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Howell: Some of Mel Tucker’s biggest recruiting wins this winter have come from within

Cliff Grassmick/Staff photographer
BOULDER, CO – November 5, 2019: 2019 Colorado head football coach, Mel Tucker, during the CU Football weekly press luncheon on November 5, 2019. (Photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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With a class that ranks among the top 40 in the country, the Colorado football program is generating a good measure of excitement from its fan base on the recruiting trail.

Beating Pac-12 opponents and other Power 5 programs for Caleb Fauria, Christian Gonzalez, Jason Harris, Brenden Rice, Jake Wray and others has made this a good recruiting cycle for head coach Mel Tucker and his staff.

“Recruiting is the lifeblood of your organization,” Tucker said this week, repeating what many coaches around the country have said in the past, while adding that recruiting is a daily task of his staff.

That daily process isn’t limited to convincing new players to join the Buffaloes, however. Some of Tucker’s biggest wins in recruiting this winter have come from within: keeping KD Nixon in a CU uniform and hanging on to his entire coaching staff.

Certainly there is potential for the 2020 class to be impactful in CU’s future, but as far as the 2020 season goes, staff continuity and Nixon’s presence are huge.

Nixon, who caught 35 passes for 465 yards and three touchdowns last season, initially announced his intention to declare for the NFL Draft, despite uncertainty that he’d even get selected. Tucker supported Nixon, but kept in contact with him. Nixon, who will be CU’s only senior skill position player on offense next fall, changed his mind and decided to stay in school.

“It was important for me because I want these guys to graduate and I communicated that with him on multiple occasions,” Tucker said, “but I’m all for guys going through the process, as well, and I think they should go through the process and try to figure out what’s best for them.

“When he initially thought he would leave, he had my full support. I wanted to make sure that he knew that if he decided he would change his mind and he wanted to come back that he could do that. We had a spot for him and we wanted him to do that.”

Although Nixon wasn’t as productive as he had hoped to be this past season, his versatility could be a major boost to the offense next season. Most important to Tucker is that Nixon is nearing his degree.

“I anticipate him a year from now having his degree,” Tucker said. “(Within the team), he’s going to be a leader for us; it’ll be the second year in this offense and there’s going to be some really good opportunities for him to be featured in our offense with (coordinator Jay Johnson). We know what he can do. I think it’s going to be really good for him, on the field and academically, and it’s going to be good for us.”

Also good for CU is that the entire group of 10 assistant coaches has remained intact, and it wasn’t easy to do that. The coaching carousel has been spinning around the country over the past 6-7 weeks and CU assistants have had opportunities to leave, including offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic, who reportedly drew interest from Auburn and Missouri.

“It’s sometimes hard to hang on to guys,” Tucker said. “I’ve had schools make runs at my guys, some of my coaches. I’ve had coaches turn down opportunities to go to other places – SEC schools – to stay here, which I feel good about, because they believe in the direction the program is going.”

Just 12 months ago, CU’s coaching staff was getting to know each other. Tucker had never worked with some of the coaches he hired and many of them had not worked with each other. It’s a group that grew together, however, and accomplished a lot of what Tucker had hoped for in the first year.

“There is a process, not just with the players but also with the staff, of developing the staff,” Tucker said. “Guys have to learn how to work together. A lot of guys are working together for the first time.

“This time of year is a really exciting time of the season for me. You’ve already been through it together. You’ve been through a year, been through a season and the ups and downs; you’ve been through a recruiting cycle. Now you’ve got time to step back, do scheme evaluation, roster evaluation.”

In addition to evaluating what CU has, the staff will work on projects and studies to get ready for teams on next year’s schedule. All of that will be smoother and, ideally, more efficient with a staff that is intact.

“You make a lot of improvement as a staff from year one to year two,” Tucker said.

Improvement is certainly needed after the Buffs put together their third consecutive 5-7 season. Tucker’s recruiting efforts – both inside and outside the building – have put pieces in place to make that improvement possible.