ATHENS — Georgia defensive coordinator and secondary coach Mel Tucker is expected to finalize a deal to become Colorado’s head coach.
Two sources have told DawgNation and Tucker will be the Buffaloes’ head coach by the end of the week on the heels of Maryland hiring Alabama offensive coordinator Mike Locksley as its head coach on Tuesday night.
A third source with direct knowledge said that while there has been mutual interest, the deal for Tucker to accept the Colorado job has not been completed and nothing is official as of Tuesday evening.
But barring an attractive last-minute NFL coordinator offer or cold feet, a deal sending Tucker to Colorado is imminent.
Colorado fired Mike McIntyre as head coach on Nov. 18 after the Buffaloes lost a sixth straight game en route to a 5-7 finish. McIntyre was 30-44 in his six seasons in Boulder.
McIntyre was making $2.878,500 according to the USA Today salary calculator with more than a $10 million buyout as of Dec. 1.
Tucker has been at the side of Georgia coach Kirby Smart the past three seasons, helping the Bulldogs transform into an annual championship contender with an elite secondary.
Tucker earned a $600,000 raise entering the 2018 season, currently making $1.5 million.
The Bulldogs played the 6th most-difficult schedule in the nation this season, and yet they rank No. 10 in scoring defense, No. 13 in total defense, No. 13 in third-down defense, No. 28 in rushing defense and No. 15 in passing yards allowed.
Georgia is also No. 4 in passing yards per completion — a statistic Smart places great value on, as the Bulldogs are the best in the country at preventing “chunk” plays of 20 yards or more.
Smart, who works primarily with the defense, heaped praise on Tucker for his ability to teach the defense when asked why Georgia has been so effective limiting the big plays.
“I think Mel does an unbelievable job of making sure everybody knows where the other guy is, so when the ball breaks out you don’t let it go for long, explosive runs,” Smart said. “It’s critical to having success.”
Tucker was one of three finalists for the Tennessee head coaching job last season, hand-picked by current Vols athletic director Phillip Fulmer to interview along with Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and current UT coach Jeremy Pruitt.
Needless to say, there’s been speculation throughout this season that the 46-year-old Tucker would be a prime head coaching candidate.
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Tucker has 10 years of NFL experience with stints as defensive coordinator for Cleveland, Jacksonville and Chicago, including a term as the Jaguars interim head coach in 2011, going 2-3.
In addition to working for Smart in the college ranks, Tucker spent a season at Alabama under Nick Saban (2015) and three seasons with defensive guru Mark Dantonio when the current Michigan State coach was the DC at Ohio State (2001-03).
Smart, as has become his way, has not hidden from the speculation that Tucker could leave, and he addressed it with two weeks left in the regular season.
“I think change is kind of inevitable, you know that that’s going to happen in this profession, (and) you know that coaches get opportunities,” Smart said. “When you’re a part of a successful program and you’re able to win games, you’ll have guys get opportunities and I am tremendously happy for them and their families for the opportunities because of what they’ve done for the University of Georgia while they’re here.
“So I’m always looking for a guy to get an opportunity.”
There has been speculation that Smart could promote from within his staff, following Saban’s model at Alabama to develop internal candidates that are already familiar with the system.
There’s a possibility, however, that Smart may wait until the AFCA coaches convention (Jan. 6-9) before completing his staff or finalizing roles.
Smart indicated that continuity is a priority for him, but there are many coaches who have experience in the Saban coaching tree and/or the SEC that could be a fit.
It’s an attractive position, with Georgia boasting one of the most talented secondaries in the nation and a young roster that’s 68 percent freshmen and sophomores.
“I think continuity is critical to recruiting success, (and) I know that the recruiting success that I’ve had as an assistant coach was because I was able to have the same area for a long time, you build relationships, you know people, you get to know them,” Smart said. “When you jump around from job to job, sometime’s that’s hard to do. I think our university and our support structure here has done a great job of helping us keep our coaches who are really good assets.
“I mean, let’s be honest, we recruit well because of the assistant coaches we have. When you recruit well and get good young men in here, you can have a successful program. I think continuity is important, but I do think change is inevitable. It’ll happen. It’s happened to us every year.”