We knew change was coming and it happened quickly.
On Sunday, Colorado head football coach Karl Dorrell made a big decision regarding the future of the program when he opted to part ways with offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini.
It wasn’t surprising, of course, after what was a miserable season on offense for the Buffaloes (4-8, 3-6 Pac-12). Two days before Chiaverini was fired, the Buffs’ offense managed just 148 yards in 28-13 loss at Utah. And, really, the offense only gets credit for three of those points. Seven came on a Nikko Reed kickoff return and three points came after safety Mark Perry picked off a pass and returned it to the Utah 15. After that pick, the offense got zero yards in three plays before kicking a field goal.
That performance in Salt Lake City – against a top-20 team with a pretty salty defense – could be forgiven if it was unusual. It wasn’t. In fact, it wasn’t even the worst offensive performance of the season. Or the second-worst.
Four times this season, the Buffs failed to gain as much as 200 yards. Three times the offense failed to score a touchdown.
With Chiaverini being dismissed, Dorrell has now made four significant changes to his staff in the last 11 months. In this edition of the Rewind, we’ll recap the moves Dorrell has made up to this point. Also in this edition …
- Staff buyout amounts
- Buffs of the Week
- Notes and quotes
LEADING OFF: Ch-ch-ch-changes
There is, of course, a percentage of restless fans who are ready to dump Dorrell and have already determined he’s not the guy for CU. How anyone can determine that after 18 games, when he doesn’t have many of his own recruits on the roster and when he still hasn’t assembled the staff he wants is beyond me, but … I get it with fans. A losing season is always going to bring out that criticism.
For now, I give Dorrell a bit of a pass as he gets things rolling. In terms of the staff, fans ought to be pleased he’s willing to make tough changes. Not all coaches are willing to do that. We’ve seen in the past a few coaches who are too loyal to some of the friends they hire as assistants and they hang on too long. Dorrell isn’t doing that.
For a college head coach, the most important assistant coaching positions are the strength and conditioning coordinator, and the offensive and defensive coordinators. (I would rank offensive line coach at No. 4).
Dorrell was hired on Feb. 23, 2020 – about 2-3 months later than most coaching vacancies are filled. At the time, the Buffs were just a couple of weeks removed from a solid signing day class and three weeks away from spring practices (which, of course, didn’t happen because of COVID-19).
With strong encouragement from CU’s administration, Dorrell filled the three most important staff positions with men who were already with the Buffs: Drew Wilson (strength and conditioning), Tyson Summers (defensive coordinator) and Chiaverini (offensive coordinator). I don’t fault anyone at CU for those moves. I think it was the right call, given the circumstances of the timing of Dorrell’s hire. And, it was particularly the right call when considering what happened soon after that with the COVID-19 shutdown. Staff continuity was important in 2020, and it worked out, as the Buffs went 4-2 and reached the Alamo Bowl.
It is important, however, to remember that the three most important staff positions were not necessarily filled by coaches Dorrell would have selected in a normal hiring situation. And, it’s telling that he’s moved on from all three since January.
Shortly after the 2020 season, CU parted ways with Wilson, whose contract was expiring. Then, the Buffs fired Summers, who had one year and $500,000 remaining on his contract.
Moving on from Chiaverini at that time would have been more difficult. In the midst of a pandemic that caused about a $20 million deficit for the athletic department, it would have been very difficult to buy out Summers for $500K AND Chiaverini, who had two years at $1.275 million left on his deal.
It’s also worth noting that the Buffs weren’t coming off a miserable year on offense in 2020. It wasn’t a great year, but the Buffs did have the Pac-12 offensive player of the year (Jarek Broussard) and the second-team all-conference quarterback (Sam Noyer).
So, Chiaverini was given another year, and it turned out to be an ugly one. The Buffs struggled throughout the year on offense and wound up producing historically-low numbers for points (18.8 per game) and yards (257.6 per game). This week was the right time to make the move and fire Chiaverini.
As for the offensive line position, Dorrell just simply whiffed on that one. Mitch Rodrigue was a strange hire in the first place, as there was no real connection between the two and Rodrigue had never coached in the Power 5. He was working at a high school when CU handed him a lottery ticket, based off a recommendation from former offensive coordinator Jay Johnson.
Dorrell didn’t wait too long to fix that error, though. Rodrigue was fired seven games into this season – and only 13 games into his tenure with the Buffs. The O-line wasn’t that bad in 2020 but had a rough year this season. Considering how the players responded, it was absolutely the right move.
Some would argue the move should have been made two weeks earlier, during the bye. Maybe, but I don’t believe that would have changed the Buffs’ overall record. And, frankly, this was believed to be the first time in CU history that an assistant coach was fired during the season.
Overall, I give Dorrell credit for being willing to make tough changes. In the last 11 months, he has now overhauled the four most important staff positions.
Wilson improved the Buffs’ defense this year, despite a plethora of injuries late in the year. Through seven games, the Buffs were allowing just 20.7 points per game. In the last five – without Nate Landman and Guy Thomas (and without Mekhi Blackmon for four of them), they gave up 35.0 per game.
Turley is widely praised by players, who still haven’t had a full offseason with him. He seems to be making a positive impact already.
If Dorrell can now upgrade the staff with solid hires at offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, the Buffs can get going back in the right direction.
For now, it’s still unclear if Dorrell is the right man to take the Buffs to annual bowl games. But starting in 2022, there can’t be any more excuses with the staff. For the first time in 2022, Dorrell will finally have his full hand-picked staff in place and his future with the Buffs will be defined by how those four hires pan out.
We should see more of Turley’s impact next year. Despite losing Nate Landman and Carson Wells, Wilson’s defense should benefit from all the young players who got time this year. And, the offense – and the line in particular – should be better, in theory, with new coaches. If the Buffs don’t show those improvements in 2022, it could – or should – be Dorrell sitting in the hot seat.
BUYOUTS: Where contracts stand
As reported, the Buffs still owe Darrin Chiaverini for the final year of his contract, which runs to February 14, 2023. The cost for the buyout is about $775,000: $125,000 for the remainder of the current contract year and $650,000 for next year
Former offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue, fired during the season, was in the final year of his two-year deal, so CU will pay the remainder of his salary for this year (about $83,000), but he’ll be off the books by February.
For now, it’s unknown if the Buffs will be making any other moves with the staff, but here’s where the other eight assistants stand, in terms of what it would cost CU to terminate anyone at this point.
TE coach Bryan Cook: Currently in the middle of a two-year deal that runs through Feb. 14, 2023. He is still owed about $41,000 for this year and $215,000 for the second year of the deal. If he’s terminated without cause, CU would pay him 80 percent of the remainder, which as of now is about $205,000.
RB coach Darian Hagan: He is making the equivalent of $235,000 annually, but he’s operating as an at-will employee and not under contract, so there is no buyout.
QB coach Danny Langsdorf: His two-year contract expires on Feb. 14, so the Buffs are only obligated for about another two months, or about $78,000 at this point.
CB coach Demetrice Martin: He is in the final year of a two-year deal with expires on Feb. 14, and will get the remainder of what he’s owed – about $62,500.
Safeties coach Brett Maxie: CU gave him a raise this year, but also made him an at-will employee, so there is no buyout if he is terminated.
OLB coach Brian Michalowski: Another at-will employee this year, Michalowski is making $210,000 this year, but there is no buyout.
ILB coach Mark Smith: In the first year of a two-year deal that runs through Feb. 14, 2023. He is making $210,000 this year and is set to make $225,000 next season. If let go now, the Buffs would be obligated to pay 80 percent of his remaining salary through the end of the deal, or roughly $270,000.
DC/DL coach Chris Wilson: He’s in the first year of a three-year contract that runs through Feb. 14, 2024. He is still owed about $114,500 for the remainder of the first year of the deal, and a total of $1.25 million for the final two years. If fired, CU would owe 80 percent of the remainder of his contract – about $1.1 million currently.
BEST OF THE BUFFS
Here’s my take on the best of the Buffs against Utah:
PK Cole Becker: Although he missed a field goal, he was 2-for-3 overall, including a season-best 56-yarde to close the first half.
CB Christian Gonzalez: Posted seven tackles and had yet another strong game in coverage.
OLB Devin Grant: Playing in just his third game, he had eight tackles and two tackles for loss and was one of the more dominant players for the Buffs.
DL Terrance Lang: Posted three tackles and blocked a Utah field goal.
QB Brendon Lewis: No, the numbers weren’t very good (9-for-23 passing for 84 yards and 14 rushing attempts for 15 yards). He’s on this list because he took a beating all day and kept getting up and trying to lead the offense.
S Isaiah Lewis: He recorded a season-high 12 tackles to lead the team. Nine of those stops were solo.
S Mark Perry: Finished with six tackles and a 40-yard interception return that set up CU’s first field goal. Also had a pass breakup.
KOR Nikko Reed: His 100-yard kickoff return for touchdown was one of the highlights of the season. He added two tackles on defense.
DT Na’im Rodman: Played a really good game up front, finishing with a season-high six tackles and a tackle for loss.
TE Brady Russell: Caught two passes for 12 yards and had a solid game as a blocker.
DT Jalen Sami: Was solid against the run, with three tackles, a tackle for loss and two third down stops.
WR Dimitri Stanley: Had probably his best game of the season, with three catches for 48 yards.
OLB Carson Wells: Capped his career with six tackles, including two third-down stops and two fourth-down stops.
NOTES AND STATS
- The Buffs wound up averaging 257.6 yards per game, which ranked 129th nationally. The only team worse than CU was New Mexico (234.2). The Buffs finished 121st in scoring, at 18.8. The offense can thank the defense and special teams for boosting that number.
- Nate Landman’s shoulder injury, which caused him to mix the last five games, also prevented him from becoming the first player in CU history to lead the team in tackles in four different seasons. Landman had the lead going into the finale against Utah, but actually finished fourth, as three teammates passed him. Safety Isaiah Lewis finished as the team leader (79 tackles), followed by linebacker Quinn Perry (78), safety Mark Perry (72) and Landman (71).
- Carson Wells wrapped up his final season with some pretty impressive numbers. In addition to 62 tackles, he had 5.5 sacks, 14.5 tackles for loss, 15 third-down stops and 17 quarterback pressures. Nobody else on the team had more than 2.0 sacks, 6.0 tackles for loss, eight third-down stops or seven QB pressures.
- CU finished with 255 yards on 19 punt returns – an average of 13.4 per return. That’s the best average for a full season since 2001, when the Buffs averaged 17.4 per return, thanks to Roman Hollowell’s two touchdowns. (In 2020, the Buffs averaged 15.6 in six games, with more than half the yards coming on Brenden Rice’s 81-yard TD).
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
Head coach Karl Dorrell on the frustration of CU’s offense this year: “It’s been challenging. It has been. A number of players playing and we have to continue to bring these guys forward and make improvements week after week after week. That’s where my disappointment is that I felt like there’s been good weeks where we’ve shown signs of that, but then weeks that we’ve kind of not necessarily took a step back, but we didn’t make much growth at all. So we have to be better there. We have to be better. So that’s been a challenging part of this scenario the whole season is with playing with a young quarterback that did get better over the course of the season, but how much better could he have gotten? Those types of things. So there’s a lot of disappointment that I have right now with that; with how the lack thereof has been for most of the year.”
Tight end Brady Russell on the Buffs’ fight: “This is the closest team I’ve ever been on since I’ve been here in terms of camaraderie and how much we trust each other and believe in each other. And I think our offseason and the things we did leading up to it helped with that a lot. So loving each other and being so close made us want to fight for each other and you want to win for the guy next to you. It’s not like you’re out there by yourself kind of thing. You want to win for the guy next to you. So I think that’s the biggest change why we fight so well (for) each other.”
Safety Mark Perry on the Buffs’ fight: “Nobody gave us hope this whole season. So I mean, nothing’s changed. We come here (to Utah), we know that we don’t really have nothing to lose; they’ve already won the South, so why not go out with a bang? It’s that simple. I mean, nobody really gave us a shot all season in all the games that we played, so nothing’s really changed. In that locker room, we believe in each other, believe in the coaches and we believe in the work that we put in all week. I feel like nothing really changed today from week two when we played A&M.”
National signing day. With the season over the Buffs turn their attention to signing day Dec. 15.