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Jim Leavitt: The Man Revitalizing Colorado Football

Mike MacIntyre helped put this program back on its feet, but Jim Leavitt is the man to make it jump.

Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images

This year, my family did the most cliche Father's Day activity possible, a special dinner and a movie. After some sausage (Barsch is a German name from a very German family, fortunately), we had to decide between Mad Max or Inside Out. While very much overhyped (best Pixar movie ever? nah), Inside Out did a good job for what it's worth, and also it's a Pixar movie, and you can't really argue with that. Plus, given that it was a full family outing and there were multiple children and moms with us, Mad Max would have been risky to say the least. Anyways, each emotion was characterized, made into an animated figure that was supposed to represent that emotion. These emotions battled for ownership of the mind, with each changing how their owner felt. Lewis Black voicing the emotion of Anger was one of the best casting decisions this year. But that concept got me thinking, how would I be characterized into an emotion? Or you? Or Kanye? This kept going through my mind this week, and then this weekend when CU held their last individual camp in Boulder, which obviously steered the train of thought (also in the movie) towards the Buffs. Then it hit me. Jim Leavitt. He's already a larger than life figure, and his battery never runs out . Would he be joy, then? No, because there have been multiple documented times when Leavitt wasn't necessarily giddy with his players or the call on the field. Excitement? Sure, but Coach Leavitt sure wasn't excited when Tupou got suspended for the year. What one emotion encapsulates this man that's already a character? Passion. Above all, Leavitt is passionate, about his job, about the game, about the family, and about winning. This is the man so passionate about his love for Pepsi that he drinks, by his own estimation, three a day. This is the man so passionate about recruiting that he handles three distinctly different recruiting grounds on his own and helps out on some others, too. And this is the man who took a chance on a rebuilding program after that program took a chance on him. It seems to be paying off for both parties. Coach MacIntyre has done a great job digging Colorado out of the hole it dug itself and breathing life into it. But this year, there looks to be more energy around, and a lot of that is due to one man. Jim Leavitt, the man reenergizing, and revitalizing, Colorado football.

Let's start with the basics. Leavitt was hired to command an entirely underwhelming unit. 120th in the country in scoring defense just won't cut it. The good news is, he has a history of building something special with underwhelming, and even under-resourced defenses. His first defensive coordinator job at a major conference program was with Kansas State, which all CU fans should know was a disaster pre Purple Wizard. A huge part of the turnaround of that program was the defense, co-captained by Jim Leavitt and Bob Stoops. They took that unit from one of the perennial worst in the country to one of the best almost immediately during their tenure, and they did it without elite talent. Stoops was a secondary guy, with Leavitt focusing his time on the front seven. This is obviously a very impressive job on his already impressive resume, and arguably the most relevant to his job at CU. K-State started with even less talent than the Buffs have now, and within 5 seasons he turned them from worst to first. Now, I doubt history will repeat itself again, especially given the conference CU-Boulder plays in now. The Pac-12 has way too many lethal offenses for CU to be in the top 10 in scoring defense any year. But a big step up relatively quickly is not out of the equation, and any step up should translate in a few more wins with how well our offense played last year. Continuing on, Leavitt decided that any more time in Manhattan was a death sentence (my words, not his), and moved to Tampa, a marginally better place. The problem was, there was no job for the football coach, as there was no college football program. So he said "screw it", decided to start one, and the South Florida football team was created. With Leavitt at the helm, USF went from 1-AA to C-USA to Big East in 8 years, an unprecedented rise up the rankings for the team. Their defenses were aggressive, athletic, and turnover-making. Starting after 2005. USF had a great five year run in the Big East, with the high point being a #2 overall ranking in the country. The defenses during that time (2005-09) ranked 14th, 24th,26th, 30th, and 19th in the country at opponent points scored. While he was not the only force driving this success, his hand could definitely be felt as the head coach, and a defensive leaning one at that. USF had no reason to be that successful, on either side of the ball, but Leavitt and his passion for coaching let that team ascend way past expectations until his untimely exit.

Following his stint at South Florida, he moved to the Bay Area, and was hired by Jim Harbaugh to coach the 49er linebackers. Yeah, the best unit in the nation during that time. Because Leavitt is amazing. He had great building blocks in Patrick Willis and Navorro Bowman, but they were consistently dominant and seemed to weather injuries like they were nothing, a telltale sign of great coaching. I mean, he made Michael Wilhoite and Chris Borland great contributors for extended periods of time, which is straight magic. Then Harbaugh had to go piss off everyone that gives him a paycheck, and he and most of his staff were canned. Leavitt was out of a job, through no fault of his own. At this same time, Kent Baer moved on to UNLV, leaving a DC-sized hole in the coaching staff. A match made in heaven.

Jim Leavitt has worked wonders everywhere he went, but this hire is Rick George's turn to pull a miracle. The defensive coordinator job at a team that just finished the year with 2 wins and 0 in conference shouldn't sound too appealing to someone with the experience that Leavitt has. They aren't exactly any Patrick Willises or Jason Pierre-Pauls in Boulder right now. But George sold him on his vision, Coach Mac sold him on the coaching fit, and Boulder sold itself. After a long coaching search that many thought would end in David Gibbs, the turnover creating machine and Buff alum, or Chris Ball, who caused a stir on Twitter after the ASU secondary coach "followed" Coach MacIntyre and a few other defensive coaches. Then Joe Tumpkin was linked to CU, and the former defensive coordinator of Central Michigan looked to be the next lower-level DC to make the small step up to the Buffs. Many groaned about a small-time hire and more of the same, when in fact it was the exact opposite. Tumpkin did in fact join the staff here in Boulder, but the former defensive coordinator joined as... the safeties coach. That was something a big time program did. We haven't done that in years, but George has brought the swagger back to the Buffs, and Jim Leavitt was introduced as CU's next defensive coordinator. Frankly, I lost my mind. He was qualified enough to be a head coach here. Obviously, Coach Mac is as well and he's doing what he was brought on to do, but that was a big-boy move. Jim Leavitt is a big-boy coach. And his best asset is his passion.

Leavitt's impact was immediately felt during spring practices. Every report coming out of Dal Ward said the defense was re-energized and excited to work with him. Deaysean Rippy (yes, that Rippy) supposedly turned into a good contributor from an under-performing four-star LB. The defense was shifting to a 3-4 hybrid, a common sense move that fit the personnel better. There was a buzz around CU football that still hasn't left, and a lot of it is due to Leavitt. I don't want to discount Coach Mac, as he has done a great job getting the team to compete in the toughest division in the country and he also upgraded the depth and talent immensely, but Leavitt is that extra push that should take us from competing to winning. I don't think he will let himself lose, let alone his defense and his linebackers. This offseason has brought about a lot of change for the defense, and although there were projected to be 9 returning starters (8 with Tupou out), I would say only Tedric Thompson and Kenneth Crawley are mostly assured of keeping their position atop the depth chart. With The Jim coming in, every player is starting from square one, which means every player works out that much harder and performs that much better during camp to keep their job.

Where The Jim's enthusiasm has the most impact just happens to be where many on this staff have struggled during the first two years: recruiting. In almost any other year, if you told a Buff fan that only 25% of the class was from Cali and we have no one from Texas, they'd be freaking the hell out. But this year, fans are willing to wait it out, partly because of the small class size and partly because of the #LeavittEffect. The #LeavittEffect is basically just the state of Florida. The Buffs are in on prospects down there that they have no business being near. That man knows how to sell something, and he's genuine while doing it. Just take a scroll through his Twitter page and you'll soon fell an overwhelming urge to run through a wall for him. There isn't anything flashy about his approach, he just loves his job that much. And it's paying off.

After a less-than-stellar track record from the previous coordinator Baer, Jim already has CU in the ear of some very highly rated players. Take a look at this guy. He just visited Boulder this past weekend, and while his offer list isn't insane, it is filled with the type of schools that have consistently beaten Colorado for recruits. Julmisse possesses fantastic athletic traits, and he could contribute all over the field for a college. With Leavitt and Tumpkin, his main recruiter, there's a good chance that college is CU. But Julmisse constitutes just a third of the appropriately dubbed Florida Trio by Buff fans. Two others visited this weekend, Mr. Huntley and the blue chipper himself, Craig Watts. In prior years, those offer lists would have spelled certain doom for the Buffs, but Leavitt and Tumpkin are giving CU a new lease on life in the Sunshine State. Huntley is a big, bad man, especially when the ball is in the air. He's a smooth route-runner and a superb athlete for his size at wideout. Coincidentally, he is teammates with Julmisse at the same high school, and while it might not help that both of them loved Boulder and both hold an offer, it certainly doesn't hurt. If there is one guy Leavitt should bring in though, it is Craig Watts. That dude just loves to hit, and his offer list is more of a directory of the holy programs of college football. There is one main hurdle. Currently, he is committed to Wisconsin, and he visited CU on a whim after committing. However, that whim turned out to be powerful.

Oh boy, he is teasing us with that. As a Buff fan, my mind just went through a whole "what if" scenario when I read that. If he commits, Carlo Kemp would see another four star going to CU and commit, and then Myles Bryant follows suit, and then 2016 we win the national championship. It's all but confirmed at this point. But seriously, Watts would be an obviously big pull, as would Julmisse and Huntley, all due to the #LeavittEffect (and Tumpkin, but this article isn't about him). We haven't even gotten to my favorite prospect coming out of Florida, Terence Williams. He shocked and scared many CU fans after committing to the dirty birds in Louisville just last week, but very quickly de-committed on Twitter. He told Munsterteiger back in the beginning of June that Colorado was his favorite school so far. "'The school I am the most interested in right now is Colorado. They are showing a lot of love right now, and they are looking real good out there with all of their new facilities," said the 6-foot-1, 186-pound Williams. "I also like Florida State, UCF and North Carolina'" (Source). Hopefully he still plans to visit, because with the new mecca of football facilities, Boulder is tough to say no to. Anyways, all of this positive effect on recruiting has done its best to cover up lack of success elsewhere, but its still noticeable. The athletic department has decided to place a lot of resources in Texas recently, and it seems like the coaches are not following suit. Jim Jeffcoat has yet to make a large impact there, and last year's ace recruiter, Troy Walters, has not had much luck this year. That has to change for CU to be successful going forward. With Leavitt and Tumpkin making Florida work, it would be fantastic to get Texas back in the fold, as that gives the Buffs a foothold in the three talent hotbeds of America, the other being California.

Jim Leavitt was an amazing hire for the Buffs. He has done nothing but help this program in his short time here, and I can't help but see that increasing as time goes on. Mike MacIntyre revived the program, made it professional and competitive, but he needs help to make it a winning one. That's where Leavitt and his passion come in. I just don't see him letting this team lose, as I said previously. I've heard it said plenty of times that the first 90% is the easy part, the hard part is the last 10. Well, Coach Mac has done the first 90, and now he needs help getting to 100. Thankfully, that's where Jim Leavitt lives. Mike MacIntyre helped put this program back on its feet, but Jim Leavitt is the man to make it jump.