On the ninth day of Colorado’s search for a head football coach, there were plenty of rumors about who was in the running for the job.
Some of it was true, some of it false, but it wasn’t until that day that the man who would accept the job even came to mind for Buffaloes’ athletic director Rick George.
On Monday, five days after Karl Dorrell got the initial call from the Buffs, he was introduced as the 27th full-time head football coach in program history.
“This was a unique experience for me,” Dorrell said. “This was a dream come true. … I did have that inkling in the back of my mind that my fondness for this university and getting a chance to be in this position would be a dream and it came true. I’m very thankful to be here.”
Dorrell, 56, will become the highest-paid coach in CU history, agreeing to a five-year contract worth $18 million. He will have a salary of $3.2 million this season, with annual raises of $200,000. There will also be several incentives in the agreement. The contract will go to the Board of Regents for approval.
Dorrell spent last season coaching receivers with the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and was promoted to assistant head coach last week. The head coach at UCLA from 2003-07, Dorrell had two prior stints at CU, coaching receivers from 1992-93 and then as offensive coordinator/receivers coach from 1995-98.
It was that experience at CU that laid the foundation for him to get the opportunity to replace Mel Tucker, who left CU on Feb. 11 after just one year on the job to take the head coaching position at Michigan State.
George had known of Dorrell from his time at CU and during two of those years, 1995-96, Dorrell worked with a graduate assistant named Lance Carl. Now CU’s associate athletic director, Carl worked with George on the search and actually made the call to Dorrell.
“I get this call Thursday afternoon about, ‘Hey would you be interested in this job?’ and that kind of floored me, to be honest with you,” Dorrell said. “It really surprised me.”
Up to that point, there were plenty of rumors about who was in the running for the job.
Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who is CU’s all-time leading rusher, was a top candidate. So was Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. CU interim head coach Darrin Chiaverini, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun and former Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema were reported to have interviewed, as well.
Last Thursday, there was speculation that CU was nearing an end to the process and was set to name a coach the next day. Then, came reports that Bieniemy and Sarkisian both decided to stay in their current jobs.
George said Monday, “I’m not going to comment on how the process went and who I may or may not have offered, but we offered Karl Dorrell, he accepted and he’s our coach.”
It was not until Thursday, however, that George told Carl, “What about Karl (Dorrell)? and he said, ‘Why didn’t I think about that?’”
As luck would have it, Dorrell and his wife, Kim, had a home built in Lafayette recently and he was preparing to fly home that night. Dorrell, George and Carl met at the Dorrell home on Friday.
“When we met with him at his table at his house, when I left there I knew he was going to be our next head football coach,” George said.
More than 12 years after getting fired from UCLA and having spent 11 of those years as an NFL coach, Dorrell said he was shocked by the speed of the process, but felt it was the right move.
“(The Dolphins) made it hard because they tried coming back to keep me there,” he said. “I would probably still be there because of where my career was going in the NFL if it was another college job. Because it was Colorado, my home, no one was going to take me away from this job. I know that I’m here for a reason.
“I’ve accepted the challenge of leading this program to greatness. I’ll work tireless hours to do that, because it’s a place I believe in, it’s part of my fabric, it’s part of my background and you guys are going to get the very best of me, which is going to be a very good football team.”
The fan base has not been wowed by the decision and it’s clear that Dorrell was not CU’s first choice, but he became an obvious choice when George met him.
“He just had all the things that I felt were important for us to be successful,” George said. “I wanted that stability for our football team and I wanted that integrity and character that he displays and I wanted that calm, confidence. He’s not going to be this flashy guy, that’s not who is; but he’s very confident in his ability to develop and to get to know players.”
Dorrell grew up in California and played at UCLA, but developed his connection to CU and the Boulder area under legendary coach Bill McCartney in 1992 when he was in his 20s. That connection has continued throughout his life, as his kids were born in Louisville and he has a home in Lafayette.
“Everything is aligned for me to be where I’m at right now today,” he said. “It’s funny how the Lord gives you those blessings and gives you an opportunity like this that is right there in front of me.”
Get to know Karl Dorrell
Hometown: Alameda, Calif.
Family: wife, Kim; son, Chandler; daughter, Lauren
1988 – UCLA, graduate assistant
1989 – Central Florida, WRs
1990-91 – Northern Arizona, OC/WR
1992-93 – Colorado, WR
1994 – Arizona State, WR
1995-98 – Colorado, OC/WR/QB
1999 – Washington, OC/WR
2000-02 – Denver Broncos, WR
2003-07 – UCLA, Head coach
2008-10 – Miami Dolphins, WR
2011 – Miami Dolphins, QB
2012-13 – Houston Texans, QBs
2014 – Vanderbilt, OC/QB
2015-18 – New York Jets, WR
2019 – Miami Dolphins, WR