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Colorado football: Buffs back to work after head coach Karl Dorrell let go

Interim head coach Mike Sanford generating new energy for Buffaloes

Mike Sanford talks to the media at a press conference held by the athletic department on Sunday in Boulder. Sanford has been tasked with leading the CU football team through the remainder of the season. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
Mike Sanford talks to the media at a press conference held by the athletic department on Sunday in Boulder. Sanford has been tasked with leading the CU football team through the remainder of the season. (Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
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Plans were apparently already in the works for the Colorado football team to transition from the lower practice fields on campus to the facility at Franklin Field this week.

It just happened to coincide with Mike Sanford’s first practice Tuesday as the interim head coach of the Buffaloes.

Two days after CU fired head coach Karl Dorrell and defensive coordinator Chris Wilson, the Buffs (0-5, 0-2 Pac-12) were on Franklin Field for the first time this season.

In addition to being on different grass, there was new leadership, new energy and a new level of focus.

“I did like that it created more of an intimate atmosphere,” Sanford said of the switch to Franklin. “We had a lot of crowd noise, a lot of music playing. I wanted to create that chaos and I think that’s a little bit more challenging to do in our lower fields, which are tremendous practice fields, but I thought it went hand in hand with the goal and the mission of us going out there and creating the game day atmosphere.”

With a bye this week, the struggling Buffaloes are striving to salvage a season that has been extremely disappointing to this point. Dorrell had yet to hit the mid-point of his third season when he got a pink slip on Sunday, sending a jolt through the entire program.

“It’s obviously sad, disappointing,” offensive lineman Tommy Brown said. “I love coach Dorrell. Coach Dorrell was an unbelievable coach. I’m so thankful that he brought me here. But, now it’s time to move on. There’s new excitement in the building and new energy and I think everyone’s just trying to lock in and buy into the new coaches and I’m fired up. I feel like most of everyone on the team I’m getting energy from that everyone’s excited.”

Charged with leading the team through the remainder of the season, Sanford has made it a point to create that new energy and it began with individual meetings with the players. Sanford planned to start his player meetings at 7 a.m. on Monday morning, but senior tight end Brady Russell showed up at 6:45 a.m.

“Fifteen minutes early, ready to talk, ready to just be a part of this solution going forward,” Sanford said, adding that he went almost nonstop until 5:07 p.m. with his meetings.

For many of the veterans, such as Russell, this is nothing new. Sanford is the fifth head coach Russell has played for, counting interim coaches. For some of the freshmen, it was a first-time experience to see a coach fired.

“Change is particularly different for each one of our players in different phases of their experience here at Colorado,” Sanford said. “I wanted them to be able to express how they’re feeling, to talk about it, for me to be there for them because that’s not an easy thing. I can’t just assume that everybody’s just ready to move on. … There’s a tremendous love and respect for coach Dorrell, so those players were impacted by it.

“Every single one of my meetings started with that question, ‘How are you doing?’ and then, ‘How are you really doing?’”

Sanford also acknowledged that this time of year around college football – with teams being four or five games into the season – can lead to players choosing to leave the team in order to preserve a redshirt year so they can transfer. Despite CU’s struggles this season, there appears to be complete buy-in at this point.

“I’ve made my first priority without question the guys that are here,” Sanford said. “We got ahead of that, we talked about it. … I was very candid, they were very candid. I felt really good about just the entire team’s willingness and desire to stay here. I think all of them realized that every single one of us needs to bring more energy to practice, every single one of us needs to bring more accountability.”

Brown said Sanford was one of the reasons he transferred to CU from Alabama last winter and was happy to see Sanford get the job. And, he fully supported Sanford’s decision to meet with all of the players individually.

“I thought it was the best thing,” Brown said. “We all needed to meet with coach Sanford and just talk it out because everyone’s in a different situation and everyone wants to have a conversation with the head ball coach. That’s tough to do, so for him to take that time to meet with us, it shows that he cares about us and that we’re important to him. We have his back. He has our back.”

Brown said there was “new energy” at practice on Tuesday. That’s exactly what Sanford wanted as the Buffs got back to work.

“The theme of the day was energy, the theme of the day was just going out and finding a whole bunch of fun in the game of football,” he said. “It’s not been an easy three, four days for these players. It certainly hasn’t been an easy few days for us as coaches. But we’re all in this situation for a reason. We believe that and our players have really bought into the mission of going out and just having fun and fly around the football field.”

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