BOULDER — Mel Tucker doesn’t shy away from setting the expectations high.
Because lately that’s the only level he’s known.
Colorado hired the Georgia defensive coordinator as its football coach Wednesday after he helped rebuild the Bulldogs into a national contender. He wants to bring that same sort of swagger to Boulder.
Not down the road, either, but pronto.
“Colorado should be a ‘no excuse’ program,” Tucker said in a statement. “There’s absolutely no reason we can’t achieve success at an extremely high level.”
Tucker received a five-year, $14.75 million contract under a deal that’s pending approval from the board of regents. He will start immediately and won’t coach Georgia in the Sugar Bowl against Texas on New Year’s Day.
The 46-year-old Tucker replaced Mike MacIntyre, who was fired with a game remaining in the season and the team mired in a six-game skid. The Buffaloes lost their final game under interim coach Kurt Roper to miss a bowl berth for a second consecutive season.
After several stints as an NFL defensive coordinator, Tucker became an assistant head coach for Nick Saban at Alabama in 2015. He spent a season with the Crimson Tide — capturing a national title — before he followed coach Kirby Smart to Georgia to build a feisty defense. The Bulldogs lost to Alabama last weekend in the SEC championship contest and in overtime last season in the championship game.
Tucker has never been a head coach on the collegiate level but has learned under some big names. He helped Ohio State and Jim Tressel to a national title as a defensive backs coach in 2002 and was brought on board by Saban on three different occasions.
“I’ve known Mel for well over 20 years, and he is one of the brightest coaches in our profession,” Saban said. “They are getting a guy with a great personality, who knows college football, works hard each and every day, and does it with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and positive energy.”
Tressel couldn’t agree more.
“The Buffalo football family will thrive under Mel’s leadership,” he said. “A man with high expectations for himself and his student-athletes, Colorado football will enjoy a terrific recruiter, football strategist, and an ‘all-in’ member of the community.”
This won’t be the first time Colorado has hired someone without any previous collegiate head coaching experience. Tucker joins a list that includes such names as Dal Ward (1948), Sonny Grandelius (1959), Eddie Crowder (1963), Bill McCartney (1982), Rick Neuheisel (1995) and Jon Embree (2011).
McCartney led the Buffaloes to a national title in 1990.
“If you go back last month when I talked about what I wanted in our next head coach, you’ll find that Mel checks all those boxes,” athletic director Rick George said. “He has great experience and a terrific pedigree. I like the way he coaches football, his toughness and accountability. Those are the things we were looking for.”
On the pro level, Tucker has served as a defensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears. He also was the interim head coach for Jacksonville over the final five games in 2011 after Jack Del Rio was fired.
“I’m excited, my family is excited and we’ve been associated with some very good programs, winning national championships at Ohio State and Alabama with a lot of success elsewhere along the way,” said Tucker, who was a defensive back at Wisconsin under Barry Alvarez. “There’s no reason we can’t experience the same at Colorado. It is a sleeping giant.”
Especially with some of the talent he has returning, such as receiver Laviska Shenault, who earned all-conference honors after 86 catches for 1,011 yards and six TDs despite missing a few games with a toe ailment. There’s also quarterback Steven Montez, who threw for 2,849 yards.
The Buffaloes started off with five consecutive wins before going into a tailspin that ultimately cost MacIntyre his job. MacIntyre was voted AP college football coach of the year after he led the Buffaloes to a Pac-12 South title and 10 victories in 2016. That was his only winning season at Colorado.
“There’s no learning curve with Mel. He’s been in the business,” George said. “We brought him here to win now, and I truly believe Mel will make us a winner next year.”