Rooney: Mike MacIntyre erred in giving Joe Tumpkin control of CU Buffs defense

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
CU head coach Mike MacIntyre, left, and coaching assistant Joe Tumpkin, shout out instructions during the first half of the Alamo Bowl in San Antonio on Dec. 29. Tumpkin subsequently resigned his position under orders from the university, ahead of assault charges that have been filed against him.

So much for “The Rise.”

It was fun ride, wasn’t it? The clutch, emotional wins against teams that routinely beat up on the Colorado Buffaloes in recent years. The entirely unexpected berth in the Pac-12 title game and a trip to the Alamo Bowl. It was good stuff, a long-coveted sign Buffaloes football is back.

And indeed the program is back. Unfortunately it’s no longer stirring recollections of the Bill McCartney-led glory years of the late 1980s and early 90s. Instead CU football is back in a manner much more akin to a mid-2000s sex scandal sort of way.

On Friday Sports Illustrated published a thorough story sourced mostly from the victim of two years of alleged domestic abuse by now-former CU assistant coach Joe Tumpkin, who on Tuesday was charged with five felony counts and three misdemeanors.

It goes without saying this is a significant black mark on head coach Mike MacIntyre and the commendable rebuilding job he has overseen in Boulder. For much of the saga that has played out over the past month, MacIntyre and the university can’t be faulted for taking matters a step at a time, gathering information, and, ultimately, forcing Tumpkin to resign his post.

However, if the tale spun by the alleged victim and Sports Illustrated is true, MacIntyre also was well aware of the dark clouds swirling over Tumpkin’s head when he gave him the responsibility of calling the Buffaloes’ defensive plays in the Alamo Bowl. That decision was both inexplicable and unconscionable. And it made “The Rise” lose some of its credibility, with CU acting like just another program looking the other way in pursuit of football glory.

MacIntyre came across as unseemly in the SI report for abruptly cutting off what apparently was a friendly relationship with Tumpkin’s former girlfriend once restraining orders and police investigations were introduced to the situation, yet that was an understandable maneuver. Chances are MacIntyre was ordered from above to not comment on the situation one way or another. This past Tuesday I had a one-on-one interview with MacIntyre and asked only one Tumpkin-related softball of a question, wondering if MacIntyre had circled back to recruits and their parents to reassure them this man’s apparent behavior in no way reflects the values of the CU program. MacIntyre has never struck me as the kind of guy who would duck a chance to extol such virtues. Yet in this case he politely declined comment.

And while the charges and allegations now appear extremely heinous, firing Tumpkin immediately would have been an irresponsible knee-jerk reaction. I myself in younger days was caught up in a minor domestic situation, and that experience reinforced a valuable life lesson I already should have appreciated better as a journalist, that there always are two sides to every story, and that whatever is immediately pushed into headlines isn’t necessarily the full scope of what actually happened. In our litigious society, CU likely would have done more harm than good with an instantaneous firing.

That said, handing Tumpkin the keys to the defense now appears baffling. Even if it was for just one game, the public perception was that it was a de facto promotion, a one-game opportunity for Tumpkin to prove his worth for CU’s vacant defensive coordinator position. During Alamo Bowl week, one of the formal media sessions featured a defensive focus, meaning Tumpkin was at the podium and, for that week, one of the faces of the program.

Knowing what he knew from Tumpkin’s former girlfriend (SI reported she detailed Tumpkin’s alleged abuse to MacIntyre on Dec. 9), CU’s coach completely dropped the ball when he announced a week later Tumpkin would take the lead defensive coaching role for the Alamo Bowl. Given the ugly situation unfolding in national headlines from Baylor, the head-scratching as to why another defensive assistant or MacIntyre himself didn’t assume those play-calling duties will continue until the unlikely day MacIntyre explains his actions.

Fortunately for the Buffs this is a wound that can be healed.

The questionable handling of Tumpkin by MacIntyre and the university aside, the man is gone, with only his inevitable court appearances left to remind fans of his time in Colorado. Unlike the aforementioned scandal of a decade-plus ago, this eventually can be dismissed as the actions of a lone, disturbed man rather than a full institutional breakdown.

Hopefully there is no “next time” for MacIntyre and CU’s brass. If by some unfortunate circumstance there is, one can only hope that until the legal process plays out the offending figure is relegated to the shadows, and not rewarded with a spotlight on the program’s podium.

Pat Rooney: or