CU Buffs’ Karl Dorrell navigating challenges

COVID-19 shutdown has prevented Colorado’s new football coach from working with players, staff in person

BOULDER, CO - FEBRUARY 24, 2020:  New CU football coach, Karl Dorrell, is introduce at a press conference in Boulder on February 24, 2020.
(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
BOULDER, CO – FEBRUARY 24, 2020: New CU football coach, Karl Dorrell, is introduce at a press conference in Boulder on February 24, 2020. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Working from home hasn’t been all bad for Karl Dorrell.

During his first two-and-a-half months on the job as Colorado’s head football coach, Dorrell has led the Buffaloes through an unprecedented time, but the COVID-19 pandemic and stay-in-place orders have increased the family time in the home.

“Just getting a chance to see all the family together in one spot, that’s been rare for the Dorrells for a long time,” Dorrell, who has two children, said Tuesday during a Pac-12 webinar. “It’s been fun to have them at home.”

Professionally, the shutdown hasn’t been as smooth. It has created challenges, including the inability to watch his quarterbacks in person or meet face-to-back with staff and players.

At quarterback, senior Sam Noyer, junior Tyler Lytle and true freshman Brendon Lewis will compete for the starting job. The trio has very little game experience and Dorrell, hired Feb. 23, hasn’t had a chance to see any of them throw in person.

“All three of those guys, when it’s all said and done, haven’t had much time,” Dorrell said. “It’s really a wide open position. We’re coaching them all hard and we’re just going to see how the thing really falls in place when we get the chance to line up at the beginning of the season. We have a long way to go still.”

Finding a starting quarterback is just one of many challenges facing Dorrell in his first season as the Buffs’ coach. He’s not alone, however.

Coaches around the country have been forced to work from home and meet virtually as a staff and with players. For some, such as Utah’s Kyle Whittingham, who is entering his 16th season as the Utes’ head coach, the program is in place and some members of the staff have worked together for a while.

Dorrell was hired less than three weeks before COVID-19 shut down the sports world. His 10-member assistant coaching staff wasn’t officially completed until about a week before the shut down.

This hasn’t been an ideal way for the staff to get to know each other, but Dorrell does have history with most of the assistants.

“There were some really good coaches I was able to hire that I had some background with,” he said. “There’s a number of coaches from that standpoint that the transition has been fairly smooth. It is what we would expect. There’s some that I retained and I think they’re really good coaches, as well.

“We’re all working remotely. We haven’t had a chance to really have a lot of staff time to iron out the organizational procedures and how that is. We’ve talked about it, but it’s different when you’re talking about it and doing things from a remote sense and not really being collectively in one room and working things out. The newness of a staff is going to take some tweaking and getting used to; these circumstances have slowed a little bit of that process.”

Despite that, Dorrell said he’s been pleased with the work being done by the Buffs’ coaches.

“I’ve been in their Zoom meetings with their players, so I’ve got really good teachers,” he said. “That’s first and foremost: I want good teachers. I think we’re getting our information conveyed to our student-athletes.”

When he was first hired, Dorrell held short, 10-minute “ice breaker” meetings with each of his players. So far, that’s been his only in-person contact with most players. He’s been trying to get to know his players remotely the past two months.

“You do have to still build those relationships along the way,” he said. “I do select a group of players to try to reach out to every week on the team, just to have some specific information. I’ve tried to pick off a few guys here and there just to create a connection. I’m the one that’s new. That’s the challenge: they’re all trying to gain the confidence in me and me gaining their trust.”


CU was one of three Pac-12 teams that never got started with spring drills. The other two – Washington and Washington State – also have new coaches. Although not ideal to lose spring ball, Dorrell said, “You have to let that go and look forward to what’s in front of us now.” … The NCAA is moving towards allowing student-athletes to profit from their name, image and likeness beginning with the 2021-22 school year. Dorrell, who has been in the NFL the past six years, said he sees a different model for college athletes, but said, “It’ll be a positive thing for our players when it’s all said and done.”