CU Buffs Karl Dorrell seeking ‘new energy’ after OL coaching change

BOULDER, CO - April 21, 2021:  Colorado Buffaloes guard Kary Kutsch during spring football practice. (University of Colorado Athletics)
BOULDER, CO – April 21, 2021: Colorado Buffaloes guard Kary Kutsch during spring football practice. (University of Colorado Athletics)
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Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell had hoped the bye week earlier this month would give the coaching staff time to fix the woes on offense.

That didn’t work, however, and following yet another abysmal performance on Saturday, he made a change, officially announcing Monday that offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue has been fired. Quality control coach William Vlachos will lead the offensive line, along with graduate assistant Donovan Williams.

“I needed to do something to hopefully give us a new approach and to kind of refocus and reset the button for us as we have these five games remaining,” Dorrell said Monday.

The Buffaloes (2-5, 1-3 Pac-12), who visit No. 7 Oregon (6-1, 3-1) on Saturday (1:30 p.m. MT, TV: Fox) made the move after another lopsided loss, 26-3 at California. The Golden Bears held the Buffs to 35 rushing yards while racking up six sacks.

It was the latest in a series of poor performances on offense. CU has lost by at least 22 points in four of the last five games. The lone exception was a 34-0 rout of Arizona on Oct. 16, the first game after the bye week. That proved to be an outlier, though, as the Buffs regressed against Cal.

“What happened last week was something that, in my opinion, it came up just one more time too many,” Dorrell said. “Things that I felt that we had some opportunities to correct when we did it in the bye week, it seemed like it didn’t quite get remedied in a way that it should have been. So that’s what led me to make the decision now.”

Dorrell hired Rodrigue, 56, in March of 2020 and made a point Monday to praise him as a “very, very good coach” who has been a “strong contributor” during his time at CU.

However, Dorrell added, “It’s just a point in time where we needed new energy and a new voice. … (The offensive linemen) understood the decision that I made. They respected it and they’re moving forward with a new attitude and hopefully some new efforts to getting some things shored up that’s going to get us to be playing some better football starting this week.”

CU currently ranks last in the country in yards per game (238.1) and 125th in scoring (15.1). While freshman quarterback Brendon Lewis has struggled, the issues up front have been tough to overcome.

Colorado has given up a Pac-12-worst 22 sacks and the Buffs’ rushing average of 3.29 yards per carry is 11th in the conference. In six games against opponents from the Football Bowl Subdivision, CU has averaged just 2.7 yards per rushing attempt, while giving up 20 sacks.

“I think it’s fundamentals,” Dorrell said of the issues on the line. “It is some scheme, too, but I think it’s also doing some things creatively that are a little bit different than previous ways that we’ve been doing things. So the bulk of our offense, the core is still going to be intact, but I think we’re going to create some new ideas and do some things in a little different manner that I think is going to create a little freshness for some for those guys up front.”

Dorrell said finding a permanent replacement for Rodrigue is “way, way down the road,” but for now Vlachos will be the lead line coach, with Williams helping out.

Vlachos, 33, joined CU’s staff in 2020 and this year was the defensive blitz and offensive front specialist.

A first-team All-SEC center for Alabama in 2011, Vlachos won two national titles as a player with the Crimson Tide and two more as a coach (2014 as a graduate assistant and 2016 as an analyst). He also worked as an offensive assistant with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in 2018.

“He has a lot of energy, he’s very confident in his abilities and rightfully so,” Dorrell said. “He’s a very bright guy and I’m excited for him to have the opportunity of impacting us in a good way.”

Williams, 26, is in his second year as a grad assistant with the Buffs. He played at Louisiana for Rodrigue and got into coaching as a student assistant in 2017 at his alma mater. He was a grad assistant at Mary Hardin-Baylor in 2018-19 before coming to CU.

“I did tell Donovan, specifically, that this is a great interview for you these next five weeks, about you showing your experience, your coaching style, creating some developmental improvements in the guys that we currently have,” Dorrell said.

“I believe it’s really going to be a big positive for both of those young men. I feel that it’s made a pretty good impact already with what practice looked like today.”

Rodrigue was in the second year of a two-year contract that was set to expire in February. Per the terms of his contract, Rodrigue is owed the remainder of his $400,000 salary for this year.

Dorrell is hoping this change will spark the offense, but he also didn’t close the door on other changes in the future if the offense, led by coordinator Darrin Chiaverini, doesn’t improve.

“We are definitely looking at anything and everything right now,” Dorrell said. “That was just the first point of where I felt we needed to make a change at this time. I’m going to continue to assess as we go through these last five games and see how much improvement is being made and the likelihood or unlikelihood of when we need to make any more changes or not. It’s still open. I’ll just tell you that.

“By the end of the season, we’ll see where we’re at.”