Joe Tumpkin doesn’t drink Pepsi and he sounds nothing like Jim Leavitt.
He will, however, do his best to fill Leavitt’s former role as the Colorado Buffaloes prepare for the Valero Alamo Bowl.
On Friday, CU head coach Mike MacIntyre announced that Tumpkin, who has coached the safeties for the past two years, will call the defensive plays and coach linebackers when the Buffs (10-3) take on Oklahoma State (9-3) on Dec. 29 in the Alamo Bowl.
Tumpkin will fill the role voided by Leavitt, who left his defensive coordinator post at CU this week to take the same position at Pac-12 rival Oregon.
“The defensive staff did a phenomenal job this year with the defense and it won’t change anything for our game here,” MacIntyre said. “We’ll be fine and our guys are excited about playing.”
MacIntyre will not focus on finding a permanent replacement for Leavitt until after the Alamo Bowl.
“I’m focusing on winning the bowl game,” MacIntyre said. “We want to go win the bowl game. I’ll just focus on that and after the bowl game is over we’ll focus in on everything else.”
In addition to shifting Tumpkin’s duties, the Buffs will have cornerbacks coach Charles Clark also work with the safeties. Graduate assistants Corey Edsall and Chidera Uzo-Diribe will have increased roles leading up to the bowl game, as well.
“We did it as a collective group (all season) and Leavitt made the call,” said Tumpkin, who was the defensive coordinator at Central Michigan from 2010-14. “It’s just a different person is going to make the call. You’re going to see the same stuff. We’re going to be as aggressive as we possibly can. Nothing is going to change.”
Leavitt was a well-known Pepsi connoisseur. When Tumpkin was in the office watching film on Thursday, Clark walked in and offered Tumpkin a Pepsi.
“I drink Starbucks,” Tumpkin said. “I told Charles he can bring me a stack of Starbucks.”
The players decided to have a little fun with Tumpkin, too, as the Buffs held their first practice of the week on Friday.
“I’m talking and they’re all trying to imitate Leavitt’s voice,” he said. “They got a kick out of it. They understand the situation. They understand everything that’s going on. Their focus is on trying to win the bowl game and go out as champions.”
Leavitt, who was hired in February of 2015 (along with Tumpkin), helped to turn around the CU defense. The Buffs ranked 119th in scoring defense in 2014 (allowing 39.0 points per game), before Leavitt was hired, and vaulted to 18th this year, giving up almost half as many points as two years ago (20.5).
Players often had high praise for Leavitt during his time with the Buffs, but junior safety Afolabi Laguda said on Friday that it’s time to move on.
“Leavitt was one of the best coaches I ever had,” Laguda said. “I love him, he knows I love him; and I know he loves me. I know he has a family and he had to do what is best for his family.
“The players make plays. No matter who comes in (to replace Leavitt), no matter what, we have each other, and that’s what we’re going to lean on. That’s what the leadership this year taught us is how to bond together.”
The Buffs will look to bond together as they prepare for Oklahoma State without Leavitt. Having the rest of the defensive staff and a veteran group of players should help the transition.
“Our kids are very bright and they understand what we want to do in our scheme,” MacIntyre said.
Losing Leavitt was not a surprise to the Buffs, but athletic director Rick George said, “I’m somewhat surprised that he went to Oregon.”
CU learned of Leavitt’s deal with Oregon like most people did, through a Fox Sports report on Wednesday afternoon.
Leavitt was the highest paid assistant coach in CU history, at roughly $512,000 per year, but will reportedly make over $1 million per season at Oregon.
George said CU did make an offer to Leavitt to extend his contract and give him a raise, but was nowhere close to offering what Leavitt will make at Oregon.
“I wasn’t going to touch that money,” George said. “I want people that want to be in Colorado and we want to pay them fairly, no question about that; but we don’t want to overpay and overreact because somebody is throwing a ton of money at him.”
The Buffs are prepared to pay more for coaches’ salaries this next year, however.
MacIntyre has two years left on a contract that pays him roughly $2 million per season, and he and the school are in initial talks about an extension and raise.
“We’re having discussions about the future,” said George, who added there is no timetable to get that extension completed.
The Buffs ranked in the bottom half of the Pac-12 in terms of total money paid to assistant coaches, and George acknowledged the Buffs will likely make some changes there, as well.
“We think we pay our coaches fairly and we’ll continue to do that,” he said. “We’ll make some adjustments to some salaries this year, I’m sure of that.”
CU’s success on the field, and at the ticket office, will help. The Buffs had a significant increase in attendance this year, especially during the last few home games.
“The last three games, we were able to generate some revenue, which allows us to be a little more flexible and allows us to maybe do a little more (with coaches’ salaries) than we’ve done in the past,” George said.