When Rick George and Lance Carl reached out to Karl Dorrell about Colorado’s still-vacant head football coach position, there probably was an assumption CU’s athletic administrators would be boarding a flight for Miami.
Dorrell already was preparing for his second season on the staff of the Miami Dolphins, and recently he received a promotion to assistant head coach alongside his duties as Miami’s wide receivers coach. As it turned out, George and Carl just had to hop in a car and drive a few miles from campus to sit down with Dorrell in his home.
In a serendipitous turn of events, Dorrell, twice a former Buffs assistant and a well-traveled NFL coach, had already built a house in the area, giving his family a home base while he endured the nomadic existence of a football coach.
On Monday, Dorrell’s career finally brought him home, as he was introduced as the 27th full-time coach of the Colorado Buffaloes.
Dorrell was on his way back to Colorado late last week to enjoy a few days off before diving into his duties at this week’s NFL combine. Instead, he hosted a job interview that changed his personal fortunes and will alter the immediate future of the Buffaloes’ program.
“I was flying out Thursday night from Miami to come here to have a couple days with my wife and son and family…and I get this call Thursday afternoon,” Dorrell said. “It kind of floored me, to be honest with you. It really surprised me. I told them when I was on the phone, ‘I’m actually flying back to Colorado tonight. I’ll be there Thursday night.’
“After I got off the phone with Lance and Rick, I sat back in my chair and said I have to tell (Dolphins head coach) Brian Flores what’s happening here. And he was very supportive. I’ll tell you this — I’d probably still be there because of where my career was going in the NFL if it was another college job. But because it was Colorado, my home, I know there was nothing that was going to take me away from this job. I know that I’m here for a reason.”
That is the exact sentiment Buffs fans wanted to hear, given the backhanded and unceremonious exit former coach Mel Tucker authored earlier this month. George admitted he didn’t even know Dorrell had a home in the area, and as far as someone who bleeds black and gold, Dorrell is much closer to that than his predecessor. He spent two stints at CU in the 1990s, working under Bill McCartney and Rick Neuheisel. His children were born in Colorado and one of them, Lauren, spent three seasons with the CU volleyball program.
Whether Dorrell truly is committed to CU instead the lure of big green (as in $$, not Spartan green), that will only be proven if and when Dorrell leads the Buffs to a .500-plus season, and the big boys inevitably come calling.
Football-wise, in this corner I’ve advocated for someone with head coaching experience. Not because an up-and-coming coordinator would be inherently incapable of doing the job, but because of the particulars of the mess Tucker left behind. The coaching staff is in shambles. As of Monday, spring practice was three weeks away, though Dorrell admitted the opening schedule could be tweaked depending on how swiftly he gets a staff together. And then there are the frayed nerves and emotions of CU’s returnees and incoming recruits, the basis of the future Dorrell hopes to build. Any one of those hurdles would be a delicate challenge for a rookie head coach. Taken collectively, the hurdles tower over the Flatirons. This is not a mess meant for a rookie head coach to clean up.
Granted, Dorrell’s head coaching experience ended after five seasons at UCLA more than a decade ago, well before the Buffs even became part of the Pac-12 equation. Yet his NFL pedigree undoubtedly will be attractive to recruits. And repeating his track record from UCLA — essentially four seasons at .500, with a 10-2 campaign highlighting the mix — would be a welcome relief to Buffs fans who have celebrated just one winning record over the past 14 seasons.
Dorrell has his pros and cons, as did every coach on the Buffs’ radar. And obviously he wasn’t the first choice for George and Carl, unless anyone believes they went nine days before honing in on a preferred candidate. His biggest challenge for the on-field product in the coming years might occur over the next few weeks, as he assembles a staff and attempts to retain a recruiting class ranked 35th in the nation by 247Sports.com.
The Dorrell era is here, and for whatever it’s worth, the stress and headaches of relocating his life to Colorado already are out of the way. Dorrell is home. Whether it’s a celebratory homecoming or another blip among the dismal fortunes of recent CU football coaches remains to be seen.