Update on CU Buffs head coaching search

Air Force’s Troy Calhoun could be candidate for job

Andy Cross/The Denver Post
Air Force head football coach Troy Calhoun is believed to be a candidate for the opening at Colorado.

Colorado’s search for a head football coach could be nearing an end.

Athletic director Rick George and associate athletic director Lance Carl have kept information to themselves throughout the Buffs’ eight-day search, but Buffzone has learned through sources that CU was interviewing seven candidates this week, with interviews possibly wrapping up Wednesday.

According to a Buffzone source, one of those interviews went to Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun. Adam Munsterteiger of reported that Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian interviewed Wednesday.

Although no information has come from George or Carl, much of the speculation has centered around Calhoun, Sarkisian and former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema.

CU is trying to replace Mel Tucker, who abruptly left the Buffs on Feb. 12 after one year on the job to take over the program at Michigan State.

With an announcement possibly coming in the next couple of days, here’s a look at some of the potential candidates:

Bret Bielema, New York Giants outside linebackers coach: Ian Rapoport, a national insider for NFL Network and reported Monday that Bielema, hired just last month by the Giants after a year coaching the Patriots defensive line, was set to interview for the CU job. As a head coach he’s 97-58 overall with 10 bowl appearances in 12 years, including 68-24 at Wisconsin. He’s the only coach in Wisconsin history to lead the Badgers to three straight Rose Bowls. He was at Wisconsin for seven years before taking over a reeling Arkansas program. While he was just 29-34, he took the Razorbacks to three consecutive bowls (their only bowls in the last eight years). He was fired after a 4-8 season in 2017. Arkansas is 4-20 since he was fired and is already on its second coach since Bielema.

Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy: According to Buffzone sources, Bieniemy was still in the mix going into Wednesday, but Troy Renck of Channel 7 reported Wednesday that Bieniemy is “not moving forward” with CU. The Buffs’ all-time leading rusher, Bieniemy has been with the Chiefs the past seven seasons and he’s interviewed for seven NFL head coaching jobs in the last two winters. Fresh off winning a Super Bowl with the Chiefs, he could be just 10 months away from landing an NFL head coaching job, but his connection to CU – and George and Carl – at least sparked some interest.

Troy Calhoun, Air Force head coach: Calhoun interviewed early this week, according to Buffzone sources and he was on the field with the Falcons for spring practice Wednesday afternoon. He led AFA to an 11-2 season – including a 30-23 overtime win at CU – in 2019. He is 98-69 with 10 bowl appearances in 13 seasons at his alma mater. He has spent 25 of his 29 seasons of coaching in an option offense, but did spend four years in the NFL, learning the Mike Shanahan/Gary Kubiak offense and he’s implemented some of those concepts at Air Force. Although AFA does not release salary information, every other coach in the Mountain West is making less than $2 million per season, according to USA Today, and it’s likely Calhoun is in line with the rest of the conference. Last month, it was reported that Air Force was nearing completion of a new contract, through 2025, for Calhoun.

CU interim head coach Darrin Chiaverini: The Buffs’ assistant head coach/receivers coach last season, Chiaverini was given the interim tag a week ago after Tucker’s departure and it was no secret that he would get an interview. That interview took place earlier this week, according to sources. A former CU player, he’s also been on the Buffs’ coaching staff for the past four years. There’s no question he has a passion for CU that perhaps no other candidate would have. He’s also had a major role in recruiting several players on the team and several members of the Buffs’ 2020 class that ranks 35th nationally.

Getty Images
Offensive coodinator Steve Sarkisian of the Atlanta Falcons coaches during the game against the Miami Dolphins at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Aug. 30, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.

Steve Sarkisian, Alabama offensive coordinator: The former head coach at Washington (2009-13) and USC (2014-15) just finished the first year of his second stint at Alabama. In 2009, he took over a Washington program coming off a 0-12 season and led the Huskies to 5-7 in his first year. In 2010, he ended an eight-year bowl drought for UW and that was the first of four straight bowls. His overall record in five years at Washington was just 34-29, but he got the program going again and set it up for Chris Petersen to take it to the next level. At USC, he followed the Lane Kiffin circus, went 12-6 and was fired midway through his second season because of his struggle with alcohol and how that was affecting his job. A former BYU and Canadian Football League quarterback, he worked at Alabama in 2016, then as Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator for two years (2017-18) before returning to Alabama.

Justin Wilcox, California head coach: An intriguing name that popped up this week and on the surface it doesn’t make any sense. He’s only three years into his rebuild of the Golden Bears, going 20-18 overall, with improvement each season. Cal has had two consecutive bowl appearances for the first time in a decade. Cal’s athletic department is struggling financially, however, with budget shortfalls of $89 million in the past five years combined. CU could potentially offer a more stable situation. There would be a $2.5 million buyout of his contract to get him, but Wilcox has a proven track record at Cal and as a defensive coordinator at Wisconsin, USC, Washington, Tennessee and Boise State. (He worked as DC for Sarkisian for four years, at USC and Washington).

Former UCLA head coach Jim Mora was believed to be a candidate and had expressed interest in the job, with the backing of several people, but according to Buffzone sources, the interest was not mutual from CU. Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson was mentioned, as well, but he said after ASU practice Monday that he had not been contacted by anyone at CU.

There was a report Wednesday that CU’s board of regents was planning to meet Friday about the coaching search. However, multiple regents have told Buffzone that no meeting has been planned or discussed.

While the contract of the new head coach does need to be approved by regents, it’s not necessary before a coach is hired. In December of 2018, Tucker’s contract went to a regent vote six days after he was introduced as head coach.