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Football: Colorado Buffs fire head coach Karl Dorrell, DC Chris Wilson

Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford to serve as interim head coach for remainder of 2022 season

University of Colorado, athletic director Rick George speaks to the media on Sunday during a press conference addressing the firing of head football coach Karl Dorrell after two and a half seasons at the helm of the program. The Buffs are 0-5 this season. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
University of Colorado, athletic director Rick George speaks to the media on Sunday during a press conference addressing the firing of head football coach Karl Dorrell after two and a half seasons at the helm of the program. The Buffs are 0-5 this season. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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BOULDER,CO-September 24: University of Colorado Boulder's Karl Dorrell was fired on October 2, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
BOULDER,CO-September 24: University of Colorado Boulder’s Karl Dorrell was fired on October 2, 2022. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Within the Champions Center, head football coach Karl Dorrell was highly respected by Colorado’s administration, his staff and his players.

“However,” athletic director Rick George said Sunday evening, “the on-the-field performance fell well short of our expectations.”

On Sunday, George and the Buffaloes hit the reset button once gain.

Saturday’s 43-20 loss to Arizona in Tucson, Ariz., was the final straw for George. With CU sitting at 0-5 (0-2 Pac-12), George fired Dorrell and defensive coordinator Chris Wilson.

“I know (the failure on the field) starts with me,” George said. “I hired Karl and it didn’t work out the way any of us wanted it to. There’s no excuses and I own my part in where we are today. I have to do what’s best for our student-athletes, and I felt that a change in leadership was needed at this time.”

Offensive coordinator Mike Sanford will serve as interim head coach for the remainder of the season. Sanford has named defensive line coach Gerald Chatman as the defensive coordinator and tight ends coach Clay Patterson as the offensive coordinator for the rest of the season.

Dorrell, in the third year of a five-year contract, went 8-15 with the Buffaloes. CU and in-state rival Colorado State (0-4) are the only remaining winless teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. It is just the fourth 0-5 start in CU history.

Per the terms of his contract, which runs through Dec. 31, 2024, Dorrell is entitled to claim the entirety of his remaining salary, which is roughly $8.7 million. Dorrell has a “duty to obtain new employment to mitigate” the costs of the buyout. If Dorrell obtains a coaching job over the next two years, his salary would reduce the amount CU owes him.

Chancellor Phil DiStefano stressed that the buyout will be covered by the athletics department budget.

“None of the contract funds will come from tuition money, taxpayer dollars, or the campus general fund,” he said. “And I’m confident that the final payout number will be less than the $8.7 million.”

BOULDER, CO-August 6:DC Chris Wilson, during ...
DC Chris Wilson, during University of Colorado Boulder football practice and media day on August 6, 2022.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

CU was the fourth school from the Football Bowl Subdivision to fire its head coach this season, following Nebraska, Arizona State and Georgia Tech. Later on Sunday, Wisconsin also fired its head coach.

Wilson is in the second year of a three-year deal. He is making $600,000 this year and is slated to make $650,000 next year. He can claim 80% of his remaining salary, which would be roughly $600,000.

In addition, eight other assistants are under contract through at least the 2023 season, including Sanford, who is under contract through 2024.  It could cost CU as much as $3.7 million to buy out the other eight assistants. That cost could also be mitigated by their future employment opportunities.

The buyout amounts will be sorted out in the next few months. In the meantime, George is beginning a national search for a new full-time head coach and does not anticipate naming a new coach until after the season, in late November or early December.

“We will be diligent in our search process and we will be incredibly thorough,” he said. “We will leave no stone unturned in our quest to get this football program back to national prominence.”

Hired in February of 2020, Dorrell successfully navigated the Buffs through the COVID pandemic. CU started 4-0 in that shortened season of 2020 and finished 4-2, with a trip to the Valero Alamo Bowl – one of only two bowl appearances for the program in the last 15 years. The 4-0 start helped Dorrell land Pac-12 coach of the year honors.

Since then, however, CU is 4-15, with 14 of those losses by 15 points or more. The Buffs followed their 55-23 loss to Texas in the 2020 Alamo Bowl with a dismal 4-8 record in 2021. Dorrell changed 60 percent of his full-time assistant staff in an effort to make this year better.

Instead, the decline continued. CU was the first Power 5 conference team in 65 years to open its season with four consecutive losses by 25-plus points. The Buffs barely ended that streak with a 23-point loss on Saturday.

After having one of the worst offenses in the country a year ago (18.8 points per game, 257.6 yards per game), the Buffs have been worse this season, despite four new coaches on that side of the ball. CU ranks 128th out of 131 teams with 13.4 points per game and 124th with 277.0 yards per game

Defensively, the Buffs have been abysmal this season, ranking 129th in points allowed (43.2 per game) and yards allowed (508.8 per game). They are last against the run, allowing 294.20 yards per game.

On Saturday, Arizona racked up 673 yards – the fourth-most ever allowed by a CU defense. Wildcats quarterback Jayden de Laura threw for 484 yards and six touchdowns, tying the record for most passing yards by an opposing quarterback.

Despite dealing with several injuries, the Buffs had respectable numbers on defense last year, giving up 26.7 points per game (72nd) and 420.8 yards per game (98th).

Hired as defensive line coach in 2020, Wilson was promoted to coordinator in 2021. Last offseason, Wilson switched from coaching defensive line to outside linebackers. For Wilson, this was his second stint at CU. He coached the Buffs’ defensive line from 2000-04.

This was Dorrell’s third go-round at CU. He coached the receivers from 1992-93 and after a year at ASU returned as offensive coordinator/receivers coach from 1995-98.

Dorrell has a career record of 43-42 as a head coach, including five seasons (2003-07) at UCLA, where he led the Bruins to five bowl appearances. Between his tenures at UCLA and CU, he spent 11 of those 12 seasons as an NFL assistant, with 2014 the only exception. He was the offensive coordinator at Vanderbilt that year.

CU has had three different full-time head coaches in the last five years, but will now to turn a fourth, hoping Sanford can lead the Buffs through a successful final seven games.

“Being 0-5 is not where I wanted to be,” George said. “I didn’t see progress from week three to week five and so I felt like it was the right time for me to make a decision.

“We still have a lot of games left on our football schedule. Our football student-athletes need the support of our fans and I know our Buffs will rally around this team and this coaching staff.”

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