Following a 2021 season in which the Colorado football team struggled at times on both sides of the ball, change has been a theme this offseason.
Much of the changes, at least with the staff, have come on offense, but the defensive staff has had some tweaks, as well.
Going into his second season as defensive coordinator, Chris Wilson is eager to turn changes into positive results for the Buffaloes (4-8, 3-6 Pac-12).
“We got better,” Wilson said of the Buffs’ staff changes. “Not taking anything away from our previous staff because they did a wonderful job but, we had a chance to get some guys that we thought added talent. They’re a talented group of young guys.”
In addition to Wilson, safeties coach Brett Maxie and inside linebackers coach Mark Smith will return. But, the Buffs lost cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin to Oregon and replaced him with the Ducks’ former cornerbacks coach, Rod Chance. CU also let outside linebackers coach Brian Michalowski go and replaced him with defensive line coach Vic So’oto, who spent the previous two years at Southern California.
“Both of these men are up and rising coaches,” Wilson said of Chance and So’oto.
With the staff changes, Wilson will coach outside linebackers rather than the defensive line – a position he has coached throughout his career.
“I’m excited about having the opportunity to work with our outside linebackers and the biggest reason is because now as a coordinator, it allows me the flexibility to work with everybody on defense,” he said. “Now not only am I with the front seven, I’m also with the back end, which is really key when you’re trying to tie things together on a week to week basis, just the nuances of it. … I’m really excited about it. And in regards to the new coaches that we’re bringing, I’m even more excited.”
Although Wilson will coach the outside linebackers, he said he’s looking forward to working with So’oto on the defensive line, as well.
“We’re going to, really, Vic and I, work closely together and that was really important for me,” Wilson said. “I really believe that your fronts are the key on both sides of the ball. So having a guy that his full focus was going to be (the line) key for us. I couldn’t have hired a better guy and I’m excited about what he brings to the table.”
While Wilson believes the staff has improved this offseason, he’s aiming to make sure the results on the field improve, as well.
CU started strong last year, but had some late-season struggles and finished seventh in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (26.7 points per game) and 11th in total defense (420.8 yards per game).
Injuries, particularly to star linebacker Nate Landman, played a role in the struggles, but Wilson hopes a second season in the defensive system will help the returning players.
“Totally complete new system than what we were in (during 2020) when I first got here,” Wilson said. “So, just the consistency of play (has to improve). That happens with a lot of repetition. … As you can see, we progressively got better even though we started losing some guys at the end, due to various reasons. Our young guys were able to come in and still compete and digest (the playbook). When you have a chance to play many freshmen and sophomores, you’re going to take your lumps. But the beauty of it is now those freshmen are sophomores and those sophomores are now juniors.”
Landman, outside linebacker Carson Wells and defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson are currently preparing for an NFL opportunity. The Buffs also lost three starters in the secondary – cornerbacks Mekhi Blackmon (USC) and Christian Gonzalez (Oregon) and safety Mark Perry (TCU) – to the transfer portal.
Wilson, however, is looking forward to seeing what a revamped coaching staff can do with a young roster.
“Every year you’ve got a new roster and you kind of just accept those changes,” Wilson said. “But what you also do is you kind of embrace those new opportunities.
“We’ve got a talented group, a young group, and we’ve added even more talent, so I’m really excited about that. The thing that I love more than anything about the group I had a chance to coach is their resiliency. They never wavered. They never pointed fingers, they came to work every day and tried to improve and we can build on that. We have guys who want to come in and do the work. There’s no shortcut to that. So I was excited about that group of guys.”
This week, Michalowski was hired as a defensive quality control analyst at Oregon State.