Colorado is looking for a head coach for the second consecutive offseason after Mel Tucker departed Boulder for Michigan State this week. Tucker went 5-7 in his debut with the Buffaloes and seemed to have this program trending in the right direction after reeling in a solid recruiting class.
Colorado is a good job in the Pac-12, but the timing of Tucker’s move to Michigan State may play a role in which candidates decide to get involved with this search. Additionally, the Buffaloes were set to enter 2020 with question marks on both sides of the ball and uncertainty at quarterback. Whichever coach takes over for Tucker is inheriting a roster that will need a lot of work in order to get to a bowl game next season.
With Tucker leaving in a less-than-ideal time to hire someone, where does Colorado go next for its next coach?
Athlon polled a group of editors and college football contributors to find out who their pick would be if the decision was theirs to make. As you can see below, one familiar name to Buffaloes fans is at the top of the list.
Colorado Football: Who Should the Buffaloes Hire to be the Next Head Coach?
Steven Lassan (@AthlonSteven)
Eric Bieniemy should be the No. 1 candidate for Colorado in this search. With his ties to the program and background on offense, Bieniemy would be a good fit for a program that needs a little stability at the top and will be on its third coach in three years in 2020. However, does the former running back for the Buffaloes want to return to college or aim for a top spot in the NFL next offseason? If Bieniemy stays in Kansas City, Colorado should shift its search to Air Force’s Troy Calhoun. Since taking over at the Academy, Calhoun is 98-69 overall and has guided the program to three seasons of 10 or more victories. The Falcons have just three years of fewer than six wins on Calhoun’s resume. While Calhoun might be a longshot to leave, the Buffaloes would be wise to at least inquire to see if he’s interested. And if the program strikes out on Bieniemy and Calhoun, other options like Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, Wyoming’s Craig Bohl or Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch would be solid hires as well.
Mark Ross (@AthlonMarkR)
Will Mark Dantonio's bad timing at Michigan State end up hurting another school more than 1,200 miles away? Not if Eric Bieniemy is ready and willing to come home to fulfill his dream of becoming a head coach. The famous alumnus and recent Super Bowl winner would be my No. 1 target if I'm Colorado. At least make Bieniemy turn you down (and then tell everyone he did). However, I'm inclined to believe that he's perfectly happy waiting for another opportunity to be a head coach in the NFL, which brings us back to the bad timing factor. But as Mel Tucker has already proven, if the situation (or should I say financial package) is right, there is no such thing as bad timing. So with that in mind, I would do whatever I can to convince Craig Bohl to leave Wyoming. He's won at both the FCS (North Dakota State) and FBS (Cowboys) levels, so I think he's ready to move up to the Pac-12 and lead a Power 5 program. Laramie also is less than three hours away so Bohl can get started as soon as the ink is dry on his new contract, which is pretty important with spring practice right around the corner.
Ben Weinrib (@benweinrib)
Colorado landed Mel Tucker from the SEC ranks and should go back again to find their next coach. Former Alabama OC and Florida head coach Jim McElwain would make a great fit, especially considering he spent three years in Fort Collins heading Colorado State. His tenure with the Gators may have been uninspiring, but he quickly turned around Central Michigan last year and could turn the Buffaloes into contenders in a muddled Pac-12 South.
Kevin McGuire (@KevinOnCFB)
I feel like now is as good a time as any to bring Eric Bieniemy home. Bienemy is a coach on the rise following the success as offensive coordinator for the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, and Colorado would be getting a true Colorado guy to try restoring the pride in the program. Given how Mel Tucker left the program after publicly confirming his commitment to the Buffs, landing Bieniemy would feel like the natural feel-good move for the program moving forward.
John Coon (@johncoonsports)
Colorado needs a coach who will commit to building the program into a long-term winner and not jump ship at the first available opportunity. The Buffaloes also need a coach with an innovative mind who is unafraid to try some new things. To that end, Eric Bieniemy makes the most sense as the next Colorado head coach. We saw the stellar work Bieniemy did as the offensive coordinator at the Kansas City Chiefs. No one in the NFL could stop that offense when it counted. Bieniemy was an All-American tailback at Colorado and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting in 1990. He has extensive ties to the Buffaloes already and the offensive prowess to help elevate the program so it can be consistently competitive in a league known for high-flying attacks.
Josh Webb (@FightOnTwist)
The Big Ten showed just how much more money their television deals are churning out than the smaller conferences. The type of money needed to secure your coach is a lot less than the Pac-12 can afford at this time. This leaves Colorado back to the ranks of the up-and-comers. But let's say that Colorado could hire someone with a ton of experience, a bunch of recent success, and who would still be an up-and-comer and first-time head coach. Maybe Colorado should pull the plug and hire Eric Bienemy from the Kansas City Chiefs? Not only would Bienemy give Colorado a massive boost in recruiting, but he plays a brand of football that is currently both immensely popular and successful (in the right situations).
J.P. Scott (@TheJPScott)
I’d hire Eric Bieniemy right away. Forget that he was a Colorado guy. His name was everywhere during Kansas City’s Super Bowl run. He runs a fun offense and knows what NFL teams are looking for. Recruits see that stuff and it resonates with them. He would immediately pay dividends on the recruiting trail, which would pay dividends to the program in the long run.
Nicholas Ian Allen (@NicholasIAllen)
I think the first name on everyone's mind is Eric Bienemy, and he would be a perfect fit if he's interested. Bienemy was one of the best players in CU history and he's had two stints with the Buffs as an assistant. He's also highly respected in the NFL and was mentioned regularly as a head coaching candidate while the Chiefs marched toward the Super Bowl. Hiring a coach from the professional ranks might also be best given the timeline of the hiring process.
If Bienemy doesn't want the job, or Colorado isn't willing to pay enough to get him, someone like Jim Leavitt, who was the Colorado defensive coordinator 2015-16, and was DC at Oregon from 2017-18, might be a good short-term fix. I've seen Butch Jones' name tossed around a bit. He was reportedly in the mix each of the last two times the job came open. Current Colorado Defensive coordinator Tyson Summers has head coaching experience, but his time at Georgia Southern was pretty much a disaster, which would make me hesitate to promote him.
Scott Whittum (@scottwhittum)
If I am Colorado athletic director Rick George you have to take a shot at USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell and sell him on coming to Boulder as your next head coach. Harrell has recruiting connections in Southern California and the state of Texas, both of which are critical recruiting areas for the Buffaloes. The ability to develop quarterbacks like Mason Fine when he was at North Texas along with Kedon Slovis last year at USC is another reason to hire Harrell. Also, this presents Harrell with an opportunity to get away from a very toxic situation at USC with Clay Helton on a scorching hot seat heading into 2020. Finally, it won’t cost a ton of money to get Harrell as 2.5-3 million per year give or take should be enough to get the job done.