then come back next year as a redshirt sophomore?

    Buffs

  2. My one concern is the offensive oc. Our offensive production was pretty bad and actually got worse this year. I understand that some of that is a change in offensive philosophy to run the ball more and thus take more time off the clock, but there were too many games, especially the close ones where the offense needed just a little bit more. I am not sure if Montez’s replacement and the loss of Viska will do anything to help us here….. I am willing to give him another year but if we do not see better offensive results I think this will be one of the hard decisions Mel will have to make. Mac never could. He kept coaches that were out of their depth for way too long and promoted people who were learning the new role on the job.

    Overall, I think the feel of this team is so much better than the last 2 years but next year has the same rough schedule and expectations should be high. I don’t think the press will do to us what they did to Nebraska but if we do not win at least 6 I do not care how I feel about the year it would be a failure.

    1. Rob, I was worried about both Jay and Tyson coming in. Among others. In my eyes, they acquitted themselves well, and at this point, I think making a change to either OC or DC may do more harm than good.

      On the surface, less points scored, more points allowed, neither did well. But, I think it’s deeper than that. Hopefully.

      For Jay, I’ll chalk it up to a new system; and the usual up and down Montez (and receivers, and everyone’s miscues, at exactly the wrong time) we’ve known and loved. Having said that, they were still three games with a few plays here or there from being 8-4 (wait, have we heard that before?). I think Jay has brass balls, to call some of the plays he did, when he did. Sure we can question some of the stuff, like not continuing to run Alex when it’s working, etc. but I give them credit for seeing more than we do, and adjusting accordingly. Just because something doesn’t work, doesn’t mean it’s a bad call.

      Tyson? I liked his later season aggression. Some pretty nice blitz packages. And, given that they had some youngsters and new guys in at each level, I thought they held up well. You could say they held UW and Furd to low scores b/c they just weren’t scoring much this year, or? That the D played up towards the end of the year. We’ll know more next year.

      Will either/both be less effective as their opponents learn their tendencies? Maybe. We’ll find out. Ultimately, as you know, I think you gotta have the players to win their match ups. Scheme, play calls, etc. are secondary to that.

      My take is this roster is better than it has been in a while, and will hopefully continue on that trajectory w/ the 2020 class. They really need a QB to step up, and the offense could hum.

      The top 30 recruiting class, if it holds, may also be progress. I think Hawkins had one or two of those, and… yikes, but? Hopefully this is different.

      And, I don’t know which recruits they each helped bring in, but? If Tucker thinks they’re the right coordinators for now, I’ll trust that. Just like I would any HC’s judgement.

      As to your final assessment, I pretty much agree about next year. If this staff doesn’t get this team bowling, with what is arguably more talent this year and next, then I’ll be concerned. Will I stop supporting them? Depends on the circumstances around that. But? Let’s just hope we’re not back to groundhog day in another year. If we are, I may go all “just break everything” Bill Murray style and see if that helps.

      Go Buffs.

      1. Long is ok hahaha….
        Even in a bad year I will still support them but you might get some comments about time to move on from me.

        I agree on summers. I think the defense started really playing towards the end and I think next year will be even better. I am just worried about the offense. Hard to tell if it is a qb thing though, our running game was the most efficient it has been in years so it very well could be. The question then becomes can you get a better qb than Montez in here next year, it was obvious they trusted him significantly more than Sentrom or Lytle. We’ll see.

        1. My kingdom for a qb rob. Hell, I will throw yours in too!

          I don’t care if it is lytle, stenstrom, Lewis, or som transfer. But to me, that is the big cog in the wheel any/every team needs to make it all work.

          Go Buffs

          1. The last 3 years indicate it to be true.

            Cupboard was bare here top to bottom

            And a freshman will lead them.

            Buffs

        2. It’s the same ol’ song and, same ol’ song and daaaaaaance, my friend. At least for your new bare cupboard – which is a bare argument – narrative.

          Wow LaVar. I guess we’ll just have to get used to the “man, they’d be killing it if only they had the roster to compete” line from you for a while now?

          Go Buffs

          1. I mean, LaVar, don’t you think it’s just a little contradictory that for at least a decade you clamored nearly daily “it’s the coaching, there’s enough talent to win.” And, for 2016, you’d say “see, Leavitt made it happen, he coached the talent.”

            And yet now, when there’s another coach you’re infatuated with nearly as much as you still are w/ Leavitt, it’s not the coaching, but that the cupboard is bare?

            Hilarious.

            Go Buffs.

          2. Hilariousness is how you make things up concerning what I said.

            The coaching for the last 10 years was bad. Of course except for the 2016 D. And you backed it all the way. You went quiet then whined that he needed more time when the gardener snuck out of town. Your response every year while you buddy and his favorites drove the program into the ground. Repetitive man love no doubt.

            Mickeys crew had minimal talent but he and his staff were not good enough to take it to the next level. Never said they had great talent.

            I read your long winded babble about comparing transfer classes. Full of speculation and maybes. Clueless.

            But this cupboard is bare. You can’t see it cause the gardner is in your brain He always blamed the players. Always…………. I never blamed em. They did the best they could with the talent they had and the coaching they didn’t have.

            See the depth chart. If it was a loaded transfer the depth would be deep, the seniors and juniors would be driving the team. They didn’t cause they couldn’t.

            Oh yest when you look at the Senior starters and two depth more than half of those are transfers or jc players. Little gardener could not recruit. Cause he couldn’t coach.

            Look at that qb depth. A qb like his son who could set records but couldn’t win games. Not a leader actually.

            Where is the 4th year junior, 3 third year sophomore……Oh wait he is now a safety, and the redshirt sophomore and the
            RSf.

            Bare cupboard………………….see cause there is not depth and little experience.

            HCMT have a lot of young ones……..real young ones a chance this year.

            Your boy kept Viska as a freshman on the bench while he gave his seniors the priority to play… and oh by the way played his son. Then just ashe did to Sefo, he ran him into the ground.

            You can babble and cry and whine and lie. No problem. You always dance away like the bank guy with “oh here is one more form” It’s just you.

            I’m not even sure you are a Buff fan

            But regardless, earache every community has one or more of you.

            Okay now back to recruiting.

            It is gonna be a big deal.
            First class was a step…………..actually got some d and oline dudes.
            Next class will be really good.
            Third class? Continue up the hill from the garden.

            Funny how you are all over the OC and the DC after one year and you supported mickeys DC and whined when he was fired……….You said he left… and you backed tat OJT OC fail………….he may be better now……….but he got his stripes over the bodies of the Buffs offensive players.

            okay ducks whip the Utes…………….I think they may

          3. LaVar, please explain how the 2019 roster was not better than 2013, or 2006, or 1999. That is all I ask.

            Beyond that, I have said I think Tyson and jay did fine. What do you say? Crickets? Surely you have an opinion. You are always about grading coaches. So why not now?

            Go Buffs

          4. Achear. you tried to explain why the 2019 was better than the 2013 but you couldn’t. I never said 2013 was better than 2019. That wasn’t the point but as always you danced to your strawman tune immediately because you had to defend your gardner brother.. …. Your long arsed whine was like a farting dog. No sound just smell.

            Anyway that comparison was not relevant to the “cupboard is bare fact”…
            The cupboard was bare. Has been for years and to insinuate it wasn’t shows a total lack of football acumen on your part. But we already new that.

            Buffs.

            Wonder if lane will keep the Gardner.

  3. Excellent Stu…………Excellent……………I can feel your pride………….Me too. And it was a long write up as well………….Sheesharama
    5 and7…………..just one more game……….sheesh 3 years in a row………..

    Well one more time………………………..

    CAN’T WAIT FOR NEXT Y EAR
    Buffs

  4. Great write, Coach Tucker certainly brings a confident feel that this program will get back on it’s feet in the not too distant future, GO BUFFS!

  5. Every year there would be players who got into trouble off the field. Maybe I’m missing some, but that seems to not be the case with this year’s team and hopefully won’t be true in the future either.
    Keep up the good work MT!

  6. Great post, Stuart… especially the “bandwagon” comment at the end! That gut feeling that Tucker is the man is inescapable. Looking back, we were SO close to another win, if not a couple more. I recall Barnett saying on the radio in the 4th quarter of the USC game “this is where a team learns how to win games”. I thought that was such a profound statement, even though we let that one slip away. I think there is such a mental hangover from the last many years of losing. That mindset is changing, I think. The recruiting season has always been my favorite time of year, and especially right now. Go get em Coach Tucker!
    BTW Stuart, I’d like to join others in thanking you for the work you do with this excellent website. I always look forward to checking in!
    Go Buffs!

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