Chris Wilson could fit as leader of CU Buffs defense

A look at potential candidates for Colorado’s defensive coordinator position

Chris Wilson recently completed his first season as Colorado's defensive line coach.
Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer
Chris Wilson recently completed his first season as Colorado’s defensive line coach.

Defensive coordinators don’t last long at Colorado, so maybe it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the Buffaloes are moving on from Tyson Summers.

On Tuesday, it was reported that Summers is being let go by head coach Karl Dorrell after two seasons in the coordinator role. After Ron Collins’ five-year stint (2006-10), the last five defensive coordinators at CU have lasted two seasons each.

There were ups and downs to Summers’ tenure, but in general, the defense showed some improvement in his second season, and he leaves plenty of talent on the roster for his successor.

Hired by previous head coach Mel Tucker in December of 2018, Summers was retained when Dorrell was hired on Feb. 23. While new head coaches typically bring in new coordinators, the timing of Dorrell’s hiring may have helped Summers stay on board. Dorrell was hired late in the cycle, and keeping Summers made the transition easier for Dorrell’s first season.

Now settled into the job, with season No. 1 in the books, Dorrell has a chance to hire a new coordinator. There are bound to be several good candidates, but the best one might already be on staff. Bruce Feldman The Athletic reported that CU defensive line coach Chris Wilson might be a top candidate and it would be a natural fit.

Dorrell hired Wilson in February and he was one of the Buffs’ top assistants this past season. Rumors have circulated that other schools, particularly Miami, could be eyeing Wilson for a spot on their staff. Dorrell could promote him to keep him in Boulder.

With more than 25 years of experience, mostly at Power Five schools or the NFL, Wilson, 52, has been a coordinator once before. He was co-coordinator at Mississippi State in 2010 before being sole coordinator for the Bulldogs from 2011-12.

During those three seasons, MSU gave up 19.8, 19.7 and 23.3 points per game, ranking top 35 nationally each year.

Signed to a two-year deal in February, Wilson had a base salary of $400,000 this past season (before a five percent reduction for COVID-19) and is set to make $420,000 next year.

CU is projected to return most of its defensive starters in 2021, and retaining Wilson could create some continuity for the group.

If Dorrell isn’t looking internally for the next coordinator, however, here are a few names that could come into play:

Gerald Alexander, Miami Dolphins defensive backs coach: He was hired by the Dolphins almost the exact same day (Feb. 20, 2020) that Dorrell left the Dolphins to become the head coach at CU, so they never worked together. However, Alexander spent the past year working with Dorrell’s former boss, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores. Considered a rising star in coaching, Alexander, 36, starred at Boise State and was a second-round pick of the Detroit Lions in 2007. He played five years in the NFL, spending part of his last year (2011) with the Dolphins – when Dorrell was the teams’ QB coach. Alexander coached defensive backs at Montana State in 2016 and at California from 2017-19 before going to the Dolphins last year. He coached two All-Pac-12 DBs at Cal in 2019.

Chris Ash, Texas defensive coordinator: Might be a long shot to land Ash, 47, who is still with Texas, but it’s unclear if he’ll remain under new head coach Steve Sarkisian. The former head coach of Rutgers (2016-19), Ash has been a coordinator at Wisconsin, Arkansas and Ohio State and could be in play for a number of big programs. There are reports that Florida could be targeting Ash for a position on their staff. There are no obvious connections between Dorrell and Ash, who makes $800,000 per year at Texas – more than CU has ever paid an assistant.

Kacy Rodgers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive line coach: He’s spent the past 18 years in the NFL and may not want to jump back to college, where he coached from 1994-2002, but Rodgers, 51, does have a long history with Dorrell. They worked for four years together with the New York Jets (2015-18) and four years with the Dolphins (2008-11). A long-time defensive line coach, Rodgers’ only stint as a coordinator came during his four years with the Jets.

DeWayne Walker, Arizona cornerbacks coach: Walker, 60, was just hired by new Arizona head coach Jedd Fisch last week, but could jump at a coordinator opportunity with the Buffs. He was Dorrell’s defensive coordinator at UCLA from 2006-07, and then remained in that role with the Bruins in 2008 under head coach Rick Neuheisel. In 2006, UCLA gave up just 19.9 points per game, a 14.3-point improvement from the previous year and still the Bruins’ best number in the last 27 years. Walker then became the head coach at New Mexico State (2009-12) before spending seven seasons coaching defensive backs in the NFL (Jacksonville Jaguars and Cleveland Browns). During his career, the California native has also coached DBs at Cal and USC.

Bert Watts, Memphis linebackers coach: Watts, 41, got his start as a college coach in Boulder, as a defensive technical intern for two seasons (2010-11). Hired by Dan Hawkins, he also worked for Jon Embree, who is close with Dorrell. Watts then spent 2012 as an assistant with the Denver Broncos. Since then, the California graduate has been the defensive coordinator at UC Davis (2013-16) and Fresno State (2018-19). FSU ranked third nationally in scoring defense in 2018, with linebacker Jeff Allison earning Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year honors. A safety at Cal – where he led the Bears in tackles as a senior – he has coached defensive backs and linebackers. After a head coaching change at Fresno State a year ago, Watts landed at Memphis, where he works with former CU head coach Mike MacIntyre, the Tigers’ defensive coordinator.