Mel Tucker left Colorado after one season to become head coach at Michigan State on Wednesday, and the Buffaloes’ wish list for a replacement starts with one name.
Eric Bieniemy. Who else would it be?
Bieniemy was a four-year back for Colorado from 1987-90, rushing for 1,628 yards and 17 touchdowns and finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting on Colorado’s 1990 national championship team. The mere mention of his name brings back memories of a heyday the Buffs haven’t experienced for a long time.
This program has had only five double-digit win seasons since Bieniemy graduated, including just two since 2000. The next coach will be the seventh hire since Bill McCartney retired after finishing 11-1 in 1994.
Bieniemy returned as a running backs coach in 2001-02 and as offensive coordinator in 2011-12. It would be a huge win for Colorado if he returned for a third time. Of course, this isn’t a simple open-and-shut-case of a coach coming home.
Bieniemy just won a Super Bowl as offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs. An assistant coach since 2013, he has also become the centerpiece of discussions surrounding the validity of the NFL’s Rooney Rule after not being hired for a head coaching job this offseason. Bieniemy appears close to taking that step, and at minimum has a secure job for the foreseeable future as the OC under Andy Reid.
That will be the value judgment for Bieniemy, and it’s not an easy decision. Do you leave potential longterm success in the NFL, where the playing field is more level? Or do you go back to your alma mater, where unrealistic expectations will soar the second you step foot on campus?
Ask Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh how that goes.
That’s why Colorado must do what it can to land Bieniemy while having a plan in place if he decides to stay in the NFL. With that in mind, here are five other candidates worth knowing:
Darrin Chiaverini, Colorado
Chiaverini played at Colorado from 1995-98 and has spent the last four seasons in Boulder as a receivers coach. An in-house promotion might be the best fit this late in the cycle, and Chiaverini — who is also the Buffs’ recruiting coordinator — could build on the momentum Tucker created on that front. The only question is whether they would be willing to take a chance on a first-time coach.
Andy Avalos, Oregon
Oregon’s program is on the rise under Mario Cristobal, and Avalos has contributed to that success as a first-time defensive coordinator. The Ducks ranked ninth nationally in scoring defense in 2019, building off the good work Avalos maintained as defensive coordinator from Boise State. He could bring those lessons to Boulder.
Bryan Harsin, Boise State
Of course, Colorado could reach for Boise State’s head coach, a move it made in the past with Dan Hawkins. Harsin has led the Broncos to double-digit wins in five of the last six seasons and he has a 40-8 record in conference play. Boise State has made just one New Year’s Day 6 appearance in that stretch, so perhaps Harsin is ready for a bigger stage.
Blake Anderson, Arkansas State
Anderson’s name tends to pop up in coaching searches, and this one is no different. He has built up a strong resume with six straight winning seasons at Arkansas State, and he spent a large chunk of his coaching career in Texas and New Mexico. Anderson seems ready for a Power 5 job, and he could work with the resources given at Colorado.
Steve Sarkisian, Alabama
This is a wild-card hire that likely won’t materialize, but Sarkisian — who was effective as Alabama’s offensive coordinator in 2019 — has taken on two head-coaching jobs in the Pac-12 at USC and Washington. If Colorado went this route, it would be similar to bringing Tucker on in 2018.