CU Buffs’ Joe Tumpkin ready to ‘run his own show again’

Cliff Grasmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Joe Tumpkin has coached all areas of the defense during his career.

In searching for a new defensive coordinator, Colorado head football coach Mike MacIntyre may not have to look far.

Just down the hall from his office in the Champions Center sits Joe Tumpkin, who would jump at the chance to lead the Colorado defense in place of Jim Leavitt, who left the Buffs last month for Oregon.

“Yeah, I’d love to run my own show again,” Tumpkin said before the Dec. 29 Valero Alamo Bowl, where he served as interim coordinator. “I’d love to get back and be the play caller again. When the opportunity comes, the opportunity will be there. If I’m blessed to get it, I’m blessed to get it.

“We’ll see after the (bowl) what coach MacIntyre decides. He’s going to make his decision and go through his process that he needs to go through and go from there.”

CU currently has two positions to fill on its staff, as cornerbacks coach Charles Clark left the Buffs this week to follow Leavitt to Oregon.

“We’ll make the hire when we find the right guys,” MacIntyre said Wednesday in a statement provided by CU. “It could be tomorrow; it could be three weeks from now. We’re not going to rush it. We’ll do like we’ve done in the past and get the right guys.”

To find the right guy at defensive coordinator, MacIntyre is surely taking a long look at Tumpkin, who was brought to Boulder two years ago to coach the Buffs’ safeties.

Tumpkin’s one opportunity to run the Buffaloes’ defense didn’t go well, as they lost to Oklahoma State, 38-8, in the Alamo Bowl, but that performance can’t be pinned solely on him. Nor will it be the deciding factor in whether or not he gets the job.

Tumpkin’s body of work, particularly during his two seasons at CU, is impressive and makes him an attractive candidate to take over for Leavitt. Earlier this week, named Tumpkin and Clark as the national defensive backs coaches of the year.

“The way he coaches, I’d really love to see him in that position,” senior outside linebacker Jimmie Gilbert said. “I want to see what kind of defense he can put together and what kind of defense he can build because I know he has the ability to do it.”

Tumpkin, who has been coaching since 1994, was the defensive coordinator at Central Michigan for five seasons (2010-14) before coming to CU. From 2011-14, the CMU defense improved every year, ranking 30th nationally in Tumpkin’s final season, 2014.

At CU, Tumpkin earned respect from the players under his tutelage in the secondary.

“Repetition is the biggest thing that he preaches,” junior safety Ryan Moeller said. “He definitely reinforces that.

“He’s not afraid to yell at you because he knows you can do it. That’s good, because if (he’s) not yelling then he doesn’t care. I definitely think all these coaches care about us a great deal.”

For the two weeks leading up to the Alamo Bowl, Tumpkin not only ran the defense, but shifted his focus to coaching the linebackers.

“It’s been fun,” sophomore linebacker Rick Gamboa said before the Alamo Bowl. “It’s been a little different from how coach Leavitt was, but coach Tumpkin has been helping us a lot.”

While he didn’t always work directly with Tumpkin, Gilbert said he and several players have enjoyed having Tumpkin on staff.

“He knows what he’s doing,” Gilbert said. “He knows a bunch of different philosophies, and he has his own blend of everything. The way he picked up the reins after coach Leavitt left and has got us running on all fours, it feels great.”

Throughout his career, Tumpkin has coached all areas of the defense, from the line to linebackers and corners and safeties. MacIntyre believes that versatility is a strength for Tumpkin.

“He’s very knowledge on the front and the back end together,” MacIntyre said. “Some people can understand the front, some people understand the back end. He understands both, which is what you need to be able to do to coordinate, to understand it. Then, he gets along with the players, he understands our scheme real well. The guys really respond to him.”

Whether or not that leads to Tumpkin getting a promotion remains to be seen, but he’s eager to work with CU’s young players. The Buffs lose eight full-time starters to graduation on defense, but Tumpkin believes there is plenty of talent coming back.

“I don’t think it’s going to take a big step back,” Tumpkin said. “I think we have some young guys that people haven’t seen play. I think they see the challenge.”

So does Tumpkin, and he’s ready to take it on if he gets the chance.

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