Jim Leavitt is a man on a mission. The newly hired defensive coordinator for the Colorado Buffaloes understands the importance of establishing a winning football program in Boulder and will stop at nothing to achieve success. Since being added to head coach Mike MacIntyre's staff a little over a month ago, Leavitt has shown progress in the short time he's been on campus. The rebuild for CU's defense is an ongoing process and given Leavitt’s experienced background; the Buffs have the potential to improve quickly. He’s bound on fixing the problems acquired from a defense that was ranked 112th overall last year and was the worst among major conference FBS teams. After giving up an average of 39 points per game, the Buffs are determined bring that number down significantly this season by applying pressure on opponents throughout the entirety of games. Leavitt brings an intensity that will push the Buffs' defense to become more physical - something that hasn't been seen in Boulder for over a decade. His compassion toward the game of football is unmatched, making Leavitt a perfect fit to take over and redevelop the toughness lacked by the defense.
The longtime coach has a proven track record of winning in both the NFL and college. Most recently, he served as linebackers coach for the San Francisco 49ers over the past four season, and prior to that, was the head coach at the University of South Florida for thirteen seasons. During both stops, he helped to turn bottom feeding defense's into top contenders. The entire time Leavitt was in San Francisco, the 49ers defense was ranked among the top-5 in the NFL. The play of all-pro linebacker's Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith, was one of the main reasons why the 49ers remained dominant. A product of the Kansas State coaching system, Leavitt came up through the ranks under mentor and college football hall of fame coach, Bill Snyder. Among the numerous things that Leavitt learned from Snyder, being discipline and paying close attention to details are two methods currently used in his philosophy. The two coaches remain very close with each other and often share advice.
Leavitt decided not to stay among the coaching ranks of the NFL and made the move to Boulder because he felt it was the best place for him. "I've always loved Colorado. I played and coached against CU when Coach McCartney was here and I've always felt this is a program that could be powerful." He became the highest paid assistant coach in CU history by making $500,000 per year, but wasn't motivated by the move monetarily saying, " I was paid the same salary with the 49ers. I didn't have to coach this year. I had a two-year contract and could have sat at home getting paid the same amount. So it's not about that and I want people to realize that I love Colorado."
Leavitt’s excitement is evident with the Buffs’ defensive unit, who are just seventeen practices into the spring with new schemes being applied with the players. "This is an incredible group of guys. They want to do well and they're trying so hard. They're giving everything they've got and that's the most important thing. I'm really proud of them." The Buffs have ten seniors who are returning this season, with five players on each side of the ball. One of those seniors hoping to make an impact is defensive back Jered Bell, who's waiting on the decision from the NCAA regarding his 6th year of eligibility. He hasn't played two entire seasons due to injuries with both knees and believes his case should be an easy one to decide. Bell has been through three defensive coordinators during his time at CU and has started to see the changes that are underway with coach Leavitt. "Overall, I've seen the morale of players really change from Embree to Mac and now there's something new with coach Leavitt. On the defensive side of the ball, we're giving our all in practice and learning new things on the fly but I think we'll be great on the field."
The Buffs are working hard to adapt under the new system but it's still unclear what scheme they'll be running with on defense. Leavitt is trying to fit the best personnel on the field with the right coverage going into the summer. "We are running all kinds of different things, we've been in the 4-3, 3-4-- You know we've been in the 4-2. We're feeling all kinds of things out." The same prospective from the opposite side of the ball is shared by senior wide receiver Nelson Spruce, who's observed the upgrades to the defense in practice. "The defense has been surprising to me. It's been a lot smoother. With a new defensive coordinator coming in, you would expect it to be bumpy the first couple practices-- but they've picked up everything really quick and they're looking really good. I'm excited for the rest of spring." Spruce and the rest of the offense is in the process of making mental adjustments in practice to compensate for the play on defense. "The corners are pressing a lot of the outside, which we did with the old defense. We're seeing more of that now. The defense is mixing up their coverages a lot and the main part is they're giving us looks that we're not use to. It's good to see these different looks because it will make us better on offense."
It's not only Leavitt who's assisting the improvements on defense, but the coaching staff as a whole including new secondary coach Joe Tumpkin. He joins MacIntyre's staff after being the defensive coordinator at Central Michigan for the past five season. He'll work along side coach Charles Clark, who will concentrate on the cornerbacks, leaving the work with the safeties to Tumpkin. He's focused on preparing his players for the season and is extremely happy to be a parts of the Buffs' staff. "I think the kids are doing a great job, coming in and learning a new terminology, a new defense and learning the different types of situations we're doing. Also, the different styles of coaching. Leavitt's different and I'm different than what they've had in the past-- the kids are getting adjusted to those situations." Coach Leavitt praised Tumpkin for his assistance and sees both of them being on the same page this season. "Joe has be able to put everything together on the field and he's helped me out a ton. It's takes all of us coaches working together to be successful."
MacIntyre's staff will be a key to the Buffs' success in 2015. The players are finally buying into the foundation being set forth by the coaches.The additions of Leavitt and Tumpkin are further examples of the program starting to turn a corner in the right direction. Athletic Director Rick George seems to have complete confidence in the direction of the program under MacIntyre and trusts the decisions being made with his staff. Leavitt and Coach Mac developed a friendship with one another when both were coaching in the bay area of California. When MacIntyre was head coach at San Jose State, he would frequently visit 49ers practices to learn new coaching styles. The two would even fellowship together at the same church in the area. Leavitt joining the Buffs was a well-thought out plan by MacIntyre. It'll only be a matter of time before winning becomes a habit again for CU. The one lesson taught by the movie "Field of Dreams" was "If you build it, they will come." It's obvious the Buffs are not where they want to be, but with solid recruiting classes, good coaching and persistence on the field, the program can once again become competitive on defense.