Time to Call it Quits? – Covering CU has now become a job

It was 6:56 a.m. on Wednesday when the text came in.

I was just opening the office, turning on the lights and computers, when my phone dinged, letting me know I had a new text.

I thought the text was going to be from Katie, my secretary/office manager/paralegal of almost 30 years, telling me she was going to be late. (Side note: Don’t feel sorry for me that I was at the office at 7:00 a.m. to open up shop. Katie and I work four-tens during the week … we haven’t worked on a Friday in 12 years).

Instead, the text was from my BFF Brad. The message was cryptic, but painful nonetheless, “So much for closure”.

I didn’t need a translation.

My heart in my stomach, I logged on to my computer to confirm my worst fear … Yes, Coach Tucker was indeed leaving for Michigan State.

What a gut punch.

For the next 30 minutes or so, I was catatonic (think Cameron Frye’s reaction in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off after they discover Cameron’s father’s Ferrari has had an extra 100 miles added to the odometer).

I got on the computer and set up a new headline, “End of a (Short) Era”, on the website. I dutifully started posting stories on Mel Tucker’s departure from Boulder.

But my heart wasn’t in it.

Many of you know that I started working on the CU at the Game Archives in 1996. A good number of you have been with the CU at the Game website since it started a decade or so ago.

In case you had any doubts, CU at the Game is not a money maker. Yes, there is some advertising on the site, and that revenue does pay for the site’s maintenance and helps defer some of my costs of being a CU fan … but it’s far from a for-profit venture.

CU at the Game is a labor of love.

Even in the off-season, I spend an hour or two a day on the website. During the season, it’s even more time. For years, I have said that I put in the time on the website because it’s fun.

I often said that, if it ever felt like it was a job, I would quit.

Wednesday morning, it felt like a job.

From the day Chuck Fairbanks abruptly left CU in 1982 (in May, no less), I have been through seven coaching transitions. There have been the unexpected (McCartney in 1994; Neuheisel in 1999), the all-but-required (Barnett in 2005; Embree in 2012), and the overdue (Hawkins in 2010; MacIntyre in 2018).

But none hurt quite as much as Tucker’s departure.

Let’s call it what it is … a betrayal.

Tucker was a long-time assistant coach, with no collegiate head coaching experience, when he came to Boulder in December, 2018. Few CU fans had ever heard of Tucker, who came to Boulder from Athens, Georgia, where he was the defensive coordinator.

But we were quickly sold on Mel Tucker and his message.

He talked about being “Relentless”. He talked about not backing off from any recruiting challenges. He talked about competing for championships.

Platitudes, all, but we bought in.

It was not only Tucker’s message, but the way he delivered it. Tucker was everywhere. He was at the Events Center, cheering on CU’s basketball teams. He was at Broncos games, Nuggets games, Rockies games … he was on the airwaves, both chatting up local media and setting up his own podcast, “Mel Tucker’s Inside Zone”, in which he interviewed former Buffs. Tucker seemed to take a genuine interest in CU’s history and legacy.

That word – genuine – came up in many discussions when Mel Tucker’s name was mentioned.

Recruits said Tucker “kept it real”. Players said Tucker was honest with them, and they in turn were ready to go to war for their head coach.

Last spring, I did my annual interview with Associate athletic director Lance Carl. As part of the “Committee of Two” who hired Mel Tucker, I asked Lance how the players had reacted to Mel Tucker. Lance replied:

Kids want three things from their head coach. They want discipline, they want to know that he genuinely cares about them, and they want to know that he is an expert at what he does. When Mel has met with the players, either collectively or individually, he has shown them those three things.

I was also very much taken in by Mel Tucker.

I have met most of the coaches who have led the Buffs over the past 40 years. Many of my conversations have been of the 20-second, “nice to meet you. Go Buffs!” meet and greet variety.

With Mel Tucker, though, I got to have a one-on-one interview.

I was in Boulder last June, and Dave Plati said he might be able to get me a “few minutes” with CU’s new coach. Instead of a quick few minutes with no quotable quotes, Coach Tucker took me up to his office and, thirty minutes later, was still talking when I cut off the interview (for fear of over-staying my welcome). Coach Tucker then spent the next 15 minutes showing me around his office, in no hurry to hustle me out the door.

Coach Tucker didn’t just talk in cliches. He had a vision, and a passion, which was palpable. I have no trouble understanding why every player in the CU locker room spoke so highly of him.

Which makes the betrayal all the harder to take.

There are two quotes which will now follow Coach Tucker the remainder of his career.

The first came last October. Coach Tucker was asked about player commitment and the use of the transfer portal. Tucker responded, “There is no transfer portal in the real world”. 

Except, apparently, for coaches.

The second came last Saturday, February 8th, a day after the Detroit Free Press posted an article indicating that CU’s Mel Tucker was on a very short list of potential candidates for the open Michigan State job.

Around noon on Saturday, after the Buff Nation had been in a frenzy for about 18 hours, Mel Tucker posted the following tweet:  “While I am flattered to be considered for the HC job @MSU_football, I am committed to @CUBuffsFootball for #TheBuild of our program, its great athletes, coaches & supporters. #UnfinishedBusiness #GoBuffs”

Four days later, Tucker was gone.

And those were four days of business-as-usual for the CU head coach. He attended fund-raisers in California and Denver. He went on the Denver radio circuit on Monday, reassuring Buff faithful of his commitment:

“I’m not exactly sure how it got out,” Tucker said of the report of his interviewing for the Michigan State head coaching position. “It’s always flattering when a school reaches out to you and has interest. I feel like we must be doing something right here to garner that type of attention. I’m really excited about being here. These things happen in this business. I was able to release a statement to really express how I feel about CU and what we’re doing here. I try not to speculate too much on rumors and innuendo and things like that.”

It still turns my stomach to read those words.

Coach Tucker not only screwed the Buff Nation and a locker room of young men who believed in him, he left a gigantic crater of a hole behind him.

Coach Tucker not only kicked us in the groin, he spat on us as we lay writhing on the ground.

It is not a new story that CU is a “have not” among the Power-Five conferences. I have been crying wolf for years about how CU – and other “have nots” in the Pac-12 – will not be able to compete in the new world of collegiate football where schools like CU are taking in $20 million less in media revenue than schools like Michigan State – every year. I’m already crying wolf about how the Name, Image and Likeness fallout is going to be detrimental to CU and similarly situated schools.

Had it not been for the Tucker tsunami of the past week, we would have spent a great deal more time this past week wringing our hands over the loss of defensive line coach Jimmy Brubaugh, who doubled his salary to move to Tennessee.

Turns out Brumbaugh’s departure was just a canary in a coal mine.

Coach Tucker’s willingness to abandon CU – a school which gave him a shot at being a Power Five head coach after 23 years as an assistant – laid bare, for the entire nation to see, how difficult (if not impossible) it is going to be for Colorado to be competitive nationally.

If Rick George and Lance Carl take a swing at another potential star coach, and get a second hit, what’s to stop that coach from taking off and leaving CU to start over again at a higher paying gig in another few years?

If Rick George and Lance Carl take a swing at another potential star coach … and miss … it will be another 3-4 years of losing seasons for the win-starved Buff Nation before we take a chance at another coach who might actually win – and then leave.

That thought is sobering – if not depressing.

Which brings me back to Wednesday morning, and the feeling of helplessness I had as I posted story after story about Coach Tucker leaving CU.

I’m never going to give up my fandom. Being a CU fan is a part of my fabric; a part of my identity.

But is it worth it to spend an hour or two a day – every day, 365 days a year – on a team which appears destined to be the Sisyphus of the Pac-12 … constantly undergoing the strain and pain of pushing the boulder up the mountain, only to watch it roll back down to the bottom?

On Wednesday, after over 20 years of working on CU at the Game, it wasn’t fun anymore to log on and read and write about my Buffs.

It was a job.

Since Wednesday, I have rebounded – at least a little bit – and will await news on the next CU head coach, the head coach who will finally – finally! – lead CU back to its traditional spot among the top 25 teams in the nation.

I have been working on putting together a podcast, and, in celebration of my 40th year as a Buff fan, I have been putting together my “Top 40 of the Past 40” – my favorite 40 games and favorite 40 players since 1980 – my freshman year at CU.

Nah, I’m not going anywhere, though after this week, it’s harder to fire up the computer and get motivated.

Coach Tucker had me believing again … and then he abandoned us.

And that’s going to take some time to get over …

—–

35 Replies to “Time to Call it Quits?”

  1. Stu,
    I’ve been down and out with the flu, so this is a bit late… I’m glad you seem to be back on board. I can’t imagine being a CU fan without CUATG, which singlehandedly brought me back into the fold of Cu fandom a decade ago, after drifting away during my 20s. I (when not bedridden) check in multiple times every day, and think how incredibly lucky we are as CU fans to have you.
    Perhaps someone will start a go fund me and post it here…

  2. Thank you Stuart for this site and your informed and well-reasoned posts. I have thoroughly enjoyed this site for what seems like forever. For sure it’s been a sh!tty week. But reading this post and comments was comforting. Just knowing there is an entire nation of Buff fans out there that are also doubled over after that kick in the nuts. Somehow made it hurt a little less. And made me step away from the ledge. Thank you. The hope reservoir slowly filling up again. GO…BUFFS…

  3. You will forever be remembered fondly by legions of Buffs around the world, regardless of what you choose to do moving forward. True #BuffLegacy

  4. You and are in the same age group and era so I feel your pain (and joy) of all we have been through the last 40 years. This website is one of the best places for information that is accurate. You have said many times, “I would rather be right than be first.” Sadly, that kind of attitude rarely exists in this day and age. I hope you will continue to do what you do so well…

  5. You are the voice of the fan and your insight and comments would be sorely missed not just by the fans but by the whole CU community. As fan in Michigan, you are my biggest source of information on all CU sports. (If I can put it this way, the Denver Post sucks when it comes to college sports (especially Colorado college sports)). I read the Detroit Free Press which has FIVE pro teams to cover and still has daily articles about Michigan and MSU. Even the Boulder Camera could do a better job at CU news.
    I really have mixed feelings about the Tucker saga as I am also a fan of MSU (my daughter attended and my father-in-law was a MSU boxer in the 30’s) and have attended many MSU tailgate parties . I don’t blame Tucker for taking the job but MSU for poaching our coach and the system allows it. And my vote for replacement is Chev! As someone noted in an earlier post, look at the success at Clemson and LSU has had with promoting assistants.
    I am a fan of your work and hope your joy returns. There have been a lot of twists to the CU coaching history – I started watching during the Eddie Crowder era (1964 was my first freshman year) so this is just another bump in the road.

  6. Stu,
    I am feeling your pain as well. Thanks for putting into words that which I have been struggling. So utterly disappointed in a man who inspired me as a Buff fan for the first time in a while. When Rick George announced MT’s hiring 14 months ago, he called it a home run hire. In our next coach, maybe we need a singles hitter who keeps coming up to bat, over and over again. I do know that we can recruit to Boulder. Whoever we gets needs to maintain and improve on this year’s steps. I trust George to find the right person to get the job done. We were a couple of defensive backs away from 8 wins this season. We are not that far from sustained success. MT left for a school with multiple years having average to low-rated recruits, sketchy administration with a checkered decision making standard and a boatload of money to spend. At his presser, MT seemed a bit unfocused and unable to answer any tough questions about the process which he had in my mind “allowed to happen”. His agent is smiling today, but perhaps MT is not.

    Thanks for creating your blog. I love to read it. I hope I get to read cuatthegame next year when you write about our new coach winning his first of many bowl games. GO BUFFS!

  7. Like others who have posted, I am a life-long CU football fan (since mid-60’s). I’m on your site daily, and multiple times a day during football season. I’m consistently impressed with the quality and content of your posts, and amazed you find the time for it while working a day job – in Montana no less!

    You are the best and only source I use for Buff football. And while I’m coming to realize that the glory days of CU football may be gone, I’ll continue to visit your site as long as you have the drive to maintain it!

  8. Hey Stu,

    What you wrote here couldn’t be any more true. After so many years of ineptitude, futility and neglect, I finally felt like CU football had finally turned the corner and had bought in, hook, line and sinker, to everything Tucker said and did. And, as you said, it made this weeks betrayal that much harder.

    Like you, I feel better today than I did yesterday. And the day before that. It sucks to be back at Square One, yet again, but here we are. Were it not for Rick George, I think all hope might be lost. But I believe he believes that we can get back to good and have faith that he’ll find a coach we can once again rally around.

    Like you, Buff football is fully part of me. Almost comically so to my friends and family. But I can’t quit it and remain ever hopeful. Hope you can find your way there too. The work you do here at CUattheGame is meaningful to all of us out here who bleed Black and Gold. Thank you and hang in there!

  9. Stu, I am so grateful for all the effort you put into this site. I check it at least twice a day. I’m sure it drives my wife crazy but that’s what husbands are for. Anyway, if you end your site, it would be like the retirement of McCartney. I would understand it and support your right to do so but the overwhelming sadness that I would feel would be tremendous. By the way, I still have not gotten over my sadness of Bill’s retirement but have never begrudged him for doing so.

  10. I am having the same internal conflicts. I used to really enjoy watching college football, not just the Buffs. For several years now, however, I have only watched and followed the Buffs as the rest of college football made me ill to my stomach. Excessive money has ruined the sport. I’m still going to follow and support this team, but if a time comes when that is no longer the case I’m going to be 100 percent done with college football and probably sports in general.

  11. Hey Stewart…I read and look forward to your website every day…If you were to call it “quits” there would just be a black hole where this website used to be….

  12. Don’t quit. I don’t have time to find my CU info all over the web and I read this everyday. I have two hopes that history repeats itself.

    1. Tucker is the next Taggart. Overhyped and gets fired within two years leaving the program worse off then when he got there.

    2. D Antonio is the next Pete Carroll. Knows sanctions are coming down to the program so the rats get off the ship.
    Go Buffs.

  13. I will say this has been the hardest week I have ever had as a buffs fan. The closest I have ever felt was our 2 losses blowing huge leads . 2010 Kansas and 2018 Oregon state. Both of those were hard weeks. But other than that I have never felt that being a CU fan has been “hard”. It’s been disappointing, frustrating, and infuriating. But my enjoyment of being a fan has always been there. But this week I hated being a CU fan. I know it will fade, especially if we get a new coach that excites us (cough Bieniemy cough). I understand this article so much. And I am sorry it’s been so devastating for all of us. But we need to support the kids who are poring out their blood sweat and tears for the program. Go Buffs.

  14. I don’t post very often, but am on the site everyday. Hang in there Stu….Horrible week to be a buff supporter…if anything it has cast an eye on how CU is perceived….it feels like there are hard choices coming that many of the non SEC-BIG schools are going to have to make…
    As far as “Mercenary Mel” is concerned……don’t think he will be able to live up to the expectations that come with the $$$…..bad karma headed his way….finally, how much is one’s credibility worth, especially when dealing with young people.

  15. Us poor buff fanatics.

    All because of the importance of athletics. Sheesh. That’s the ol spirit. If only we could just root for debating teams and entrepreneurial teams. and the engineering teams that compete and win. At least mostly win.

    “BLMT” will get his. Again, if you didn’t see his press conference you need to find it

    https://www.fox2detroit.com/video/654303 oh wait here it is

    Be patient there are some telling parts.

    Okay stu can I keep my hat if you close it down?

    Clemson. I am looking for the appointment of the WR/recruiting coordinator to interim HC to be a Clemson repeat.

    Dabo
    Chev

    Deja vu all over again.

    Buffs.

    Note: Buffalo up dudes and dudettes

    1. Catching up from a long weekend on my favorite website, Stu, you do a great job, not sure what I’d do with out this site to keep my CU Football Jones going every day! Thank you again, I know it’s not easy. VK, I made it just over a minute into that presser. When he started talking about gratitude, I choked on my red wine, started yelling, and the dog ran out the back door! Maybe I’ll get through the full presser sometime, just not now….as I said in a previous post, character matters and karma is a b….. GO BUFFS!!

  16. Stu u the man who serves breakfast , an evening snack, wipes as way our tears when CU stumbles. Hang in there , things can only get better and we’ll hang in there with you.

  17. Stuart,

    THANK YOU for all that you do! Your website is my first and last source for CU Buffs information. Like many on Weds I was shocked to learn MT was leaving. I learned the news via texts from friends and went directly to CUATTHEGAME.com for confirmation.

    Not sure who’s going to be the next head coach, but the options are limited. I like “Rob O’s” suggestion of bringing back Leavitt and making Chiav the OC. Whoever is hired needs to be sure and keep Chiav until it’s his time to be the head coach. Maybe he’s ready to be the HC…I don’t know.

    In the meantime, Stuart thank you for keeping some many Buff fans connected and informed!

    GO BUFFS

  18. Dont quit Stuart. I will certainly understand if you want to take some time off in Costa Rica for the off season….eh?
    If you do you will leave us with the Denver Post owned Buffzone with Brian who does mostly coach and player speak interviews and his cohort Rooney who in my opinion is a Kisla disciple. The last column he wrote practically encouraged Mel to quit….not that it had any effect on Mel one way or the other but it still pissed me off.
    I know, I am always thinking of myself but whatever you decide you have already left a great legacy with Buff fans.

  19. Yeah Stuart, me too. It’s going to be hard for me to renew those Club Level tickets. The Buffs have had bad karma for about 20 years now. A lot of it they’ve brought on themselves through bad leadership and stupid decisions, a lot of it has been bad circumstance. But, this latest thing has me wondering what is the point of continuing to slog through this as a fan?

    Yeah, it would be great if the Buffs won a few more games, went to a bowl once in a while, could beat USC, etc., but every so often there is a glimpse behind the curtain into how greasy college athletics actually are. I don’t blame the players or the coaches for what it has become, but that doesn’t make it any easier to pony up for tickets. Maybe I’ll feel better about it by next fall.

  20. Like the other comments, I read your website loyally. When I heard the 1st reports on his possible departure Friday evening I figured the trust was gone period end. The delay of a response was telling and I really lost all hope of him being here more than another year or so. Better to have him gone now than later in my opinion. Our hope has to be for Bill McCartney or Sonny Lubick type coach who wants to be here for the long haul. I would like to think there are still men like this out there. Thanks for all you do for us long time buff fans. Go Buffs

  21. Hang in there! I think the Pac12 will figure out the media rights thing and while we are never going to be the SEC we will get a lot closer. We were paying Mac like 5 mm a year so it is not like we are capped at 3. Frankly, Tucker may have betrayed us but MSU took a huge gamble paying him that much. Just look at his press conference yesterday. Tucker has not proven he is a championship caliber coach and MSU is paying for that. After a couple of years of 8-4 which would have been great here MSU will not be happy. I continue to think about Chiav as head coach. As a coordinator he is pretty rough but as the face of a franchise he may be the guy we need for stability. The issue is we would need him to bring in the right coordinators.l and I am not sure he could. I would say. If we could keep the current coordinators in place I would not hate it as much as I initially thought. I still think Leavitt and forcing Chiav as the oc. Would be good and Bieniemy would be the home run.

  22. Great article Stewart! Thank you for all you do! I still believe we can get back on top, but George really needs to hit a home run this time.

  23. Thank you for being so honest, Stuart. You nailed, man. You nailed it. CU and a lot of other schools are in serious trouble as they look to “compete” in the Power 5. Now more than ever it’s a Power 2 plus Clemson and the Nike Duck$.

    Is there such thing as a coach who really isn’t in it for the money? I get paid for my job, but I can honestly say to anyone that I’m not in it for the money. Yeah, I know, Tucker would say the same. And he’s a laser-like liar. If someone tried to double my salary, I wouldn’t allow them because I work with kids every day and it’s more important for those funds to go elsewhere. I make enough. I eat and entertain myself enough. Seriously, these coaches get, at most, 4 weeks off per year. How much money do they need to go on vacation…live a decent life? Tucker, are you happier with 6 million over 3? Let me answer for you. NO, you will not be. You will NOT be.

    Is there a coach out there who even comes close to thinking about what’s best for the players, the university AND his family? It IS possible to do all three and be happy without the extra 3 million. Promise! Try it. And please, somebody try it at CU.

  24. I/ we feel your pain Stuart. Yesterday I was talking to a friend of mine who shares or shared my passion for football. For years the game I love was my gey away from real life
    About five years ago I started feeling the pro game slipping away because of the money and self rightousness of the players so instead of following the games I only follow the Broncos now. Anyway back to discussion with my buddy I said “I dont know if I will watch college football anymore” while knows where I am coming from he said wait until June and see if the four month break helps to get out of my football funk. If you decide to pull the plug I would understand and say thanks for what you have contributed to my personal fandom. Love the Buffs but not much of a college football fan anymore.

  25. Don’t quit. This is the first and last site I read everyday. Appreciate everything you do.

    It will get better, it has too. We were all con’d by a selfish person. But we will go on.

    Time to ‘circle the herd’.

  26. Long time reader, first time commenter. I just want to say thank you for the time and energy you have invested in commentary, the brokering of all things CU information, and for providing the CU faithful with the content we so eagerly desire. Regardless of your decision to keep up the fight or relax into the norms of the fanatical I really just wanted to show you gratitude. From one buff to another, thanks again! I really do appreciate it. God bless.

  27. Cheer up buddy! It could be a hell of a lot worse. If you remember the Fairbanks fiasco, then, you remember the little know D coordinator that Colorado brought in from Michigan to fix it. Five seasons, five! and we were convinced Colorado was never going to achieve success again. Well, I remember what happened and so do you. Chances are pretty good this website would not even be here if it wasn’t for the hiring of a coach like Bill McCartney. I seriously doubt Mel Tucker is going to end up being a memorable hire for MSU. I’m glad he is gone. I want another Bill or Gary, notice both of them are still here where they laid down their roots. Mel? Rick George may have class and never said anything bad about the man but…. I have no class! He will forever be Mel. _ucker to me!
    I have been with you from the beginning and I appreciate you. There is not a day that has gone by In a very long time that I do not check your site before I check my mail or read the news. I’m sure there are a lot of Cuatthegamers who feel the same way. By Mel, have a nice life.

  28. The man was a fraud. Just look at how many times he has changed jobs. While I get the $ issue, howeverut lying was very disconcerting. When his lips moved this past week he was full of s*hit.

    I trust that Rick and Carl will get the right guy.

    My issue is the Darwin award winner Larry Scot screwing the Pac-12 on media rights. No Direct TV, major failure, $5M per year, major failure. Having the office in SF at $100/sf. major failure.

    Plus the CU president, major govt. EE = failure

    Like you I am a life long CU supporter.

    Thank god for men of principal like Tad Boyle

    I am sure Rick will hire the right guy but based on the current financial Pac-12 financial resources we are screed. When we pick a great coach he will be plucked by a top two conference.

  29. Understand the feelings, Stu, but I hope you won’t close down your site. This is absolutely the best source for news about the Buffs. I always go here first before anywhere else: Camera or Post or ESPN or local TV. Gut punch, indeed, but I hope you’ll keep up the good work.

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