Coming to Boulder as a graduate transfer in January, tight end Jalen Harris had a fresh perspective on the Colorado football program.
A senior who played the previous four years at Auburn, Harris doesn’t know what the program was like under previous head coach Mike MacIntyre, but he does know that it’s a much different program now than it was just a few months ago.
“It’s a complete change (from January),” said Harris, who helped Auburn go 33-20 with four bowl appearances the past four seasons. “When I first got here, it was all over the place as far as winter workouts and training. We were starting things over.”
First-year head coach Mel Tucker has been on the job for only five months, and around the players for only about four months, but there’s little question that his no-nonsense, no excuses message has been driven into the players.
“I think it has been,” Harris said, “and if hasn’t yet, it will be before the season starts. Once everyone is locked in, we’re going to be a hard team to beat.”
Tucker’s two decades in coaching has included several stops in college and the NFL. After a decade in the NFL, he returned to the college game as the defensive coordinator at Alabama in 2015. He then spent the past three years as the defensive coordinator at Georgia.
In the four years he’s been back in college football, Tucker’s teams have gone 46-11, won a national title (Alabama in 2015) and played for another (Georgia in 2017).
CU is nowhere near that level, having posted one winning season and two bowl appearances since 2005. The Buffs come into this year having posted back-to-back 5-7 seasons – including a seven-game losing streak to end last year.
Tucker was brought to Boulder to lift the Buffs to the Georgia/Alabama level of competing for titles. It’s a long process, but it has started by raising the standard.
“It’s a lot different,” said freshman offensive lineman Casey Roddick, who redshirted last season. “From Mac’s staff to here, it’s night and day. It’s definitely a change, but it’s a great change and we needed that sense of physicality back.”
Players noticed a difference immediately in January with an increased intensity in workouts, more focus on nutrition and a foundation of discipline.
Tucker’s foot has been on the gas ever since.
“There’s a good vision here,” sophomore linebacker Jonathan Van Diest said. “We’re all buying into it, we all see it. We know what it takes and it’s a lot but we’re willing to go for it.
“The mindset is different. When we were doing our offseason workouts there’s an expectation, but we hadn’t seen it fully until spring ball hit. Once spring ball hit, we saw it, we adapted and we overcame and rose.”
Tucker saw that during the Buffs’ 15 spring practices. It wasn’t a perfect spring, by any means, but from the start Tucker liked how the Buffs responded to the message from the staff.
“It’s definitely some of the most grueling practices I’ve been through, but it’s going to get us right,” Roddick said.
Now, the Buffs look forward to what Tucker calls “phase three” of the offseason – the summer program that kicks into gear next month.
Players are well aware at this point that Tucker isn’t going to tolerate a decrease in intensity as the season creeps closer.
“I think guys are starting to understand how he is as a person and what he expects of us,” quarterback Steven Montez said. “I think guys are really starting to find that out; some the easy way, some the hard way.”
Tucker has yet to coach a game with the Buffs, but there’s no question he’s in charge and has the Buffs falling in line with his vision for the program.
“If (the message) hasn’t gotten to you, you probably won’t play, honestly,” receiver Maurice Bell said. “That’s how it presents itself. Either get down with the program and fall in line with it or you’re just going to be having to sit on the bench.
“It’s definitely something that’s going to improve and make us better.”