Random Thoughts – Volume XI – In Rick George We Trust

Personal Note … 

Just a quick note for all you who posted comments or sent me emails in reaction to my “Time to Call it Quits?” essay on Friday … I was very touched by your kind words of appreciation for the CU at the Game website. Yes, it is true that I have said for years that I would pull the plug on the site if it ever stopped being fun and started to feel like a job. And yes, it is true that on Wednesday, as I was posting stories about how Mel Tucker abandoned his players, his fellow coaches, and the rest of the Buff Nation, that working on the website felt like a job.

It’s been a tough few days, but each day, Tucker’s betrayal is another day behind us. Each day, our hopes for CU’s future improve just a little bit more.

I’m going to keep slogging away on the website … and I am very grateful that you are willing to come along for the ride.

One more Tucker impact story … 

For us fans, the Tucker betrayal was painful.

But’s nothing compared to what his assistant coaches are living through.

A week ago Saturday, these men – the majority of whom came to Boulder at Tucker’s behest – were reassured by their boss that he was “committed to CU”.

And now? They don’t know if they will even have a job when spring practices start on March 14th.

Just how difficult a position Tucker has put his assistants in can be illustrated by a pair of conversations I overheard while in Boulder last weekend.

A week ago Friday, I was in the Champions Center with hopes of interviewing running backs coach Darian Hagan. CU had just signed two new running backs – Ashaad Clayton and Jayle Stacks – so I was excited about what coach Hagan would have to say about his new charges. That Friday was a “snow day”, though, and, as it turned out, the interview didn’t take place.

While I was hanging around to see if Coach Hagan would make it in, I set up camp in the waiting area of the fourth floor of the Champions Center – the football coaches’ floor. With all of the snow in Boulder that day, however, only two assistant coaches made it in to work. With the number of people on the floor in single digits, I was – quite unintentionally – able to overhear two of the phone conversations those coaches had that morning.

One of the coaches was calling around to different hardware stores, trying to find a snow blower he could purchase.

The other coach was on the phone chatting up a prospect from the Recruiting Class of 2021.

Neither call was particularly exciting or noteworthy – until you put them into context.

These calls were being made the morning of Friday, February 7th … just hours before the posting of the Detroit Free Press article, linking Mel Tucker to the open Michigan State job.

I don’t know if the first assistant coach found a snowblower in his price range.

I don’t know if the prospect the second assistant coach was calling has any interest in coming to Colorado.

But it is fair to say that those two assistant coaches wouldn’t have been making those calls had they known that their careers were hours away from being dramatically altered.

Many of us in the Buff Nation feel betrayed by Coach Tucker’s actions.

But our lives, for the most part, will go on as before.

Not so the lives of the assistant coaches Tucker abandoned …

Putting to bed the “Counter-offer” issue … 

There was some angst earlier this week about whether CU athletic director Rick George tried – or was even given the opportunity – to make a counter-offer to Mel Tucker in order to retain his services.

Reality check.

There was no way the University of Colorado could have – or should have – been putting up an offer anywhere close to what Mel Tucker signed for at Michigan State.

Tucker’s contract, which the university released Thursday afternoon, will bring him at least $5.5 million annually over his six-year contract, more than $1 million over Mark D’Antonio’s $4.3 million dollar deal he had before he retired Feb. 4th.

That would put Tucker just outside the top 10 in the Football Bowl Subdivision in total pay and fourth in the Big Ten based on the 2019 USA TODAY coaches salary database. Tucker made $2.4 million in his one season at Colorado last year, according to USA TODAY.

Only Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh ($7.5 million), Purdue’s Jeff Brohm ($6.6 million) and Penn State’s James Franklin ($5.65 million) made more in 2019. Tucker’s salary would rank 12th nationally, just behind Franklin and just ahead of Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald ($5.14 million).

For comparison’s sake … there were only three coaches in the Pac-12 last year who earned over $4 million (forget $5 million, or $6, or $7.5) last year, led by Washington’s Chris Petersen, at $4,625,000. Half of the coaches in the conference (including Mel Tucker, at $2.4 million) were at $3 million or less.

The new Tucker contract also stipulates MSU will provide a $6 million pool annually from which Tucker will hire his 10 assistant coaches. That is more than $1 million more than MSU was providing Mark D’Antonio for his assistants last year ($4,902,552) according to USA TODAY’s database.

The $6 million pool would put the Spartans ninth nationally in assistants pay, just behind Michigan ($6,005,000). Ohio State has the largest assistant pay pool in the Big Ten at $7,245,000, which ranks third nationally according to the database (CU’s assistant coach pool in 2019: $3,155,000).

So, to recap … Mel Tucker’s deal at Michigan State, a fair-to-middling Big Ten program which is no better than fourth in its own division, will pay its new head coach – with a career record of 5-7 – more in salary what CU was able to pay Tucker and his 12 assistants … combined.

Mel Tucker and assistants at Colorado, 2019: $5,555,000.00.

Mel Tucker and assistants at Michigan State, 2020: $11,500,000.00.

Yup, more than double.

No chance that Rick George could have put together a package to compete with what Michigan State is paying Tucker.

For that matter, there is no chance that Oregon, or Washington, or USC will be spending that much on their coaching staffs this fall.

Welcome to the world of college football, 2020.

What are Rick George and Lance Carl looking for in CU’s next head coach?

Same thing – presumably – they were looking for when they hired Mel Tucker.

After Mike MacIntyre was let go, Rick George said the following … (from 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.”

It certainly seemed like Mel Tucker checked all of the boxes, didn’t he?

And now we start over.

Last spring, in my interview with Lance Carl, we talked about what it took to be prepared to replace a coach. At the time, it was a retrospective look at being in position to find and hire a Mel Tucker. Now, we can look at his quotes from the perspective of looking for Tucker’s replacement …

CUATG: 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?

Lance Carl: 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.

CUATG: Was Mel Tucker on that list for this year?

Lance Carl: 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’.

In Rick George and Lance Carl we trust … again.

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11 Replies to “Random Thoughts – Vol. XI”

  1. Stu,
    I actually disagree with your “Counter Offer” piece above. I think this goes to the heart of the whole issue I have. Mel had no interest in Boulder, HIS recruits or HIS staff….he was only interested in money. He either has a terrible agent or bad advice around him. All he had to do was ask CU to match or even get close to the offer and he would stay. It’s not his place to analyze if CU could find an Alumni to pony up or get the University to back Rick….but he should have offered IF HE WANTED to stand by his word and his team and his new recruits. Rick does not get the money….this decision is market dynamics not a wholesale blow off of the people all around him.
    There is a right way and a wrong way to harvest a deal like this…..this was clearly the wrong way in my opinion

  2. Nice piece. Do we know how many candidates were interviewed last year? I recall hearing that Lance told Rick to cancel the remaining interviews after Mel, “they had their man”. Which, I think most would agree was probably a good call. A good rule of thumb for any selection under a timeline is to look at least 7, and make a pick that is better than the 7. There is also a natural bias towards the most recent person interviewed. Hence, wondering how many candidates were evaluated, hopefully b/t last year and this year they will have interviewed more than 7 to inform their decision.

    1. The players, especially the new recruits, the ones who decide to stay anyway, are naturally going to be suspicious of anyone…..with the possible exception of Chev would also naturally be the one in the best position to convince as many as possible to stay. Count me in the suspicious group with anyone who is currently working in a position in the SEC that isnt an HC. Just like MM they will all want to go back to that glorified conference as an HC……or like Mel, who gave them a spiel that the next coach may not be able equal that wasnt worth crap…..or anyone else who thinks 3 million a year is chump change and not worth any motivation for ethical behavior. I wonder how that looks to the kids who probably wont buy in on anyone else and have been taught by example its me first…..which doesn’t work too well on a team sport.
      Chev has played here, been here as a coach, knows the drills and is an excellent recruiter. If he isn’t chosen I would be surprised if he doesn’t move on as well. The again its possible he may not want the headache of an HC position….at least for the time being.
      If he isn’t chosen I would like RG and his buddy LC to be candid about why.

  3. Indeed in Rick George and Lance Carl we trust….. again. I can only hope that Lance has been steadfast in his due diligence for the unexpected coaching scenario CU currently faces. Prior to hiring Tucker I think the writing was on the wall for MacIntyre at least a month prior to his dismissal–affording Carl an opportunity to fine tune a replacement list. But given the untimely, unexpected, and bizarre departure of Tucker last week, I can’t help but wonder if Lance’s contingency list hadn’t been shunted to the back of his desk drawer unrefreshed–he too jack jawed and blind sided like the rest of us .

  4. The issue of the assistant coaches, and by extension, the players they’ve recruited, is a knotty problem. No doubt Tucker is waving money at several, and the mercenaries will probably go even at the risk of being “tuckered” at some point down the line,. Hopefully, some will want to stay, but then if we bring in a new HC, he will want to chose his own staff.

    Then there are the recruits from both 2019, 2020, and the potentials for 2021. I’m hearing rumors that the 2020 class will be released from their LOI’s by the NCAA, but where would they go? Most programs have all their scholarships awarded. There’s major damage control needed with the kids. The astute ones will stick with CU just because it’s CU (I’m a little biased, but I suffer from Chief Niwot’s curse).

    This going to be a really tricky task for RG, LC, and Chev, and none of the names being bandied about flip my switch – especially Eric B.

    I’m really concerned that if we don’t fill the stadium this fall, and win at least 7 games, the program is in trouble. We don’t have the luxury of a 2 or 3 year rebuilding period.

    1. What are you talking about? I doubt the NCAA has the authority to release a whole class from their LOIs. Might as well give CU the death penalty too. Stuart do you have any insight?

      1. Here’s the new rule …
        The NCAA Division I Council announced (last April) that it has relaxed transfer rules for incoming freshmen athletes in certain situations, including those on teams that have made coaching changes. Incoming freshmen who enroll in summer school and receive financial aid can transfer and play immediately without a waiver if their coach leaves prior to the first day of fall classes. The rule only applies to those students who take their first semester of classes before the start of their first regular (non-summer) academic term, which means that it isn’t applicable to football early enrollees.

          1. Basically, everyone.
            The entire team can go to classes this spring, and then take off for other schools this summer if they so choose. How many would be able to transfer without penalty, and how many would have to sit out a year – I don’t know.
            We’ll just have to wait and see who the new coach is, who they bring in for assistants, and how enthusiastic the team is after spring practices.

  5. Stu-
    Thanks for staying and keeping this site going, I frequent this place multiple times a day(mostly at work). Been here quite a few years now, not sure what I would do without CUatthegame. Again thanks for everything. And one day maybe I will figure out what language VKberlin uses to post his rants and quips.

  6. Stu,
    MT was a very likeable coach, handled himself very well, and he coached our players hard. He brought in very good assn’t coaches and we all felt the program was really getting going. Of course that makes the hurt so much worse. With past coaching changes we were looking forward to getting a “better” coach, now we are not so sure. I hope we do get a great coach for the team and us fans, but I have a horrible feeling we will trade down not up on the next hire.
    We are all discouraged after so many years of little success, but hang in there. I very much enjoy reading your material, so while we can all be very upset, both by his leaving and the way it went down, I’d ask you to please carry on. Carry on the way we ask the young players to stay the course and trust in CU. Our Great School has a lot to offer all of us, and the mighty Buffs will overcome this too!

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