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CU Buffs lose two assistants to Michigan State

Offensive coordinator Jay Johnson, offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic leaving Colorado to join Mel Tucker’s staff

BOULDER, CO – AUGUST 8, 2019: Chris Kapilovic during University of Colorado football practice on August 8, 2019.(Photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Colorado’s search for a head football coach continues, while its former coach is taking a pair of assistants with him.

On Monday, Buffs offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic confirmed that he will join Mel Tucker’s staff at Michigan State. Buffzone sources have confirmed that offensive coordinator Jay Johnson will be going to MSU, as well.

After one year as CU’s head coach, going 5-7, Tucker bolted for Michigan State last Tuesday. Johnson and Kapilovic, both hired by Tucker in December of 2018, are the first CU assistants to join him in East Lansing, Mich.

Johnson spent this past season coaching the Buffs’ quarterbacks, in addition to his role as offensive coordinator. He worked with Tucker at Georgia in 2017-18 before coming to CU. Kapilovic came to CU after seven seasons at North Carolina.

Meanwhile, CU’s search for a head coach is ongoing.

“There is a lot of interest in our job and we are working efficiently to find our next head football coach,” athletic director Rick George said. “We hope to finish this process in a timely manner.”

Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who is the all-time leading rusher in CU history, remains a candidate, according to various reports. Interim head coach Darrin Chiaverini, who has been on the Buffs’ staff the last four seasons, is a candidate, as well.

Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Jay Johnson has been an offensive coordinator at Truman State, Southern Mississippi, Louisiana and Minnesota.

On Monday, Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network reported that New York Giants outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema will interview. He was hired by the Giants last month after spending the 2019 season coaching the New England Patriots’ defensive line. Bielema went 68-24 as Wisconsin’s head coach from 2006-12, taking the Badgers to three consecutive Rose Bowls. From 2013-17, he went 29-34 as head coach at Arkansas, leading the Razorbacks to three bowl appearances.

Other reports have stated that there has been mutual interest between CU and Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian (formerly the head coach at Washington and USC) and Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson. Former UCLA head coach Jim Mora has expressed interest in the job, as well, according to Buffzone sources.

Kapilovic met with the Buffs’ linemen on Monday morning to tell them he was leaving.

“There wasn’t a dry eye in the room, including myself. It’s brutal,” Kapilovic said. “The shock factor (of Tucker’s sudden departure last week) to this probably adds to it, but it’s always hard.

“In this profession we’re in, you spend as much time with them as you do with your own sons a lot of times. It’s a relationship, people business. It’s vital when you’re a coach to be able to connect with these kids, to be able to coach them and get them to do the things you want them to do. This group has been remarkable. They were like sponges. They just wanted to get better and wanted to work every day.”

In three radio appearances and at a donor event last Tuesday, Tucker talked of his commitment to CU. By Wednesday afternoon, he was being introduced as Michigan State’s head coach. His departure has left the futures of CU’s assistants in limbo as the Buffs continue their search for a replacement. Kapilovic said that uncertainty played a role in him taking Tucker’s offer to join him at MSU.

“(The CU players) know that when the head coach leaves and new guys come in, there’s no guarantee of who has jobs and who doesn’t,” Kapilovic said. “They know with my opportunity to go with Mel, that was the best thing I had to do for me and my family.

“I’ve loved working with Mel. It’s been one of the best working environments I’ve been involved with in my career and he lets you do your job and supports you. I just felt like I connected with him right away and we were on the same page and it was a great situation. The opportunity to go with Mel and what Mel thinks of me is something obviously I respect and appreciate. The flip side of that, you’ve got people in that building (at CU) right now that don’t know what’s going to happen to them. That’s what is really hard.”

This winter, Kapilovic was offered opportunities to coach at Auburn and Missouri, but Tucker was able to keep him at CU and offer a raise. It’s unknown what type of raise Kapilovic was going to get from CU, but he was originally signed to a two-year contract worth $425,000 per year. Per the teams of his contract, he would owe CU $50,000 for terminating the contract early.

Johnson, meanwhile, had two years left on a three-year contract worth an average of $591,667 per year. He is set to make $600,000 this year and $625,000 in 2021. Per the terms of his contract, he would owe CU $75,000 for terminating his contract.

A highly regarded offensive line coach, Kapilovic was widely praised by CU players during his one season with the Buffs.

Left tackle Arlington Hambright, a senior for the Buffs last season, posted on Twitter on Monday, “MSU is getting a great Oline coach, the best in the business.”

Kapilovic said he and his family thoroughly enjoyed their time at CU and added he’s leaving behind an offensive line with great potential.

“You look at this group, there is one senior with Kary (Kutsch), so they’re going to get a chance to play together for at least a couple of years and I just see really good growth from them,” he said. “This group, they know how to work and they understand what it takes. They’re a special group.”