Jim Leavitt never anticipated he would leave the Colorado football team for another job as a defensive coordinator.
He also never anticipated getting the type of offer he got from Oregon.
Last week, Leavitt left the Buffaloes after two seasons as defensive coordinator to take the same position at Oregon.
“(The offer) was just so out there, and I’m sitting there looking at my little girls and my wife and thinking, ‘I don’t know how often these opportunities come along,'” Leavitt told BuffZone.com . “You know how people always say they do it for their family? I really did. I don’t know how long I’ll be coaching, and it’s not like I’m 22 years old.”
Leavitt, who helped the Buffs (10-3) win the Pac-12 South division and snap a nine-year bowl drought — CU will play Oklahoma State (9-3) in the Valero Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29 — made roughly $512,000 per year at CU and had one more year on his contract.
He would not confirm details of his deal at Oregon, but it’s been reported that he signed a four-year deal that will pay him about $1.2 million per season.
Leavitt, who turned 60 on Dec. 5, had a handful of offers from other schools to leave the Buffs for more money. One of the offers — to become defensive coordinator at a Power 5 school outside the Pac-12 — was what he called “extraordinary.”
“When people are going to sit there and double your money, that’s not a lateral move,” he said.
Then, Oregon’s new head coach, Willie Taggart, called.
“Willie had reached out to me and they ended up coming with an even stronger deal and adding a year,” Leavitt said.
Leavitt said money has never been his prime source of motivation in coaching, but it certainly becomes a factor when the numbers are significant. CU offered to extend his contract, but would not come close what he’ll make at Oregon.
“I would have had to turn down about $2 million to stay at Colorado, and I wasn’t really willing to do that,” said Leavitt, who also believes that succeeding at Oregon could be a springboard to reaching his dream of becoming a head coach at a Power 5 school.
Leavitt said it will be difficult leaving a group of players at CU — on offense and defense — that he grew to love.
“The guys mean everything to me,” said Leavitt, who was unable to meet with the players, but said he plans to reach out to them at some point individually. “I just had so much fun around all of them.”
Leavitt is disappointed he won’t get a chance to coach the Buffs one last time in the Alamo Bowl, but said he will watch the game from his couch and knows that won’t be easy.
“I’ll have some emotions there,” Leavitt said.
Leavitt won’t have to coach against his former players, either, as CU and Oregon are not scheduled to play each other during the next two years.
“I wouldn’t have taken this job if they did,” he said. “I couldn’t do that.”
CU hired Leavitt in February of 2015 to turn around a defense that ranked 119th nationally in points allowed (39.0 per game) in 2014. Last year, the Buffs improved to 70th (27.5) and jumped to 18th this season (20.5).
“I felt like I did what (CU head coach Mike MacIntyre) asked me to do: build a defense,” Leavitt said. “We won the Pac-12 South. I’m very proud of that; I’m proud of the players.
“We worked for two years about as hard as you can possibly work and just did some extraordinary things. We do have some talent, but it isn’t just about talent. You have to work hard.”
After this season, CU loses several starters (including eight on defense) to graduation, but Leavitt has no doubt the Buffs will be good again next season.
“I feel good about the direction of Colorado,” he said.
Leavitt added he hopes safeties coach Joe Tumpkin, who will lead the defense during the Alamo Bowl, will get a promotion to defensive coordinator.
“If he gets it, I know everything will be going in the same direction, and I want that for Joe,” he said.
After about four days on the job in Eugene, Leavitt returned to Boulder on Tuesday to wrap up some loose ends at CU and to spend several days with his family.
He has already started on the monumental task of revitalizing the Oregon defense. The Ducks ranked 126th — out of 128 teams — in scoring defense, allowing 41.4 points per game.
“The challenge is huge, and I’m finding out (already) the challenge is huger (than expected),” he said.
A bigger challenge might be finding a place to make snow angels, which he was known to do in Boulder. Leavitt’s not one to back down from a challenge, though.
“You know darn well I’m going to do a snow angel up there,” he said with a laugh.