This is a column written somewhat hastily while heading to the airport for an Oregon trip that will be a welcome distraction for CU Buffs fans.
Yet not as hastily as Mel Tucker took his bags, perhaps his already-packed bags, and bolted from Boulder. And not nearly as hastily as Tucker turned himself from a savior into public enemy No. 1 for CU football fans.
While this reporter was catching up on some missing Zzs all heck broke out at CU, Tucker, he of the recent public reassurance and spin-doctoring radio tour on Tuesday, took three days of speculation and drama to new heights late Tuesday night, accepting the Michigan State job after all.
Athletic director Rick George, locked arm-in-arm with Tucker since they emerged in a united front like lifelong friends at Tucker’s introductory press conference just 14 months ago, was left holding the bag. And a coaching staff now in limbo, along with a roster full of players stung by betrayal, will be left to pick up the pieces.
Even in a best-case scenario, this will not be a wound easy for the CU football program to recover from. George is in the ol’ rock and a hard place when it comes to the next step. Naming Darrin Chiaverini as interim head coach was a good first step in stopping the bleeding, especially with spring practice now less than five weeks away. It’s not ideal, but what is at this point?
Tucker’s biggest impact, aside from the heritage he unraveled for the sake of a forward-thinking future by un-retiring three of CU’s retired jersey numbers, was on the recruiting front. With the wound under the ripped-off bandage still so raw, it’s anyone’s guess how many will stay. Same with the returning players, now enduring their second coaching change in 14 months. Even prized Alabama transfer Antonio Alfanso, whose arrival in Boulder was widely applauded as a Tucker coup, can’t be blamed if he takes his eligibility appeal elsewhere.
As for Tucker, certainly pursuing what’s in the best interests of his own family, and his career, is his business. As always, money talks. Yet when your business comes with a responsibility to mold and lead young men — promising their families they will be cared for, and even promising your own nervous fan base you were in it for #TheBuild right up until the hour of your departure —it’s impossible not to feel burned by the dumpster fire left behind.
Maybe more attention should have been paid to the fact that CU was Tucker’s 10th home in the 23 years since he started that first coaching job at Michigan State, with none of those stops lasting more than four seasons. The man has always been a professional nomad. Tucker said on several occasions during his cameo at CU that his return to the college ranks in 2015 after a decade in the NFL was inspired by a desire to help mentor young men, a task far more suited to the collegiate game than the pros. But that just wasn’t true. Tucker returned to the college game because his NFL track record was iffy at best, and because old friend Nick Saban simply wrote him the biggest check.
For the second time in 14 months, George is challenged with hitting a home run with the most important of coaching hires any Power 5 athletic director has to make. It was too early to describe Tucker as a home run, but George certainly made solid contact, and until a few days ago Tucker was almost roundly considered a good hire by Buff Nation.
It was a stunning day, and one that won’t soon be forgotten. George gets another swing at this thing, and one of the most aggravating aspects of filling this void once again has to be the fact George believed he already had found a man that checked all the proverbial boxes.
It won’t be easy to do it again, particularly with the mess Tucker left behind.