The University of Colorado Boulder’s Buffaloes football team and its fans were rocked in mid February when then coach Mel Tucker announced he was leaving the team for the head coaching job at Michigan State University.
Tucker’s decision was announced Feb. 12 as Athletic Director Rick George kicked off his search for a replacement. The 48-year-old coach was just one year into the five-year, $14.75 million contract he had signed in December 2018.
His six-year contract with Michigan State is worth $5.5 million per year, according to the Associated Press, while the Athletic reported the program would double the assistant coaches’ salary pool he had access to at CU Boulder.
Before the official announcement, rumors had been flying that the Spartans were courting Tucker to return to the program where he had begun his coaching career in the 1997-98 season as a graduate assistant.
Tucker joined George on several weekend visits with donors in California as the rumors circulated. He even went as far as to reiterate his commitment to the Buffaloes on several sports radio shows and in private conversations with George.
Because of the terms of his contract, Tucker repaid the university $3 million for terminating his contract at that point.
Before his departure, Tucker had generated new excitement in the football program, despite leading the team to a third consecutive 5-7 record.
In his first appearance as the Buffs’ coach he led the team to a 52-31 drubbing of in-state rival Colorado State University. The rest of his tenure included the team’s first win over Arizona State. He also boosted fan attendance, with average home game attendance at 49,573, the highest numbers by far since 2011.
But, despite the off-season loss of a much-vaunted coach and the difficulties of holding a college football season amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, it’s not been all bad for the CU Buffaloes this year.
The team, led by new head coach Karl Dorrell, posted a 4-1 season, with a 3-1 record in conference play. That showing was enough to earn The Buffs an invitation to play Dec. 29 at the Valero Alamo Bowl in San Antonio, where they will take on the 6-3 Texas Longhorns.
It will be the Buffs’ third appearance at the Alamo Bowl, but it will mark the first time the team has played in front of fans this season.
Meanwhile, Tucker led the Spartans to a 2-5 season.
Top 10 local news stories of 2020
Through Dec. 31, the Daily Camera will count down the top stories of the year, as selected by the newspaper’s editors.
- 10. Mel Tucker leaves CU Buffaloes football team months into contract