On Wednesday afternoon, FOX Sports reported that University of Colorado Buffaloes defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt had reached an agreement to assume the same role with the University of Oregon Ducks. Leavitt was inked to a four-year deal, which reportedly will make him the highest-paid defensive coordinator in Pac-12 Conference history at any public institution.
Leavitt’s jumping of ship before the No. 10 Buffaloes take on No. 12 Oklahoma State in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 29 in San Antonio hurts for multiple reasons.
The fact that Leavitt won’t be guiding the Buffaloes through the Alamo Bowl is upsetting. He obviously deserves a lot of credit for turning Colorado’s defense into an elite unit, and not seeing him on the sidelines on Dec. 29 will be strange.
That said, it’s certainly not an uncommon move for this type of situation. Head coach Mike MacIntyre did the same thing at San Jose State. He guided the 2012 Spartans to a 10-2 record and a berth in the Military Bowl, but resigned preceding the bowl to take the head coaching position at CU.
Anyone with a brain stem anticipated that Leavitt would receive offer after offer in the offseason. When he took over as defensive coordinator preceding the 2015 season, the Buffaloes defense had come off a miserable previous year, giving up an average of 39 points per game and 468 points total on the year.
He leaves a senior-heavy defensive squad that in 2016 was ranked first in the Pac-12 in total defense. The Buffs’ defensive 11 gave up just under 21 points per game and allowed 266 points on the year to enemy offenses.
Athletic directors and head coaches don’t just bat an eye at those numbers and exponential improvements. Leavitt simply did too well to not receive substantial interest from other institutions.
His salary will likely skyrocket at Oregon (he made $512,000 per year at Colorado). Once again, the almighty dollar has shown its seductive nature. Details of his probable salary come as a wake-up slap across the face to the many among us that allowed ourselves to become attached to Jim Leavitt.
With Colorado’s magical resurgence to prominence this season, there seemed to be a large contingent of people out there that decided that this year’s results created a bubble around CU’s program, one impenetrable by the realities of the professional coaching game. First and foremost among those realities is that a vast majority of the time, coaches are mercenaries — they’re guns for hire that are constantly looking for an improved position, a better school to devote their services and a fatter paycheck.
If you are one of those people, it appears that you’ve been proven wrong. And that’s what makes this situation so hard to swallow. Leavitt helped turn this program around. For the first time in a decade, Colorado struck fear in the hearts of its enemies. Fans began to think about what the team would be capable of in 2017 and 2018 before this regular season ended.
Many assumed Leavitt was thinking the same, too. Why would he want to leave Colorado for “better” opportunities? Colorado is the better opportunity. A dose of pride has returned to campus. Folsom Field is filling up for all contests. Something special is brewing at the University of Colorado as the football team rediscovers what it takes, and means, to be successful. Why couldn’t that outweigh the paycheck? Why couldn’t Leavitt have planted his seeds here in Boulder?
What Leavitt’s departure means to me is that the dollar signs were more appealing than taking a chance at creating something incredible by continuing to build up the Colorado football program.
I understand the irrationality of criticizing someone for taking a bigger paycheck. Sports is the only industry where people are berated for bettering their financial situation, but again, Colorado’s unexpected rise to the top of the Pac-12 South seemed like it warranted an exception from the world and realities of competitive coaching.
But alas, Leavitt is gone. He’ll take his talents to rebuilding a worn-out Ducks defense whose struggles heavily contributed to Oregon’s 4-8 finish in 2016.
Perhaps the worst thing about this situation is that all of the pictures of Leavitt and his huge smile, all the exclamation point-filled tweets he sent out regarding recruiting and improvement and his comical obsession with Pepsi now all seem meaningless.
I don’t think Leavitt is a heartless opportunist because he’s leaving. I’m honestly just a bit upset with myself for becoming somewhat attached and for assuming that he was invested long-term in the program.
I’ve found it impossible to become numbed to the realities of paid professional athletic positions. It’s too easy to automatically expect undying devotion and commitment to a particular team or institution from a player or coach. It always makes things harder to handle when a coach like Leavitt voluntarily leaves, especially considering what he brought to the Colorado Buffaloes. His leaving makes me wonder what these two years in Boulder truly mean to the man.
Professional coaching is a world of ascendable ladders. Needless to say, Leavitt has found a new ladder to climb.
Best of luck coach.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.