BOULDER – After Mel Tucker’s midnight blindside, Colorado athletic director Rick George says the Buffaloes’ next head football coach has to share his passion for the university and the state.
Someone who isn’t going to look recruits, parents, players and administrators in the eye and say he’s their guy one minute, then bolt for more money and bigger budgets the next, leaving the program to pick up the pieces.
“I’m going to be open-minded to candidates that are out there,” George said. “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.”
After going 5-7 in his first season in Boulder, Tucker did an about-face this week and accepted the Michigan State job after a long day of reinforcing his commitment to Colorado through a media blitz and meetings with donors and alumni.
His resignation leaves George and associate athletic director Lance Carl, who oversees the football program, conducting their second head coaching search in 15 months.
George named Darrin Chiaverini, who spearheaded the Buffs’ top-35 recruiting class this year, as interim head coach Wednesday, a move that adds stability and continuity amid the stunning departure of Tucker, who doubled his salary by leaving for Michigan State but now serves as the freshest face of what ails college football.
“I have a lot of confidence in Darrin to lead us through this interim period,” George said. “He has been associated with the program beginning with his playing days 25 years ago and cares deeply about the Buffs.”
Chiaverini, 42, certainly checks the boxes George has in mind for the next head coach: He just completed his fourth year as wide receivers coach at CU and Rivals.com named him one of the top 25 college football recruiters in the country for the third consecutive year.
Chiaverini seemed to make a pitch at the full-time gig when he said, “This campus and the city of Boulder is where I grew up as a young man, and there’s no better place to be than CU. The pride and tradition of the Colorado Buffaloes is something every student-athlete, like myself, in the country should experience.”
Chiaverini, who lettered four times as a wide receiver under coach Rick Neuheisel from 1995-98, returned to his alma mater in 2016 after serving two seasons as wide receivers coach at Texas Tech. He served three seasons as co-offensive coordinator and recruiting coordinator under former head coach Mike MacIntyre. When Tucker replaced MacIntyre, he kept Chiaverini on staff and promoted him to assistant head coach.
Chiaverini’s status as interim head coach should keep the recruiting class and roster largely intact as George and Carl conduct their search for someone who is committed to the Buffs and whom they’re convinced will stay, a search that may very well lead them back to Chiaverini.
Other names making the rounds as potential candidates:
ERIC BIENIEMY, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator: The Buffs’ career rushing leader has had two stints as an assistant at CU and has spent the last seven years with the Chiefs. He’s expected to follow ex-Chiefs OCs Matt Nagy and Doug Pederson into the NFL head coaching ranks if he stays in KC.
RYAN WALTERS, Missouri defensive coordinator: A standout safety for the Buffaloes from 2004-08, Walters was voted team captain and MVP his senior season. He’s also had stops as an assistant at Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma, North Texas and Memphis.
MARK HELFRICH, former college coach, broadcaster: Helfrich was CU’s offensive coordinator from 2006-08 before going to Oregon, where he went 47-16 after replacing Chip Kelly as head coach. Helfrich served two seasons as the Chicago Bears’ offensive coordinator before being fired recently.
TIM DeRUYTER, Cal defensive coordinator: The former Air Force player and assistant coach drew strong interest from CU while he was at Fresno State, where he went 31-30 in five years. A collegiate coach for three decades, DeRuyter has engineered a dramatic turnaround of the Golden Bears.
DAVE LOGAN, Denver Broncos play-by-play announcer and high school coach: The ex-Buffs multi-sport star has won eight state football titles with four schools. His NFL career included nine years as a wide receiver for the Browns and Broncos and 31 years as voice of the Broncos.
TROY CALHOUN, Air Force head football coach: Calhoun is coming off his best season in his 13 years at the Academy, an 11-2 mark and a No. 22 finish. His Falcons handed the Buffs a loss in Boulder, one that ultimately kept Tucker from a .500 record and a bowl berth in his only season at CU.
ANDY AVALOS, Oregon defensive coordinator: A star linebacker at Boise State, Avalos got his start in coaching as a graduate assistant in Boulder from 2006-08. He spent seven seasons at Boise State. In his first season at Oregon, the Ducks ranked among the 10 stingiest defenses in the country.
Other intriguing names with no ties to Colorado include:
BUTCH JONES, Alabama offensive analyst: Jones was considered for Colorado’s job in 2012 but chose Tennessee. He’s 84-54 in 11 seasons as a college head coach (Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Tennessee) and was considered for the Rutgers and Colorado State openings this year.
JIM MORA, broadcaster: Mora went 46-30 at UCLA from 2012-17, taking the Bruins to four bowl games. He also had a 31-33 record in the NFL with the Falcons (2004-06) and Seahawks (2009).
TONY ALFORD, Ohio State assistant head coach: A graduate of Colorado State, Alford is a top-notch recruiter. Alford has spent the last five years at Ohio State after six seasons at Notre Dame, which followed stints at Louisville, Iowa State and Washington.
GRAHAM HARRELL, USC offensive coordinator: The 34-year-old ex-NFL QB learned the Air Raid offense under Mike Leach at Texas Tech. He served two seasons on Leach’s staff at Washington State (2014-15), then three as offensive coordinator at North Texas before joining the Trojans last season.