It’s been six weeks since Colorado athletic director Rick George made the decision to fire head football coach Karl Dorrell and defensive coordinator Chris Wilson.
In that time, George has been busy trying to find the next full-time head coach. Meanwhile, interim head coach Mike Sanford and the rest of the coaches have continued to go to work each day to try to find answers and try to win games.
The process hasn’t been easy, and with less than two weeks remaining in the season, the reality of an uncertain future is hitting home a bit more. CU (1-9, 1-6 Pac-12) will visit No. 15 Washington (8-2, 5-2) on Saturday (7 p.m., Pac-12 Network) before wrapping up the season at Folsom Field on Nov. 26 against No. 10 Utah (8-2, 6-1).
For Sanford and the rest of the coaches, that could be it for their time in Boulder, because there is no guarantee the next coach will retain them.
“We’re living in the present, we’re making everything about the players,” Sanford said of how he and the staff are handling the situation. “But obviously, you get down towards the end of it and all of a sudden, it’s obviously very clear that we’re not in the postseason – there’s no bowl opportunities – and you have to really wake up every day and even as a staff, even myself as the head coach, you’ve got to really stay truly in the present.”
Sanford moved his family from Minnesota to Colorado in December after signing a three-year contract to be the Buffaloes’ offensive coordinator. Despite being under contract through the 2024 season, Sanford knows he could be out of a job in a couple of weeks.
There are seven other full-time assistants under contract through the 2023 season, but they also might be looking for work soon, along with support staff members who aren’t under contract.
“(Staying in the present) is really hard because we have wives, we have kids,” Sanford said. “They’re scared about the future and we have to be great fathers and great husbands first and foremost. But we also have a job that we’re tasked with doing and that’s ultimately to come to work every day, just continue to find the joy in the work we do.”
That, ultimately, is the task in front of everyone as the Buffs play out the final two weeks of a lost season. While the coaching staff could have massive turnover – again – this winter, the roster could, as well.
CU will lose some players to graduation, as always, but could also lose many to the transfer portal and others who simply don’t want to deal with yet another coaching change. Several players on the roster have already had three full-time head coaches, plus Sanford, and many of them have had multiple position coaches.
There are a lot of players who don’t know if they will be at CU in January, let alone next fall.
“I talked to the team about that (Sunday) when we had our team meeting about we’re all – literally all of us are in this thing together,” Sanford said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, not just for coaches and coaches’ families and everything that goes on with that, but also with the players. They’ve had a lot of change. If you think about it, like (junior guard) Casey Roddick, including interim O-line coaches, has had six O-line coaches.
“Those are things that you have to think about that these players are going through as we get down the stretch in these last two games.”
Amid the uncertainty, George has gone about his business of finding the next head coach. As was the case when he hired Mel Tucker in December of 2018 and Dorrell in February of 2020, the search has been done quietly.
BuffZone sources have indicated that former Texas and Houston head coach Tom Herman and former Virginia and BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall could be in the mix. For now, however, the search is filled with speculation.
The results of that search will impact the futures of CU coaches and players, but Sanford and the Buffs are trying to focus on making the most of the time they have left together.
“Really the theme and the mantra is, ‘Let’s just enjoy this group.’ And I love this group,” Sanford said. “I hate the results right now for us, for them – for the players. We don’t have an easy road. We never expected an easy road. But I told them, I’m going to give them everything I have and our coaching staff is gonna give them everything we have.
“And (the players) are giving us what they have. I think that’s showing up in how hard we’re playing. And I know people look at score lines and box scores and some of that stuff might not show up but if you’re on the sideline of that game (Friday’s 55-17 loss at No. 7 USC), you knew how hard we were playing. That, to me, shows a resolve and the character and love that this team has for each other and for this coaching staff.”