First, coach Demetrice Martin left the Colorado Buffaloes in mid-December.
Shortly after that, star Christian Gonzalez put his name in the transfer portal. In January, senior Mekhi Blackmon jumped on the train out of Boulder.
CU’s cornerback room has undergone a massive change this offseason, but Rod Chance doesn’t concern himself with those who left.
“I’m going to focus on the men that are in the room more so than the guys that are not,” said Chance, hired as CU’s new cornerbacks coach on Dec. 31. “Those are the guys who we’re gonna go to battle with. Those are the guys we’re gonna win football games with.”
Chance, 37, spent the past two seasons coaching cornerbacks at Oregon, but his future was in doubt after Ducks head coach Mario Cristobal left to take the head coaching job at Miami.
Dan Lanning was hired as Oregon’s head coach and quickly plucked Martin away from the Buffs. Gonzalez, a two-year starter and arguably CU’s top NFL prospect, followed him to Eugene as a transfer. Blackmon eventually left the Buffs as a transfer to Southern California.
Chance welcomed the opportunity to come to Boulder and work with head coach Karl Dorrell. For Chance and his players, the 2022 season will be somewhat of a clean slate at corner.
“I think anytime you enter a room, regardless of who’s in that room, as a new coach, you kind of have to provide that opportunity,” Chance said. “If not, you lose credibility as a coach. Everybody wants to believe they have a fair shot, and one year to the next year doesn’t guarantee that you’re gonna have an opportunity to start. Regardless of who was in the room, that was gonna be my approach either way.”
Chance is used to fresh starts. As many assistant coaches do, he has moved around a lot. Since 2013, he’s worked at Rhode Island, Vanderbilt, Southern Utah, Oregon, Minnesota and Oregon again.
“This is college football,” he said. “The way I was brought up in this profession, I live my life on a one-year contract, because at some point you’re gonna move on to another opportunity, or they’re gonna tell you they don’t want you there anymore. For me, I just like to be where my feet are, to take care of the opportunity.”
With his newest opportunity, Chance will coach a group that is young in age and experience.
Juniors Nigel Bethel Jr. and Jaylen Striker are the only upperclassmen corners on the Buffs’ roster.
Bethel was CU’s No. 3 corner last year and played well before a knee injury caused him to miss the second half of the season. He’s played in 10 games and 202 defensive snaps during his three years at CU. Striker missed the entire 2021 season with a knee injury. In two years at CU, he’s played in two games, both on special teams.
True sophomores Kaylin Moore and Nikko Reed gained valued experience last year as backups, with Reed playing 199 snaps and Moore 134.
“(Reed) and Kaylin have some experience on the football field, so that’s always good because the only way you get good at football is actually playing football,” Chance said. “They’re both very bright individuals, very good in the classroom. I believe a smart football player is a better football player. … Those young men are exceptional people that I’m excited to work with.”
Another true sophomore, Tyrin Taylor, came in as a corner last year and played 257 snaps at a variety of spots in the secondary. It’s unclear if he’ll be more of a corner or safety this year.
Joining the group this year will be four true freshmen, including Jason Oliver and Joshua Wiggins, who enrolled in January. Simeon Harris and Keyshon Mills arrive in the summer.
Overall, the Buffs’ cornerback room lacks the proven experience of Blackmon and Gonzalez, but there is talent and Chance is eager to coach the group.
“I’m a relationship coach first and foremost, because I believe that kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care,” he said. “I can’t be their father, but some of those kids may need a father figure, maybe a big brother figure, maybe an uncle. I believe that if you have a great relationship with kids, you can coach them just about as hard as you want to because they know it comes from a sincere place.
“From that, I want to make sure that I am their harshest critic in the meeting room, but on game day I’m their biggest fan.”