Rooney: Mel Tucker checks some boxes, raises some questions for CU Buffs

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Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker looks on before the SEC Championship against Alabama on Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.

Rick George apparently has found his man.

Whether Mel Tucker is the right man remains to be seen.

Late Friday night and early Saturday morning reports began flooding the interwebs that Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker is in line to become the 26th head coach in Colorado football history.

As with any decision of this magnitude, Tucker checks a number of impressive boxes while at the same inciting enough question marks to keep the enthusiasm of Buffaloes fans in check.

In several mediums — on local radio, on our weekly podcast — I’ve advocated for a coach with major college head coaching experience, like former Cal coach and current Fresno State leader Jeff Tedford. That’s one box Tucker, a lifelong assistant except for a brief interim spell with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars, doesn’t check. Unlike the situations during the most recent CU football coaching changes, this is not a total rebuild that Tucker, assuming he’s the man, is stepping into.

This is a team that can win immediately.

There is talent on the CU roster. The Pac-12 Conference is down, as evidenced yet again on Friday night for those who managed to stay awake during the 10-3 Washington victory in an utterly forgettable league title game. Success is there for the taking right away in Boulder, yet that also is the sort of goal that can be derailed by a coach leading a program on his own for the first time in a geographical footprint light years from the one in which he built the bulk of his coaching resume.

That’s not at all to say Tucker, or any other superstar coordinator, can’t have success at Colorado. The man has had success everywhere he’s plied his trade at the collegiate level, and he has recruited and mentored elite-level talent. As the defensive backs coach at Alabama in 2015, safety Eddie Jackson recorded a team-leading six interceptions, including one against Clemson in the national championship game. Former Georgia linebacker Roquan Smith was the eighth overall pick in this year’s NFL draft. Both players currently are playing key roles on a Chicago Bears defense that has led an unexpected push to the top of the NFC North division.

By all accounts, toughness is a staple of Tucker-coached units. And toughness, particularly mental toughness, is something the Buffaloes football program sorely lacks.

On the other hand, coaching success at the college level is a heck of a lot easier when you hitch your star to Nick Saban’s locomotive, as Tucker has worked for the current Alabama coach at three different stops. Tucker has never coached anywhere west of Chicago, and even I could at least pique the cursory interest of recruits if I walked into their living rooms wearing the polo shirts of Ohio State, LSU, Georgia or Alabama. Whether Tucker can do the same in black-and-gold remains to be seen.

The fact Saban has trusted Tucker enough to hire him at three different stops certainly is a credit to Tucker. But all of those aforementioned schools are successful at a national level as a matter of routine. How much of it can be attributed to the work of a lone coordinator, no matter his pedigree, is a matter of debate.

If Saturday’s SEC championship game was a final audition of any sort for Tucker, the last impression of his Georgia defense was a mixed bag. Tucker’s defense confounded Alabama Heisman-candidate quarterback Tua Tagovailoa into a 10-for-25, two-interception performance before he left with an injury. Yet Alabama still rallied from a two-touchdown deficit in the second half to win.

This past week, a CU coaching staff that is squarely in limbo have nonetheless done due diligence by hitting the recruiting trail, making certain a 2019 class that projects as a solid one for the Buffs still has their respective sights set on Boulder. They very well could be securing talent they will hand over to Tucker and never coach themselves. Such is life as a major college football coach.

Tucker, assuming he is introduced in Boulder this week, will add that talent to a roster that should be ready to win immediately. And since the cupboard hardly is bare, Buffs fans might be able to figure out rather quickly if George found the right man.

Pat Rooney: or

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