It obviously is not Year One for Karl Dorrell. But it certainly feels like it.
On Saturday, Dorrell’s Buffaloes gave their fans and the public the first glimpse of the new-look 2022 team, as CU hosted an open spring scrimmage at Folsom Field. Thanks to the transfer portal and an overhauled coaching staff, the squad on display Saturday, like the one that will take the field on Sept. 2 to kick off the season against TCU, will bear little resemblance to the team that exited Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium on Nov. 28 with a 4-8 record.
And that dynamic reveals a conundrum for Dorrell. It is Year Three for Dorrell. Typically, when a new coach takes over a struggling program, Year Three is when fans should expect a tangible measure of progress from the new regime. Thanks to that overhauled coaching staff, the new regime is an even newer regime now, and it’s difficult to escape the Year One vibe surrounding the program.
Some of that, like the world falling into pandemic chaos just after Dorrell was hired, was beyond his control. The staff personnel decisions, however, fall squarely upon Dorrell’s shoulders. And so for a fan base starved to back a winner, the harsh truth is that patience probably will not soon be rewarded.
That’s not to say the new mix on the coaching staff is incapable of getting things turned around. On offense in particular, with a new coordinator on the job in Mike Sanford and just a lone staff holdover in running backs coach Darian Hagan, there really is nowhere to go but up after the Buffs sported one of the worst attacks in the nation last fall. If ever a unit needed a complete excavation, it was the Buffs’ offense of 2021.
It’s also perhaps fair to note that the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced Dorrell to get to know his new players through Zoom meetings during his first few months on the job, prevented any sort of scorched-earth reshaping of the program when Dorrell took over. Already hired late in the offseason calendar, players that might have been tempted to bail on a new coach didn’t do so until later when transfers without sitting out a year and the extra year of eligibility provided by COVID made player movement so much easier.
Going into Year Three for Dorrell the program, if not the foundation, has been thoroughly razed. Dorrell no longer has to make pieces fit with assistants that were foisted upon him, like former offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini. This is Dorrell’s staff, the one he will either sink or swim with.
That might be small consolation to a fan base facing what almost amounts to another do-over after backing a Buffs program that has posted a winning record in a full season just once since 2005. Yet Dorrell remains steadfast the foundation he has set the past two seasons hasn’t been scrapped, and instead has been built upon by the offseason moves.
“The guys that we hired that have really transitioned very well, they kind of had a similar core beliefs of what I already had established here,” Dorrell said after Saturday’s workout. “That helped the transition for them. Even though they’re new, it’s kind of been really seamless about them trying to really mandate the things that are important for us to be successful. They’re good coaches. They’re guys with good energy. You hear them all over the place. They’re doing all the things that I would expect them to do. It’s great that those guys have quickly adapted very well into what we’ve done the last two years and really are building on the things we’ve done the last two years.”