Colorado is an interesting job that happened to come open at an even more interesting time. And it would be fair to substitute “interesting” for a number of other, harsher adjectives — tough, difficult, precarious.
The program has enjoyed all of one winning season since 2006, and while fellow newcomer Utah has thrived in the Pac-12, Colorado is still in search of footing on rocky terrain. And now its head coach just left for what is, on the surface, a peer institution that happened to double his salary — and, days before Mel Tucker dipped out under the cover of night, defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh had left for the same job at twice the price at Tennessee.
On top of all that, the school now has to run a search it hadn’t planned for — AD Rick George recently underwent a planned back surgery, as it happens — with no answers for its 24 signees that put pen to paper thinking they’d be playing for Tucker.
Needless to say, none of this is ideal.
That said, the admittedly tough timing does have its advantages.
Had Tucker left in the first week or so of December, Colorado would feel rushed to have a coach in place in advance of the first signing period on the third Wednesday in December. But, now that both signing periods have come and gone, the school can afford to take its time to find the right coach. That doesn’t mean the Colorado will let the search linger into March, but it does mean they don’t have to hire in place by lunchtime yesterday, as they might feel had this job come open two months prior.
All that written, Colorado will have options to find its third coach in as many years.
Sources have indicated that CU hoped to speak with (in no particular order) Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, former Wisconsin and Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema, Central Michigan head coach Jim McElwain, Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, Arkansas State head coach Blake Anderson, Cal head coach Justin Wilcox, as well as current interim head coach Darrin Chiaverini.
A former CU running back, running backs coach and offensive coordinator, Bieniemy at one time highly coveted the head job in Boulder. However, his reality may have out-run his dreams; as the offensive coordinator of the reigning Super Bowl champions, Bieniemy figures to have his choice of available NFL jobs in January of 2021 (or February, if the Chiefs return to the Super Bowl). Does it really make sense to trade that in for, what, the seventh best job in college football’s No. 5 conference?
Bielema is the only coach on this list to lead a team to the Rose Bowl — three of them, in fact — but flamed out at Arkansas after the ground-based offense he ran at Wisconsin did not fit at Arkansas. Now the outside linebackers coach for the New York Giants, Bielema has apparently decided he’d like to get back in the college game — he threw his name in the hat for the Michigan State job that Tucker ultimately got — but CU would assuredly have questions about: A) his offense, and B) his fit out West.
McElwain can out-flank Bielema on that front, given that he’s a native Westerner that spent three years as the head coach at Colorado State and went 10-2 in his final season of 2014. (His CSU teams went 2-1 against CU.) After his own flameout at Florida, McElwain is in Stage 2 of a successful reboot, going 8-6 with a division championship as the head coach at Central Michigan in 2019.
Sarkisian would provide the biggest splash in the all-important California recruiting market as a former USC quarterback and head coach. His tenure there ended ugly, and he’s spent two of the past four years getting Process-ed up under Nick Saban at Alabama. After working mostly off-the-field in 2016 and spending 2017-18 as the Atlanta Falcons’ offensive coordinator, Sarkisian returned to run the offense in 2019.
Ironically, Saban is largely the reason Colorado is in the predicament it’s in to begin with, considering he served as an adviser for Michigan State’s search and recommended they hire Tucker, his former GA.
Anderson is an established, young head coach without any baggage, having compiled a 47-30 record over the past six seasons at Arkansas State, though he has limited experience recruiting out West. Anderson has been a person of interest in a number of recent Power 5 searches but has remained in Jonesboro for one reason or another.
Perhaps the strangest name on this list, Wilcox would be an outstanding hire for CU as a young, established head coach who’s spent most of his life coaching and recruiting out West, though the interest appears to be one-sided on the outset. Unlike every other coach on this list, Wilcox would have to take a pay cut in order to become Colorado’s head coach — he made $2.85 million at Cal in 2019, $450,000 ahead of Tucker.
While he’s the least established coach on this list, Chiaverini owns the advantage of already being on staff, which means: A) he could keep the staff and the recruiting class intact and B) pursuant to that, he’s the most cost-effective option Colorado has. A former Buffalo himself, Chiaverini has been on CU’s staff since 2016, retained from the Mike MacIntyre staff to Tucker’s as assistant head coach and wide receivers coach.
Given that he’s already there, Chiaverini can publicly campaign for the job in ways his competition can’t or won’t.
"This is the job. This is my dream job"
— College Sports on SiriusXM (@SXMCollege) February 17, 2020
Sources told FootballScoop that Colorado conducted phone interviews over the past few days and planned to move to the in-person stage this week. NFL Network and ESPN reported Monday that Bielema will sit for an interview.
Other candidates could emerge as the search progresses. A number of former Power 5 head coaches have expressed their interest, sources say, and the search could work its way to any one of them if Colorado comes up empty elsewhere.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.