This has been a year that Karl Dorrell said he will never forget, but a challenging offseason didn’t diminish his hope of coaching the Colorado Buffaloes this fall.
“All the way up to the end, I wanted to play,” CU’s first-year head football coach said Wednesday in response to the Pac-12’s decision to postpone the fall sports season until at least Jan. 1.
“I think our team was 100 percent all-in on playing this fall. I would have played if there was just a five-game season this year. We were all in.”
Taking the advice of its medical experts, however, the Pac-12 decided the coronavirus pandemic presented too many risks for playing contact sports at this time. Dorrell’s first season as the Buffs’ head coach was put on hold.
“I still wanted to play but I understood the reasoning if we didn’t play,” he said. “I think it’s a good decision, yes, just because I know of what the issues are and really when it’s all said and done, you want to do what’s best for your student-athletes. I was in alignment with everyone else with doing what we thought was best for our conference.”
Understanding the reason for shutting down the fall season didn’t make it easier, though. There was a measure of disappointment from players and coaches when Dorrell met with the team Tuesday.
“It affected not only the team but it affects our coaches too,” he said. “I’ve been coaching every fall for 33 years straight and this will be a fall of no competition. There’s definitely a different feel that’s going on right now given all this stuff that’s been happening the last several months, but it’s definitely something we can recover from and be resilient about and continue to move forward.
“The next step is where do we go from here? So we’re climbing through those stages now.”
The COVID-19 pandemic wasn’t a big issue in the United States when Dorrell was hired Feb. 23, but less than three weeks later, fear of the spread of the virus changed life for everybody. By March 13 in college sports, the NCAA basketball tournaments, all spring sports and spring football had been canceled.
Dorrell barely knew his team, but had to deal with their initial fears of being sent home and not knowing the dangers of the coronavirus. In the five months since, Dorrell still has never been on the field with his team, but he’s seen the players adapt and grow as young men.
“I really feel good about this team,” he said. “I really feel good about what they’ve learned from the onset of this pandemic to where we are right now. They all came through it with flying colors.
“They’ve given us a chance to be successful this fall, but unfortunately there’s no fall.”
Prior to Tuesday’s announcement, the Buffs were finishing up preparation for preseason camp, scheduled to begin next Monday. Now, Dorrell has at least another four-and-a-half months to get his team ready for the next season.
“The training, all that stuff will be extended at a different level, at a different pace,” he said. “We’re going to talk as a staff for the next couple days to really try to iron out a pretty good plan from this point in August through the end of November.”
Although the Pac-12 postponed competition until at least Jan. 1, teams could potentially still practice at some point. Dorrell and athletic director Rick George said it’s possible CU could hold “spring” practices and perhaps a scrimmage this fall.
“It doesn’t mean you couldn’t do something like that if the conditions change and we’re able to participate,” George said.
Exactly who participates going forward remains to be seen. CU and other teams that have shut down their fall seasons have many questions to answer, including the eligibility of players that could lose a season. Several seniors may have to decide if they want to keep training with CU, and some might have to decide whether or not they want to play a potential spring season.
Dorrell said receiver KD Nixon and linebacker Nate Landman are two seniors who have requested private conversations with him.
“I told them as recently as this morning, there’s some time to think through some things,” Dorrell said. “There’s nothing that needs to be reacted upon and do anything right now. I wanted them to spend some time to get those collective thoughts and put some thought into it and come back and let’s talk about it. That’s where we left it today.”
In the meantime, Dorrell said he expects a fall with no football could present some challenges to players and staff as they mentally adjust.
“There’s some issues that we want to be very sensitive to, both with our student athletes and with our coaching staff, because this is … we’re just doing things differently,” he said. “It hasn’t happened and we don’t know what the ramifications are.”
In what has been perhaps the most unique year ever in college football, Dorrell said he’s still grateful for the opportunity CU gave him this year.
“I’ll remember this year for a long, long time,” he said. “I think we all will. I still feel I was brought here for a reason. It lined up for me to be here and to lead this program.”