Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
After moving his family around to different coaching jobs in recent years, Mel Tucker has learned that his two sons aren’t easily impressed.
On Wednesday night, however, Tucker, his wife JoEllyn and their sons, Joseph, 16, and Christian, 14, toured the football facilities at Colorado and the boys were blown away.
“We get back to the hotel room last night and the boys say, ‘Are you kidding me? We can win here,'” Tucker said Thursday. “I said, ‘What do you think we’re doing here?’ That’s why we’re here. We’re here to win big.”
Tucker was introduced Thursday as the 26th full-time head football coach in CU history, taking over for Mike MacIntyre, who was fired Nov. 18 after posting a 30-44 record in nearly six full seasons.
“I’m honored and privileged and proud to be here,” he said. “I waited for this opportunity for my entire career.”
From the time he was a baseball player as a youth in Cleveland, Tucker has been surrounded by great coaches.
“My dad was my first coach,” Tucker said. “Coaching has been in my blood for quite some time.”
Tucker, 46, played for legendary Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez in the early 1990s. As a coach, he has worked with current Alabama head coach Nick Saban, regarded by many as one of the top coaches in the history of the sport, at three different schools. He has also worked alongside Jim Tressel at Ohio State, Kirby Smart at Georgia and spent 10 seasons in the National Football League.
After years of absorbing the lessons taught by his father and other coaches along the way, Tucker is ready to lead his own program.
“As a young coach I was always told, ‘Mel, one day you’re going to be a head coach,'” he said. “As I got older, they said, ‘Mel you’re going be a head coach, but make sure you take the right job. Make sure it’s the right fit for you.’
“When I met with (athletic director Rick George), there was no doubt in my mind this was the right fit, this was the right opportunity, this was the right time for me to make the move to become a head coach, to go to a place where I know we should win,” Tucker said.”Go to a place where I know we have support. Go to a place where I know the expectations are high.
“I want the expectations to be high. I want people to be energized. That’s why we’re in this game. We’re not in it just to be ordinary or just be regular or just be good enough. We’re in this to be the very best we can be. That’s going to be our goal each and every day.”
Tucker is quite familiar with high expectations.
As a player, he was a part of Wisconsin’s 1993 Rose Bowl-winning team. As a coach, he helped win national titles at Ohio State, in 2002, and Alabama, in 2015.
During the last three seasons, he has been the defensive coordinator at Georgia. In 2017, he helped the Bulldogs get to the national championship game, losing to Alabama in overtime. A 35-28 loss to Alabama last Saturday in the SEC championship game prevented Georgia from a second consecutive spot in the College Football Playoff.
“That’s where I aspire this program to be,” George said. “Those are the expectations we have for this program, as it’s about winning championships. He’s experienced success at the highest level and that’s the level we want to be at at the University of Colorado.
“We hired the very best coach that we could for CU. He’s a perfect fit for our program. I’m excited about his ability to lead this program to greatness in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.”
Saban, a six-time national champion coach who is two wins away from a potential record-setting seventh title, tried to recruit Tucker out of high school. Saban has since hired Tucker three times, at Michigan State, Louisiana State and Alabama.
“That speaks volumes,” George said.
Outside of serving as interim coach of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars for five games in 2011, Tucker has never had head coaching experience, but believes that learning from his father, Alvarez, Saban, Tressel and others has prepared him for this opportunity.
“You come in with a plan and you work the plan and it’s a process,” he said. “If you do things the right way each and every day and the standard is high, the expectations are high and the environment is right, you can achieve success.
“All the coaches I’ve been around, they have a plan, they have a process. They’ve implemented the process and they haven’t wavered and have gotten great results.”
Tucker is aiming for great results at CU and has no doubt the Buffs can win.
“Obviously, the expectations are high,” he said. “We’re here to win championships. That’s OK with me. Pressure, expectations … I’ve never been in a game as a player or a coach that we weren’t expected to win. Ever.
“There’s no one on this planet that can put more pressure on me than I can put on myself. The expectations that I have for this university and this program are extremely high. We’re going to start working today to get this thing going in the direction it needs to go.”