In the three-and-a-half months since he was hired to coach the Colorado football team, Mel Tucker has made numerous appearances on TV and radio, shot free throws with Denver Nuggets mountain lion mascot Rocky at an NBA game, flung rubber chickens into a basket at a Buffs men's basketball game, bought pizza for students and cheered with the C-Unit while donning a hoops jersey.
Tucker's whirlwind schedule has, of course, been by design to get the word out that CU is excited about the future with its new head coach and that anyone willing to jump on the bandwagon is welcome.
On Monday, Tucker finally did what he was hired to do: coach some football.
Behind the closed gates of their lower field near Boulder Creek, Tucker and the Buffaloes conducted their first official practice of the spring.
"It was great to finally get out on the grass," Tucker said. "I was glad we were able to get outside. I know the players were excited to get out and so were the coaches to finally get a chance to roll up our sleeves and coach them up a little bit."
Hired to get the Buffs on a winning track after back-to-back 5-7 seasons, Tucker has already made it clear to his team that toughness and discipline will be foundational pieces to the program, and it appears the intensity of the offseason workout program has carried over to the field.
"It was great," junior defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson said. "I like the intensity, I like the flow, I like the cohesiveness with all the coaches and how it worked."
CU practiced in shorts and helmets on a brisk morning and Tucker got a good first impression of his team.
"I like the way they work," he said. "They were enthusiastic, they gave great effort. I thought we got better as the practice went.
"I think it's all about attitude and I thought the attitude was great. I thought we had good buy-in and we've had that all offseason during our fourth-quarter program. I thought everybody was on the same page today and it was a good start for us."
Quarterback Steven Montez joked that he was so eager for the first day that he laid out his outfit for the day the night before, as if it was the first day of school.
"It kind of did have that feel," he said. "Getting out there and getting around (offensive coordinator Jay) Johnson and getting around coach Tucker, it's all good stuff. The energy is really good and I think they're really great coaches and I think they're going to get us going in the right direction."
Although this is Tucker's first full-time head coaching job, he said that having a chance to be the interim head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars for five weeks during the 2011 NFL season was beneficial to him having some comfort in his new role on Monday — and the players have already gained respect for their new leader.
"He's a great football coach," Montez said. "He definitely has a distinct voice out there, so when he's talking you definitely notice and you pay attention and perk your ears up."
Intensity and practice efficiency are important to Tucker, and that's a lesson the players have already learned.
"If you're walking, you're wrong," Mustafa Johnson said. "If you're running the wrong way, keep running. As long as you're running, something is going to happen, so that's a big part of the intensity."
Tucker said there has to be a sense of urgency as the players go through practice.
"Be efficient, be effective," he said. "We don't want to waste time, and we want to get our work done and move on to the next deal."
That goes for the staff, too. This is the first time CU's coaching staff has worked together, and Tucker was pleased with the initial practice.
"Very organized, very efficient," he said. "We finished a little early today which is good. We wanted to make sure we didn't run over (time). I thought everybody (on the staff) did a great job organizing their drills. Everyone was on the same page. I was proud of the way the staff worked today."
With the first practice in the books, Tucker and the Buffs will keep pushing to make the next one even better.
"We have to challenge ourselves to improve each and every day," he said. "That's what this spring ball is all about, just getting better and finding out who can play for us."