Colorado coaching candidates: Eric Bieniemy, Bryan Harsin lead replacements for Mel Tucker

Colorado athletic director Rick George woke up Wednesday morning in a position no athletic director wants to be in mid-February: needing a new football coach. After Mark Dantonio abruptly retired and put Michigan State into an awkward spot with its football program, the Spartans hired Colorado coach Mel Tucker after initially being turned down by the coach, putting the Buffaloes in an even trickier spot.

So, where does Colorado go from here? Let’s take a look at some potential candidates.

Outside hires

Eric Bieniemy: Bieniemy is one of the hottest coaching candidates in the NFL as he just put together an offense that won a Super Bowl with the Chiefs. He’s also an alum who won a national title at Colorado and spent two seasons as the offensive coordinator in Boulder. Those two seasons in Boulder did not go as well as his playing days or his time with the Chiefs. But would Bieniemy want to give up a potential NFL head coaching job in the near future to take over his alma mater?

Troy Calhoun: The long-time Air Force coach has been mentioned for a lot of jobs over the years, and isn’t just an option coach. He’s familiar with the area and coming off an 11-2 season with the Falcons.

Bryan Harsin: Of coaches who currently have a job, Harsin is probably the biggest target Colorado could get. Still, Harsin has proven plenty of times that, like the coach who preceded him at Boise State, he’s not itching to jump for any Power Five job. It’s hard to imagine Colorado is the kind of offer that would lure him from Boise, particularly considering the timing of it all.

Graham Harrell: Harrell’s name has come up for plenty of jobs recently and he is seen as a rising star among many in the profession. He’s currently the offensive coordinator at USC — an offense that’s known to put up points. He has never been a head coach at any level, however, but he’s only 34 years old. 

Butch Jones: Back in 2013, Butch Jones nearly became the coach at Colorado before taking the Tennessee job. Well, he’s no longer coaching at Tennessee, or as a head coach anywhere. He’s had his name come up in a few searches this offseason, and it will likely be floated in Boulder, too.

Jim Leavitt: Leavitt was a candidate for the Colorado job before the school hired Tucker, and he was a candidate for the Colorado State job this winter. He’s currently the defensive coordinator at Florida Atlantic. He was the DC at Colorado under Mike MacIntyre and was a Broyles Award finalist (given to top assistant coach) in 2016 after helping turn around the Colorado defense.

Derek Mason: Like Leavitt, Mason was a candidate for the gig last year before Tucker got the job. Mason stayed at Vanderbilt but just saw his athletic director resign, and he’s already on the hot seat in Nashville. Now might be the right time for him to jump if an opportunity arises, but is Mason the direction Colorado wants to go after a 3-9 season with the Commodores?

Jim McElwain: McElwain is familiar with the area after going 22-15 in three seasons at Colorado State, including a 10-2 record in 2014. He then won two SEC division titles at Florida before being fired during the 2017 season despite a 22-12 record. Last year he took over a Central Michigan team that had gone 1-11 in 2018 and went 8-6, winning the MAC’s West Division.

Steve Sarkisian: Sarkisian has plenty of experience in the Pac-12, having spent seven seasons as a head coach at both Washington and USC, as well as plenty of years as an assistant at USC before that. Also, like Tucker before him, and other names on this list, he has gone to the Nick Saban Finishing School For Coaches, spending three seasons on Saban’s staff at Alabama with a two-year stint as offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons mixed in as well since losing his job at USC.

Internal hires

Darrin Chiaverini: Chiaverini is now the interim coach, replacing Tucker, but had been serving as the assistant head coach as well as wide receivers coach. He was in Boulder before Tucker and is considered to be an ace recruiter. 

Jay Johnson: He came to Colorado with Tucker from Georgia where he had been an offensive analyst for quality control. Johnson has plenty of experience at the college level as an offensive coordinator, but he has never been a head coach.

Tyson Summers: Summers is Colorado’s defensive coordinator and has head coaching experience. Unfortunately, that head coaching experience is a 5-13 mark at Georgia Southern that saw him fired during his second season. Of course, that move was more about a bad fit at Southern (not running an option offense) than Summers’ ability as a coach.

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