Perhaps it was fitting that Mel Tucker was introduced Thursday as Colorado's new head football coach at the Dal Ward Center.

Opened in 1991, the building now features a sign inside that reads it "is a tribute to the man who took the University of Colorado from relative obscurity into national prominence with a bone crushing brand" of football during his tenure as head coach from 1948-58. (Ward was also an associate athletic director from 1958-75).

Tucker takes over a CU program that is mired in relative obscurity on the national stage; a program that has a hard time even getting to bowl games — something nearly two-thirds of the Football Bowl Division teams do every year.

While he won't run the single wing offense, as Ward did, Tucker plans to follow the Ward blueprint of toughness in order to raise the profile of the football program and the university.

"Our team, we will be physical," Tucker said. "My dad always told me the name of the game of football is hit. H-I-T, hit. There's always a place on the football field for someone who will hit."

A long-time defensive coach who has led some of the nation's toughest defenses in recent years, Tucker is bringing an approach that seems to go against the nature of the Pac-12. This is, after all, a conference known for quarterbacks, explosive offenses and finesse.

The tide is turning a bit in recent years, though.


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"There's a lot of defense in this conference, there's no question about it," athletic director Rick George said.

Toughness and defense are the trademarks of the best teams in the Pac-12.

Washington and Utah are the top two defenses teams — and arguably the two most physical — in the Pac-12 and it's no coincidence that they played each other in the conference title game on Dec. 1. Washington pulled out a 10-3 slugfest decided by, of course, a defensive touchdown.

Defense and toughness have been staples for Stanford, a Pac-12 standard bearer for nearly a decade. Cal, led by second-year coach Justin Wilcox, has enjoyed its resurgence by ditching the explosive offense for dominating defense.

Washington State is known for Mike Leach's Air Raid offense, but it wasn't until the Cougars starting playing well defensively, in 2015, that they became an annual contender in the North division. The Cougars (10-2) rank fourth in the Pac-12 in scoring defense this year and have their first 10-win season since 2003.

This season, six Pac-12 teams ranked in the top 50 nationally in scoring defense, while just three ranked top 50 in scoring offense.

Four Pac-12 teams averaged 30-plus points per game this year — the lowest number since the conference expanded to 12 teams in 2011. As recently as 2015, 10 teams in the conference averaged 30 points per game.

At CU, toughness was a trademark of Ward's teams. The best CU teams fielded by coaches Bill McCartney and Gary Barnett featured some of the toughest Buffs to ever play at Folsom Field. Just two years ago, the Buffs won the Pac-12 South because of their defense and physicality.

Tucker's approach is one that has proven to work, and it might be just what CU needs.

"It's going to be the way we live," he said. "We're going to live tough, we're going to eat tough, we're going to practice tough. It's going to be who we are. It's going to be a part of our culture. I talked to the team about that. I think that resonated with them. I talked about the illusion of choice; there really is no choice. In order to play this game, you've got to be tough and you have to be physical."

That, of course, doesn't mean that the Buffs won't emphasize scoring points on offense.

If the Buffs live by the principles Tucker wants to instill — toughness, exceptional conditioning, sound fundamentals and technique, and playing smart football — the Buffs could be good on both sides of the ball.

The formula worked for Ward in the 1950s and many of CU's best coaches since, and it could be what defines Tucker's tenure in Boulder.

"I didn't go out there looking for a defensive coach," George said. "I went out looking for the coach that could instill the three things we talked about. I wanted a coach that can instill some discipline and accountability and toughness. I keep talking about those three things, but that was important for us because that's our identity when we've been really good."

Contact staff writer Brian Howell at howellb@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/BrianHowell33