The Colorado Buffaloes are in the midst of finding their next head football coach. We’re here to break down the top candidates and grade them based on how they would fit in at Colorado.
We’re begrudgingly writing up Jim Leavitt because too many of you have clamored for him on Twitter and in the comments. Fine.
Leavitt, as you know, was the Buffaloes’ defensive coordinator in 2015 and 2016, the latter of which he led one of the best defenses in the country and was a Broyles Award finalist for best assistant coach in football. Leavitt was rumored to be head coach in waiting at Colorado, but once Mike MacIntyre was extended following ‘The Rise’, Leavitt left for Oregon to be DC. At Oregon, his defenses have been fine, but nothing special. Perhaps it’s because he hasn’t had six future NFL players on his defense like he did in 2016.
Before Colorado, Leavitt was most notably a head coach at South Florida. In his 10 years with the Bulls, he built them into a consistent force in the Big East. As part of the magic that was the 2007 season, he had USF rise all the way to #2 in the polls, the highest they have ever been. He was fired, however, for striking a player and lying about it, and he hasn’t been a head coach since.
Leavitt is a defensive coach by trade. As we saw at Colorado, his defenses are aggressive, unpredictable and plays lots of man-to-man. The Buffaloes were built for that style of play and would be better suited under Leavitt than D.J. Eliot.
As a head coach, it’s hard to say how much impact he would have offensively, or even what style of play he would prefer. He utilized mobile quarterbacks at USF — shoutout to B.J. Daniels — but it’s been a long time, and future starter Tyler Lytle is not exactly mobile. If Leavitt is the hire, it would help if he had a sparkling offensive coordinator beside him, but since he’s one of the more expensive options at head coach, the Buffs would need to go cheap at OC, probably sticking with Darrin Chiaverini and Kurt Roper. (Chiv, by the way, should stay at Colorado, but not in his current role. Having him as Co-OC without playcalling or demoting him to WR coach would be the best option if he accepts that.)
Recruiting & Player Development
Leavitt isn’t a natural recruiter. He has energy and talks a big game, but he’s never really been able to recruit star defenders, even at Oregon and the hotbed of Florida. None of Leavitt’s stars at CU were tied to him. And of the current difference-makers on the defense, they were there before he came to CU (Evan Worthington, Rick Gamboa), were tied to assistants (Nate Landman, Terrance Lang), or were JuCo transfers after he left (Delrick Abrams, Mustafa Johnson). People are saying Leavitt would be a better option than others because of his experience recruiting in Texas and California, but he was never really active on the recruiting trail.
For player development, Leavitt fares much better. As individually focused and hard-working as those 2016 defenders were, Leavitt deserves lots of credit for helping them realize their potential. Oregon’s defenses are fine, but that’s definitely an improvement from the tire fire the Ducks were under Brady Hoke. Leavitt has helped develop Jalen Jelks, Thomas Graham and other significant contributors. He also built USF off the development of unheralded recruits.
Leavitt is a hard ass. That means yelling in passion, yelling in anger, and sometimes yelling as he strikes a player and lies to administration about it. If you want an asshole at head coach, Leavitt might sound good to you if he doesn’t ever abuse players again. But the Buffs should be able to find a passionate coach who instills discipline without being crazy. There were also rumors that Leavitt was difficult to deal with, and if he really was there to succeed MacIntyre, it makes sense why that would have been a prickly relationship.
Interest in Colorado
It’s no secret that Leavitt wants the Kansas State job when Bill Snyder finally retires. But if that’s not an option — or if K-State hires someone else — Colorado would be the second best option for him. Rick George obviously likes him and Leavitt seemed to like coaching at Colorado.
Leavitt left because Oregon paid him to be one of the most expensive assistants in football. If he came back from Colorado, it’s not obvious how much he’d want, but he wouldn’t be as cheap as other options like Jimmy Lake or Tosh Lupoi.
Cumulative GPA: 2.65
Leavitt seems like a decent hire if Colorado wants an established name who could inject energy into the program, but he falls flat in other areas of the game, especially recruiting and personality. This would be a medium-floor, low-ceiling move that wouldn’t push Colorado past the mediocrity Rick George abhors. CU should aim for a younger guy with more potential.