Last year, Chris Wilson focused on helping the Colorado defensive linemen get better.
Now, he’s looking forward to a bigger role.
Earlier this month, Wilson was promoted to defensive coordinator, replacing Tyson Summers, who was fired in January. CU isn’t making coaches available to the media this winter, but during an interview on the athletic department-produced Buffalo Stampede show this week, Wilson talked about his new role.
“I think it was just a thing that you interview all year long,” Wilson said of earning the promotion. “Obviously, I had it in my background that I had been a coordinator. I think the biggest thing that (head coach Karl) Dorrell does well, he really puts guys in position to grow and he wants to do it in house, if he has the right people. Through the process of being here a year, we got a chance to work with each other on the development of our guys; it made the transition (easier).”
Dorrell was hired as CU’s head coach a year ago, introduced on Feb. 23, 2020. Shortly after that, he hired Wilson to coach the defensive line.
Spending the past year working with the Buffs’ players, Wilson is eager to help them take another step forward.
“(Being at CU last season) definitely helps, because now you have a gauge of where guys are at, and you’ve seen them under pressure, you’ve seen them in their comfort zone,” he said. “Now it’s about how do we improve the developmental piece? How can we make this as player-friendly as we possibly can?”
Summers, hired in 2019 by previous head coach Mel Tucker, helped the Buffs improve in several areas.
In 2020, the Buffs ranked 77th nationally in scoring defense (31.7 points per game) and 76th in yards allowed (420.3). Those numbers took a major hit in the Buffs’ 55-23 loss to Texas in the Valero Alamo Bowl, when CU was missing several players because of injuries and COVID-19 protocols.
During the five-game regular season, the Buffs allowed 27.0 points and 376.8 yards per game. Even with the bowl game, the Buffs improved their rankings from 2019, when they were 95th in points allowed (31.8) and 104th in yards allowed (441.9).
One of the worst teams in the country in 2019 on third downs (125th, 47.44%), the Buffs ranked 13th last year (31.76%). They were 65th in the red zone in 2019 (83.72% scoring rate) and jumped to 42nd last year (80.0%). The Buffs also ranked seventh nationally in tackles for loss (8.17 per game) last year, compared to 123rd in 2019 (4.33 per game).
Wilson would like to see all those numbers improve, but when asked about his vision for the defense, he didn’t cite statistics.
“That we’re physical — the most physical defense in the Pac-12,” he said. “Two, is that we’re very, very intelligent. We understand conceptually what should occur, every snap. If we can do that, it allows us to play really fast and makes us a really aggressive team. When you have the ability, turnovers start happening and positive things occur for you.”
A longtime coach in the NFL and with several Power 5 programs, Wilson’s career includes a two-year run as defensive coordinator at Mississippi State from 2011-12, as well as 2010 as co-coordinator. From 2010-12, Mississippi State ranked top 35 nationally in scoring defense each year. The Bulldogs were 71st in 2009, before Wilson got there.
Wilson said he will continue to make the development of the Buffs’ defensive line a top priority.
“You can’t let that area falter,” he said.
As coordinator, however, he will be responsible for the entire defensive unit.
“When you take a role as a coordinator, it’s really leading men and having great organization and being a great teacher,” he said. “It’s about knowing who your guys are and that dictates scheme. From that, we’ll tweak it week to week based off the people we’re going to play.”
Wilson also said he will lean heavily on the other defensive assistants: Demetrice Martin (cornerbacks), Brett Maxie (safeties), Brian Michalowski (outside linebackers) and Mark Smith (inside linebackers).
“We’ve got an experienced group of guys, guys with a ton of background, not only in the NFL, but in college and exclusively the Pac-12,” he said. “Why wouldn’t I use that knowledge? My dad always told me if you’re the smartest guy in the room, you’re in the wrong room.”