Rooney: Focused Mel Tucker locked arm-in-arm with Rick George’s championship dreams

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
New Colorado head coach Mel Tucker, left, shakes hands with athletic director Rick George on Wednesday at Tucker’s introductory press conference.


Rick George thought he might help ease Mel Tucker into the spotlight with a little levity.

It backfired. But if this marriage of timing and opportunity proves fruitful, it hardly will be the last time Tucker and George get to share a few laughs.

Upon introducing Tucker to the masses Thursday as 26th full-time head football coach in Colorado history, George was greeted by respectful silence when he took the microphone to open the festivities at the Dal Ward Center. George quickly noted that at a previous event there was a round of applause, but that ovation was directed at Tucker and not his new boss.

Again, respectful silence.

When Tucker took over for his first remarks to the gathered masses at his new professional home, he noted with a smile, “Rick tried to tell a joke, and no one laughed.”

Ultimately, though, there were plenty of smiles and pleasant chuckles to go around Thursday, as Colorado officially flipped the script from the disappointing football collapse of 2018 to a new future. One where the success Tucker has enjoyed at some of college football’s most storied locales — LSU, Ohio State, Alabama, Georgia — is expected to follow him to Boulder.

It is an impossible chore to predict a coach’s success based on first impressions. It was 13 years ago when Dan Hawkins breezed into Colorado working the room at his introductory press conference like a politician while spouting platitudes about “Hawk Love” that had the CU faithful eager to reciprocate that affection. It turned out Hawk Love was fleeting, and it’s arguable the program has never fully recovered from the downturn the Buffs took in less than five full seasons of Hawkins’ reign.

Since then CU has turned to a faithful member of Buffs Nation (Jon Embree) and the more traditional coaching up-and-comer (Mike MacIntyre) to reverse those fortunes. Neither worked. Tucker, however, isn’t either of those types. A veteran assistant —mostly as a defensive coordinator over the past 10 years — what Tucker lacks in experience as a head coach will, in the eyes of George and all those hopeful Buffs fans, be made up for by the experience of coaching two national championship defenses (2002 Ohio State defensive backs coach; 2015 Alabama defensive coordinator).

If anything stood out from Tucker’s introduction, it was his business-like, no-nonsense approach to the task at hand. The man seems succinct without being blunt, focused without being overbearing, ready for the challenge without showing an ounce of trepidation at taking on new responsibilities while packing up his family for his first job west of the Mississippi River.

Predictably, George and Tucker pronounced they formed an immediate mutual admiration society the moment they first sat down to talk a week ago. Despite his lack of head coaching credentials, Tucker displayed both the personality and the grit during his time at the podium for a job that is as much about motivating young men as it is running a multi-tiered operation like a CEO. As for what comes next on the field, it has been stated in this corner before that CU’s new coach isn’t entering a cupboard-is-bare situation.

The Buffs have more than a few bright spots on track to return in what again is projecting to be a weak Pac-12 in 2019. Buffs fans might be encouraged to hear that as far as Tucker and George are concerned, the honeymoon period was over pretty much at the moment Tucker landed in Colorado Wednesday.

“He doesn’t want a honeymoon period and I don’t either,” George said of a man who likely will have a big say in how George’s tenure as AD eventually is remembered. “We never talked about a honeymoon period. He’s here to get started. This isn’t a learning curve. We’re going to get this thing done right now.”

For his part, Tucker echoed that sentiment, declaring “This is a no-excuse program as of right now.”

It was a refreshing departure from the excuse-laden press conferences that marked the end of MacIntyre’s tenure. Tucker also set the bar high, echoing George’s previous assertions that the Buffs will be expected to compete for championships.

Other men have tried and failed on that front at CU before Tucker, though there’s no doubt he’s ready to roll up his sleeves and get started. Championships? It’s a lofty goal at little ol’ CU. And if it happens, Tucker and George can keep laughing to their hearts’ content.

Pat Rooney: or