BOULDER — Mel Tucker, who has spent the last three years as the defensive coordinator and secondary coach at the University of Georgia, has been named the 26th full-time head football coach at the University of Colorado, athletic director Rick George announced Wednesday.
George has proposed that CU’s Board of Regents approve a five-year deal for Tucker worth $14.75 million of which the first-year salary would be $2.4 million and then increase by $275,000 annually, not including additional pay if any of several incentives in the contract are met. The Regents must approve Tucker’s contract, which campus leaders hope to present for their consideration at their Dec. 12 special meeting in Denver.
Tucker will begin work immediately and will not coach Georgia in the Sugar Bowl against Texas on New Year’s Day.
“Colorado has always been a place that I thought should be relevant in the national championship conversation year-in and year-out, because of its tradition and a seemingly endless list of what the school has to offer,” Tucker said. “What we have to offer are some of the best facilities in the country, strong academics, and an amazing environment as a whole. Colorado should be a ‘no excuse’ program. There’s absolutely no reason we can’t achieve success at an extremely high level.
“I can remember when Colorado was dominant with players like Kordell Stewart, Rashaan Salaam, Chris Hudson, Darian Hagan, Alfred Williams and others,” Tucker continued. “Colorado always had difference makers and was very dynamic on both sides of the ball. That’s the imprint instilled in my mind when it came to CU. My plan is to continue to restore that tradition and make sure that Colorado once again becomes an elite national program. There’s not a better place in America to live, to coach and go to school.”
Tucker, 46, replaces Mike MacIntyre, who was dismissed as CU’s head coach on Nov. 18 with one game remaining in the season; quarterback coach Kurt Roper was named interim head coach for the finale at Cal, and the Buffaloes went on to finish the 2018 season with a 5-7 record.
“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,” 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.
“We didn’t say we were looking for a specific name or sitting head coach,” George continued, confirming that he approached Tucker to first gauge his interest in the position, which was immediate. “He’s a great recruiter, just look at the No. 1 draft picks he’s recruited and signed. That’s important. Mel is someone who will relate to the players and is a well-organized, strong administrator. He played the game, he went to Wisconsin and was an accomplished player who had a shot to go to the NFL.
“Nick Saban hired him three times for a reason; the guy’s really good. People will love him. He’s a family guy and integrity is really important to him.”
Tucker is not the first to be hired at Colorado with no previous collegiate head coaching experience, though he does have five games in the National Football League as an interim head coach. In the modern era (post-World War II), he joins an impressive list in Dal Ward (1948), Sonny Grandelius (1959), Eddie Crowder (1963), Bill McCartney (1982), Rick Neuheisel (1995) and Jon Embree (2011) as full-time coaches who were previously assistants. McCartney, of course, went on to become CU’s all-time winningest coach with a 93-55-5 record over 13 seasons, and all but Embree had winning records.
Chancellor Philip P. DiStefano, who also serves on the board of directors for the NCAA (Division I) and the Pac-12 Conference, praised George for finding such a dynamic head coach to lead the Buffs.
“I want to thank Rick George for his outstanding work and leadership in our athletics program,” DiStefano said. “I also want to thank the student-athletes in the football program for the way they have handled this transition. I have no doubt Coach Tucker will have an immediate positive impact on our football program and our university. Together as Buffs, we will continue to build our football program on the field and in the classroom.”
Tucker enjoyed a tremendous run at Georgia, where he was instrumental in the Bulldogs compiling a 32-9 record along with winning the school’s first Southeastern Conference championship in 12 years when UGA defeated Auburn in the league’s 2017 title game. One of the staff’s top recruiters, 247Sports.com ranked him as the No. 14 recruiter in the nation based off the class he helped UGA sign ahead of the 2018 season.
Georgia’s defense is currently ranked in the top 25 in several key categories, most notably in total defense (13th, 311.2 yards allowed per game), passing defense (15th, 180.5 per game) and scoring defense (15th, 18.5 points per outing).
In last Saturday’s SEC Championship game in which Alabama rallied to win, 35-28, his Bulldog defense held the Crimson Tide scoreless in the first quarter for the first time all season, forced a UA season-high four three-and-outs (in 12 possessions) and held its Heisman Trophy candidate, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, to a season-worst 92.3 rating. His defenses were dialed in on third down, as the Tide was 8-of-25 in the last two games against UGA, dating back to the 2018 national championship game which Alabama also rallied to win, 26-23, in overtime.
In 2017, Tucker was part of the UGA staff that led the Bulldogs to a school record-tying 13 victories, along with the school’s first SEC championship since 2005 and first appearances in the College Football Playoff (and victory, which was over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl/CFP semifinal game) and in the College Football Playoff Championship game. Georgia’s defense finished second in the SEC and sixth nationally in both scoring defense (16.4 ppg) and in total defense (294.9 ypg), while also finishing second in the conference in rushing defense. One of his players, Roquan Smith, won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker.
In his first year at UGA, Tucker guided a Bulldog defense that ranked among the nation’s top 20 units in total defense, passing defense, turnovers gained and first down defense.
Tucker was named UGA defensive coordinator and secondary coach in January 2016, just days after winning a national championship with Alabama (which defeated Clemson 45-40 in the CFP title game). He spent that 2015 season serving as assistant head coach and defensive backs coach for the Crimson Tide, the third time he was hired by Nick Saban.
Saban gave Tucker his start in the coaching profession in 1997 when he hired him as a graduate assistant at Michigan State. He spent two seasons there, working with the defensive backs directly under another highly successful collegiate head coach in Mark Dantonio, who eventually would be named the Spartans’ head coach.
Tucker spent the 1999 season as defensive backs coach at Miami (Ohio) under Coach Terry Hoeppner. In 2000, Tucker returned to work with Saban at Louisiana State for one season before joining Jim Tressel’s staff at Ohio State for the next four years (2001-04). While in Columbus, the Buckeyes went 14-0 in 2002 and won the BCS National Championship in a thrilling overtime win over Miami, Fla. In his last season there, Tucker was elevated to co-defensive coordinator. At Ohio State, he recruited four players who would eventually be first round NFL Draft selections and the 2006 Heisman Trophy winner, quarterback Troy Smith.
In 2005, an opportunity emerged for him to coach in the National Football League with his hometown Cleveland Browns. The team’s new head coach, Romeo Crennel, had come over from his duties as New England’s defensive coordinator and hired Tucker to coach the secondary. After three seasons tutoring the Browns’ defensive backs, he was promoted to defensive coordinator. In that 2008 season, the Browns were second in the NFL with 23 interceptions and ranked 16th in scoring defense (21.9 points per game). For his four seasons overall with Cleveland, the Browns ranked fifth in the league with 73 interceptions, seventh in passing yards allowed and gave up the fourth-fewest completions of 25-plus yards.
Tucker moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2009, when Jack Del Rio hired him as his defensive coordinator and secondary coach; the following two years, he strictly coordinated the defense while consulting at all positions (called “walk arounds”). Near the end of his third year with the Jaguars, he was promoted to interim head coach for the final five games in 2011 after Del Rio was dismissed; he coached Jacksonville to 2-3 record to end the season. Despite the team owning an overall 5-11 record, the Jags were sixth in the league in total defense that season, surrendering just 313 yards per game. He would return as the Jaguars assistant head coach and defensive coordinator for the 2012 season under Mike Mularkey.
He was hired by Chicago Bear head coach Marc Trestman in 2013, where he would spend his last two seasons in the pro ranks. In all, he worked 10 years in the NFL, including seven as a defensive coordinator.
A 1995 graduate of the University of Wisconsin with his bachelor's degree in Agricultural Business Management, he was a member of the first recruiting class for Coach Barry Alvarez. He lettered three times at both cornerback and safety from 1990-94 and was on the Badgers’ 1993 Big Ten champion team that defeated UCLA in the Rose Bowl, 21-16. As a sophomore, he made a game-saving hit in the end zone with time running out that preserved a 19-16 win at Minnesota; as a senior, he played the Buffaloes in Boulder, though UW left town with a 55-17 loss to a CU team that would finish No. 3 in the nation. He had 47 tackles and four pass deflections in his career (he his junior season after breaking a leg in fall camp).
Tucker was a member of Alvarez’ first recruiting class at Wisconsin, and remains close to this day with several teammates who have gone on to make their marks in college athletics, including Troy Vincent (the NFL executive vice president for football operations), Chris Ballard (Indianapolis Colts general manager), Darrell Bevell (longtime NFL offensive coordinator with Minnesota and Seattle), Joe Rudolph (Wisconsin’s associate head coach and offensive coordinator) and Duer Sharp (former commissioner of the Southwestern Athletic Conference).
“All of Mel’s experience as a player and coach will serve him well in Boulder,” George said. “We want to consistently compete for and win championships. There’s no learning curve with Mel. He’s been in the business. We want to consistently win, graduate our student-athletes and help them make that next step in their lives. We brought him in because we have a great freshman and sophomore class, and another solid recruiting class in the works. We brought him here to win now, and I truly believe Mel will make us a winner next year.”
“When I think about Colorado, I distinctly remember when I was on the sideline with Wisconsin and saw Ralphie run out and in front of our sideline,” Tucker recalled. “The excitement and passion of the crowd in the stadium is something that has always remained with me.
“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. There’s no reason we can’t experience the same at Colorado. It is a sleeping giant.”
He was born Melvin Tucker II on Jan. 4, 1972 in Cleveland, Ohio, and graduated from Cleveland Heights High School, where he was an all-state performer in football and an all-conference basketball player (the Cleveland Plain Dealer twice named him to its all-scholastic team). He is married to the former JoEllyn Haynesworth, who earned her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois and her law degree from Rutgers University. The couple has two sons born on the same day (Feb. 18) two years apart, Joseph (16) and Christian (14).
AT-A-GLANCE—He has coached in 130 Division I-A (FBS) games as a full-time coach, his teams owning a record of 101-29 which include 10 bowl games (2000 Peach, 2002 Outback, 2003 Fiesta/BCS National Championship, 2004 Fiesta, 2004 Alamo, 2015 Cotton/CFP Semifinal, 2016 CFP title game, 2016 Liberty, 2018 Rose/CFP Semifinal, 2018 CFP/National Championship). He coached 160 games in the National Football League (64 with Cleveland, 64 with Jacksonville, 32 with Chicago).
NFL FIRST ROUNDERS—Tucker has coached five NFL first round draft picks along with recruiting four others:
Coached: CB Chris Gamble (Ohio State; No. 28 overall pick by Carolina, 2004 Draft); CB Donte Whitner (Ohio State; No. 6, Buffalo, 2006);
CB Marlon Humphrey (Alabama; No. 16, Baltimore, 2017); S Minkah Fitzpatrick (Alabama; No. 11, Miami, 2018);
LB Roquan Smith (Georgia; No. 8, Chicago, 2018)
Recruited: WR Ted Ginn, Jr. (Ohio State; No. 9, Miami, 2007); WR Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio State; No. 32, Indianapolis, 2007);
CB Vernon Gholston (Ohio State; No. 6, N.Y. Jets, 2008); CB/S Malcolm Jenkins (Ohio State; No. 14, New Orleans, 2009).