The shock of Midnight Mel Tucker’s sudden spurning of the Colorado Buffaloes for the millions being thrown at him from Michigan State had not even worn off before possible replacements were being debated.
Local and national media, Buffs fans and general followers of college football threw out a lot of great ideas for CU athletic director Rick George to consider after Tucker’s brief tenure as head football coach came to a close Feb. 11.
Eric Bieniemy was an obvious favorite. Some were in Darrin Chiaverini’s corner. Others were pulling, at various times, for Steve Sarkisian, Troy Calhoun, Jim Mora, Tony Alford, Andy Avalos, Graham Harrell, Dave Logan, Gary Barnett and, really, just about anyone other than Vince Lombardi.
Throughout the 11-day search, Karl Dorrell’s name never came up – until Saturday, that is, when it was reported and then confirmed that he would become the Buffaloes’ next head coach.
While Buff Nation speculated about options, George and associate athletic director Lance Carl, as they did 15 months ago, conducted their search quietly. For those who waited for them to deliver a big splash, Dorrell’s hire is a disappointment. There’s a reason his name didn’t come up throughout the search and it’s because he hasn’t been a hot name on the coaching carousel.
Make no mistake, though: George and Carl weren’t going for a splash. When he started the search on Feb. 12, George said, “I know what I want in a coach and we’ll go out there and find that coach.”
Not many thought the Buffs would find that coach mentoring receivers with the Miami Dolphins, but just because the vocal minority on social media isn’t thrilled doesn’t mean CU isn’t happy.
Every coach rumored to be a part of CU’s search came with pros and cons. So does Dorrell, but there weren’t many that checked as many boxes as the 56-year-old former receiver.
- He’s been a head coach and not just anywhere. He’s done it in the Pac-12 – well, technically, the Pac-10 – where he went 35-27 in five seasons at UCLA. Not impressed? OK, but he did get the Bruins to five bowl games in an era when the Pete Carroll/Reggie Bush/Matt Leinart USC Trojans were running L.A.
- He’s got 14 years of NFL experience, including with the Denver Broncos, where he worked with two of the best receivers in team history: Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey.
- He knows CU and Boulder very well. This will be his third time at CU, having coached receivers for the Buffs in 1992-93 and working as offensive coordinator/receivers coach from 1995-98. Seven of the top 19 receivers in CU history – in terms of career catches – were coached by Dorrell, including Chiaverini.
- In 12 of his 14 seasons coaching at the Football Bowl Subdivision level, his teams have played in bowl games.
- Dorrell has recruited in the west, knows the dynamics of the university and knows how to sell Boulder.
- He emphasizes player development, but also develops coaches. Although he was at UCLA just five seasons, he had several assistants go on to become head coaches including current Syracuse head coach Dino Babers and Nevada head coach Jay Norvell. Bieniemy, currently the offensive coordinator of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, is sure to join the list in the near future.
- According to many that have played for him or coached with him, Dorrell has high character and is known as a “great guy,” as I’ve heard many times since Saturday.
- When Tucker came to CU, it was a selling point that he had been hired by Nick Saban three times. Among the coaches to hire Dorrell: Bill McCartney, Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak.
- Don’t want a coach that’ll bolt a year from now when another program comes calling? Perfect. According to a source I talked to Sunday, Dorrell had a new home built last year … in Boulder. Unless he’s told to leave, he’s not going anywhere for a while.
George and Carl chose substance over style and it may take some time for Buff Nation to get on board. Given how the last 14 years have gone, however, Dorrell is worth the risk.
Dan Hawkins, Jon Embree, Mike MacIntyre and Tucker combined for one winning season in the last 14 years at CU, so the standard is low. CU believes Dorrell can raise the bar and if he can, he’ll be somewhat of a hero in Boulder.
CU has a roster that’s better than Dorrell’s predecessors inherited and a 2020 recruiting class that ranks 35th nationally, so the pieces are in place to find success in the coming years.
Let’s not forget that it’s entirely possible Dorrell is better in his second go-round as a head coach than his first. He’s a sharp guy and it’s a good bet he learned a few things from those years at UCLA.
No, Dorrell is not the coach that most wanted or even considered when this process began less than two weeks ago, but he’s now the conductor of this train and, as Buffs quarterback Tyler Lytle alluded to on Twitter, it’s time to jump on board.
“Full speed ahead,” Lytle said.