For the second time in the last 15 months, Colorado athletic director Rick George is seeking a head football coach.
When he hired Mel Tucker on Dec. 5, 2018, he thought he had a coach with long-term aspirations to lead the Buffaloes. The former Georgia defensive coordinator was given his first shot at a full-time head coaching position and, despite finishing just 5-7 last season, had a successful first year.
Tucker’s tenure, it turns out, was short-lived, as he bolted CU for the head coaching job at Michigan State on Tuesday night.
So, now George is looking again.
“I’m going to be open-minded to candidates that are out there,” George said during a press conference Wednesday. “Certainly I want somebody that shares my passion for this university. If that’s somebody that’s been here before, that’s great; but I want somebody that shares that passion about Colorado that I do and knowing that we can win a championship at all levels.
“I think we can do that at Colorado; we’ve done it before, and I think we’re in a much better position today than we were back then (in 2018).”
As was the case in 2018, CU will not hire a search committee, George said. He and associate athletic director Lance Carl, who oversees the football program, conducted the search last time and will do so again, George said.
“It’ll probably be the two of us,” George said. “I know what I want in a coach and we’ll go out there and find that coach.”
As the Buffs begin that search, here is a list of potential candidates.
Darrin Chiaverini, interim head coach: A former CU receiver, Chiaverini has been on the staff the last four years and was named interim head coach Wednesday. He has coached receivers all four seasons at CU and was co-offensive coordinator from 2016-18. Last year, he was Tucker’s assistant head coach. He doesn’t have head coaching experience, but he knows and loves Boulder and CU.
Jay Johnson, offensive coordinator: He’s never been a head coach, but does have a lot of experience as a coordinator, at Truman State, Southern Mississippi, Louisiana, Minnesota and last year at CU.
Tyson Summers, defensive coordinator: Recently completed his first season with the Buffs. He has also been a defensive coordinator at Colorado State and Central Florida. He posted a 5-13 record in one-and-a-half seasons as the head coach at Georgia Southern (2016-17), but could be better prepared for a second turn at the head job.
Experienced head coaches
Blake Anderson, Arkansas State head coach: His name came up during CU’s search in 2018, as well. He has gone 47-30 in six seasons at Arkansas State, taking the Red Wolves to six bowl games. He has been a long-time offensive coach, including stints as an offensive coordinator at Southern Miss and North Carolina. At North Carolina in 2012-13, he worked with current CU offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic.
Butch Jones, Alabama offensive analyst: He was nearly hired as CU head coach in December of 2012, but picked Tennessee. He went 34-27 in five seasons with the Vols, getting fired during the 2017 season. He’s 84-54 in 11 seasons as a head coach (with Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Tennessee). He has spent the last two seasons as an analyst at Alabama. Like Tucker, he has no ties to the west and could potentially see CU as a stepping stone.
Derek Mason, Vanderbilt head coach: Coaching in maybe the toughest place to win in the SEC, Mason is 27-47 in six seasons with zero winning seasons, but two bowl appearances. He was mentioned as a candidate a year ago and could be looking to move. He’s on a bit of a hot seat at Vandy and his athletic director resigned this month.
Jim Mora, broadcaster: He hasn’t coached in two years, but went 46-30 in six seasons (2012-17) at UCLA, taking the Bruins to four bowl games and two 10-win seasons. He also went 31-33 in four seasons as an NFL head coach. A Los Angeles native who played defensive back at Washington, he’s got long-time ties to the West and the Pac-12 and could be a veteran presence to guide CU through a tough transition.
Tony Alford, Ohio State assistant head coach/running backs: A graduate of Colorado State, where he was an all-Western Athletic Conference performer, Alford was considered a candidate for the Rams’ head coach opening in December. He has spent the past five seasons at Ohio State. Prior to that, he was an assistant for six years at Notre Dame. He’s also worked at Louisville, Iowa State and Washington and has had a reputation as a top recruiter.
Andy Avalos, Oregon defensive coordinator: One of the top young defensive coordinators in the country, his Ducks ranked ninth nationally in points allowed last season. Prior to last season, he spent seven years as an assistant at Boise State, including three as defensive coordinator. Avalos was an all-conference linebacker at Boise State and got his start in college coaching at CU, as a graduate assistant from 2006-08.
Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator: The all-time leading rusher in CU history, he’s also had two stints (2001-02, 2011-12) as a Buffs’ assistant. He has spent the past seven seasons with the Chiefs, including the last two as coordinator, helping them to a win in Super Bowl LIV earlier this month. He was a candidate for NFL head coaching jobs this winter and could be again next winter. It’s unclear if he would be interested in jumping back into the college ranks.
Graham Harrell, USC offensive coordinator: Just 34, Harrell is a former Texas Tech and NFL quarterback who learned under air raid guru Mike Leach – his head coach at Tech. He spent two seasons (2014-15) coaching receivers for Leach at Washington State. He then spent three seasons as the offensive coordinator at North Texas before going to USC last season. The Trojans saw their scoring jump 6.4 points per game despite using three different quarterbacks last season.