Ralphie has been running in the wrong direction for far too long. During the past 13 years, the Buffs have produced one winning season and fired three coaches. The CU football program? It’s messed up.
Well, new coach Mel Tucker is in charge of fixing this mess now. During our first sit-down meeting, I gave him three years to get the Buffs back in the hunt for a conference championship and a playoff berth.
“That’s a long time in my business,” Tucker replied with a chuckle. “Three years? That’s a long time. Shoot.”
Tucker, who waited until just shy of his 47th birthday to land his first head-coaching gig at any level, is a man in a hurry. So bring on those expectations. This CU program might be messed up, but Tucker doesn’t mess around.
And know what? A swift kick in the bohemian pants is precisely what’s needed in the Republic of Boulder, where football has long been treated no more seriously than hacky sack.
RELATED: Mel Tucker: CU Buffs will prove the Pac-12 isn’t “a tennis-shoes” league anymore
I’m here to tell you Tucker has a better shot to succeed in a place Dan Hawkins, Mike MacIntyre and even CU alum Jon Embree could not figure out how to sell on the recruiting trail. Yes, those Flatirons certainly are beautiful. But the only sales pitch that really works in the kitchen of a teenage prospect involves W’s and L’s.
Despite a killer 2019 schedule as tough as anything Tucker ever encountered while an assistant coach in the Southeastern Conference (where non-conference is spelled “cupcake”), here are five reasons the Buffs can beat Las Vegas oddsmakers’ projections of four victories and qualify for a bowl in his first season on the CU sideline.
Getting physical: Not to suggest Pac-12 football is a day at the beach, but there’s way too much sand and not nearly enough grit in this conference. There’s way too much batting around the beach ball and not nearly enough slobber-knocking in the trenches.
The Buffs from Bill McCartney’s glory years were mean, nasty and physical. Tucker is going to make it hurt to play CU again.
Heisman-worthy: The seven-game losing streak that ran MacIntyre out of Boulder was the result of many factors, but none bigger than when Laviska Shenault Jr. was injured in the USC game, which the Buffaloes entered undefeated.
Shenault is the most talented skill position player to wear a CU uniform since Michael Westbrook was drafted No. 4 overall way back in 1995. If he can stay healthy all season, Shenault can win two games by himself.
The Pac-12 South stinks: While a stout defense figures to make Utah a fixture in the Top 25 and a contender for the school’s first-ever trip to the Rose Bowl, the conference’s balance of power tilts heavily to the North, where Washington, Oregon and Stanford reside. Tucker knows Southern Cal and UCLA won’t be down forever. That’s another reason why he’s a man in a hurry.
Five-year plans are for losers. Tucker’s challenge is to build the Buffs faster than his coaching counterparts in Los Angeles.
This defense won’t rest: With all due respect to running back Phillip Lindsay, most of the fun and many of those 10 victories in 2016 were the result of the defense built by former coordinator Jim Leavitt.
Tucker inherits defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson and linebacker Nate “The Hammer” Landman. Both are NFL-caliber talents. Let’s see what havoc they wreak when Tucker turns them loose.
Tucker’s pedigree: For too long, when Colorado looked to land a winning coach, it searched for a big fish in a small pond. Hawkins won at Boise State. MacIntyre was a fine coach when he worked at San Jose State and beat up foes in the Mountain West.
Coach John Calipari never flinches on the big basketball stage at Kentucky because his vast experience taught him what it’s like “to get his (butt) kicked in the fire,” Tucker said. He spent the last four years either getting his butt chewed as an assistant to Nick Saban or his kiester kicked by Alabama. No offense to CSU or Air Force, but playing the Rams and Falcons will be no big deal to Tucker.