Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
About three hours into his first meeting with Mel Tucker, Colorado athletic director Rick George realized he had not asked a single question.
“That’s when it came to me that this might be the guy,” George said Thursday after introducing Tucker as the 26th full-time head football coach in CU history.
While it took a little time for George and associate athletic director Lance Carl to get around to interviewing Tucker, it didn’t take them long to realize that Tucker, until this week the defensive coordinator at Georgia, was the man to lead to Colorado’s football program.
“You’re going to know when you know,” George said. “With Mel, we knew. I think we got the best choice.”
There were plenty of choices, however.
Mike MacIntyre, who went 30-44 in nearly six seasons at CU, was fired Nov. 18 and it took George and the Buffs about two and a half weeks to name Tucker as the replacement.
There were some schools that fired and hired coaches during the time CU was looking. Texas Tech, for example, fired Kliff Kingsbury a week after MacIntyre was fired, and the Red Raiders hired Matt Wells just four days later.
CU, meanwhile, took it’s time, in part because the need to find a new head coach came up fairly quick, as the Buffs (5-7, 2-7 Pac-12) lost their last six games under MacIntyre and their last seven overall.
“If you think about this, we were 5-0 at one point in the season; we never contemplated this,” George said. “I didn’t come to conclusion (to move on from MacIntyre) until late, so it wasn’t like I was way ahead of the curve. But, I also wanted to be thorough (in the search).”
Knowing that an important recruiting weekend was coming up, starting Friday, George did have a sense of urgency, though. Several recruits are expected to be on campus the next two weekends.
“That was always in my mind that I wanted to get something done before this weekend so they can meet the head coach,” he said. “I didn’t want to move quick and make a mistake. I wanted to do it the right way. But, I wanted to be thorough and I wanted to go through the right process and I think we did that.”
The process started with CU employing the search firm of Eastman & Beaudine. The search firm does a lot of the background checks and vetting of candidates, as well as providing suggestions for candidates. The firm then helps to coordinate meetings between CU and specific candidates.
Once meetings were set up, George and Carl conducted interviews. During the first week and a half, they interviewed several candidates.
“It was a pretty thorough group,” George said. “I don’t know what the exact number (of candidates) was, but like I said, we wanted to be thorough and we wanted to be efficient, so we moved as quickly and expeditiously as we could, knowing people still had games to play.”
A BuffZone source did confirm that CU talked with Ohio State offensive coordinator Ryan Day, but administration always felt Day would stay with the Buckeyes. Sure enough, on Tuesday, Day was named the Buckeyes new head coach after Urban Meyer announced his retirement.
Tucker was on the minds of George and Carl from the start.
“Mel was on there at the get-go and he ended up being the guy that was there at the very end,” George said.
It wasn’t until about a week ago, however, that CU talked with Tucker, who, at the time, was preparing to coach Georgia’s defense in the SEC title game.
There was immediate connection between George and Carl and the Tucker family, and that was obvious with how George and Tucker joked with each other throughout Tuesday’s press conference.
Tucker referred to George as “the man,” and said, “When I grow up I want to be just like him.”
Tucker also joked that he’s going to live with George until he finds a house.
“Rick’s vision was my vision for what University of Colorado football should be,” Tucker said. “I knew right away it was the right fit for me.”
George knew it, too. Chancellor Phil DiStefano trusted George and Carl to handle the search, but asked them to keep him informed of the process.
“Rick called me after his interview with Mel and said, ‘I think this is the right guy,'” DiStefano said. “This felt right. This is where he felt the most comfortable.”
George said Thursday that Tucker was the only candidate offered the job.
“He was my clear No. 1 choice,” he said.
Tucker accepted the job without coming to the Boulder campus first. George used a flash drive that included photos and videos of the campus and facilities to sell him on the location. It wasn’t until Wednesday, when he flew to Colorado with his family, that Tucker got his first look at the facilities.
Throughout the hiring process, Tucker impressed George in a lot of ways, and it didn’t hurt that Tucker reminded George of Bill McCartney, the Hall of Fame former CU coach.
“I’d be lying if I didn’t say I had a picture of Bill McCartney and the toughness that he brought as a defensive coordinator (from Michigan in 1982),” George said. “That was part of my thinking. I wanted somebody that had that discipline and toughness. And, Mac was a great disciplinarian, but also all the players that played for him love him and I felt like we had the same thing in Mel.”
With that, a long process resulted in George hiring a man he trusts to lead the Buffs.
“He felt like this was the one and he was all in (on CU), and I’m all in,” George said. “I’m just thrilled he’s our head coach.”