COLUMBIA, Mo. — Spring football practices are less than a month away, but Missouri defensive coordinator Ryan Walters could be in the crosshairs of another team's head-coaching search.
Walters, 34, has been mentioned as a candidate for the newly opened job at Colorado, his alma mater, by both The Athletic and ESPN in reports Wednesday. After his first year in Boulder, Colo., Mel Tucker left Colorado for the head-coaching job at Michigan State, leaving the Buffaloes without a coach a week after national signing day.
Walters played safety at Colorado from 2004-08, served as team captain as a senior and spent the 2009 season there as a student assistant. Walters is a second generation Buff: His father Marc played quarterback at CU from 1986-89, under former coach Bill McCartney.
Walters first came to Mizzou in 2015 to coach the safeties after spending the previous year coaching under Barry Odom at Memphis. Odom kept him on staff when he took over as MU's coach in 2016 and promoted him to defensive coordinator before the 2017 Texas Bowl. Walters was one of three defensive staff holdovers who stayed at MU after Eliah Drinkwitz was hired to replace Odom in December. Walters recently agreed to a new contract that pays him $900,000 through the 2022 season, making him the highest paid assistant on Drinkwitz's staff. Under the terms of his new deal, Walters would not owe Mizzou any liquidated damages if he left for a head-coaching job outside of the Southeastern Conference.
Under Walters' watch in 2019, Mizzou was among the nation's most improved defenses, finishing in the top 15 in yards allowed per game, points allowed, passing yards allowed per game and defensive pass efficiency.
In his first public comments since deciding to return to Mizzou for 2020, Walters said getting to work under a new head coach was "a blessing in disguise."
"Fortunately, I wasn't worried about not having a job somewhere but (there was) just the uncertainty of not knowing where that place was going to be," he said two weeks ago. "I'm blessed to be here in this community. My family likes it here. I’m excited to learn from the new staff. It’s easy to follow a dynamic leader like Coach Drink. We’re very like-minded with the staff that he's put in place. Everybody seems like we’re on the same page. I know it's all like the honeymoon phase right now where it’s all sunshine and rainbows. I think the energy is real. I don’t think there’s anything that's not authentic when you’re talking about Coach Drinkwitiz and what he’s brought."
Coincidentally, Colorado initially targeted Odom as a candidate for its job in late 2018 before hiring Tucker, a source confirmed. Odom was in the midst of contract negotiations at Mizzou and declined interest in the CU job, instead agreeing to an extension and raise.
The Athletic's Bruce Feldman listed Walters as a possible Colorado candidate along with two other former Colorado players: Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy and Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. Feldman also mentioned Boise State coach Bryan Harsin, Colorado State's Jim McElwain, Air Force's Troy Calhoun and Navy's Ken Niumatalolo as possibilities.
ESPN's Adam Rittenberg also listed Walters as a possible candidate, along with Oklahoma defensive coordinator Alex Grinch, a former Mizzou assistant, Wyoming's Craig Bohl and Arkansas State's Blake Anderson, among others.