Look, I don’t like to look back at 2020. For many of us, it’s a haze that seemed endlessly long and shockingly short. The days blended together as monotony set in. And that’s for the lucky ones! The unlucky crowd had friends or family members affected by COVID-19, sometimes even to a fatal degree. Those are days that you wish were monotonous and unsurprising, but this cruel disease does not waver. In short, 2020 was awful, and I count myself lucky to be on the other side of it, refusing to look back.
One bright spot I can stand to stare at was Karl Dorrell’s first year as head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes. With a semi-talented roster in place, Karl and Krew danced through the first part of the schedule, with surprising wins coming in multiple ways. A new scheme, new coaches, and almost no lead-up time bounced off this Buffalo squad, as surprising superstar Jarek Broussard and surreptitious gunslinger Sam Noyer trampled opposing teams.
In a world where every unexpected event was tragic, this shock was anything but. The Buffs were winning! They were winning with guys that weren’t transfers or fresh blood, these are players that have bled for three different coaches and stuck around in Boulder to see a winning season. Somehow, Dorrell became the first coach in a long time at CU to go to a bowl game in his first year, and he led them to their second bowl game since 2007. That is a monumental accomplishment.
However, a demolition at the hands of the Texas Longhorns reframed everything for the fanbase, and potentially Dorrell. Yes, the Buffs had a good 2020, but they ended in two straight losses and the defense looked hapless without stud LB Nate Landman. The recruiting wasn’t matching the on-field success, and that was tough to come by near the end. How can CU fans expect to be excited for the future when the talent coming in wasn’t matching or exceeding the talent coming out? Was this just a fluke year for Dorrell, a COVID fever dream that he managed to navigate through?
Well, I’m here to tell you that my definitive opinion is… maybe, but who cares? Yes, CU only won 4 games, but they won twice as much as they lost! I won’t put the asterisk next to that Alamo Bowl if you won’t. In the end, it’s a better start than anyone thought possible and proof that Karl Dorrell is not the disaster many (including me) thought he might be. He took another coach’s players and staff and won a lot of games, and that is something to be commended. He did that while also keeping the team out of COVID trouble and earning their respect. Now, he is making moves to make this program reflect his vision, and we will get to meet the real coach.
The first move, and it was surprising, was to replace Drew Wilson as Strength & Conditioning coach. From all accounts, everyone loved Drew Wilson. The players respected him, he had survived the transition from Mike MacIntyre to Mel Tucker, and it looked like he survived the transition from Tucker to Dorrell. Wilson did a good job building players up, and quite a few players got noticeably bigger under him. When he was not retained by Dorrell, it seemed to spell trouble. The players liked him and he was good at his job, why make a change just to put your mark on the program?
Well, it turns out, Dorrell made one of the best coaching hires at CU in the last five years. That is no exaggeration. While Drew Wilson is good at his job, Karl hired one of the absolute best in the business in Shannon Turley. After an unceremonious termination in 2019, Turley was sitting on the sidelines waiting to get in. No one knows quite why Stanford fired him, but everyone knows the work he did at Stanford over the 2010s. Turley built one of the toughest, strongest teams in the country, and he did all of that while minimizing injury. Hiring Turley was an absolutely coup, and pretty innovative thinking from Dorrell. This is something that brings immediate credibility to the operation within the Champion’s Center.
Next up on the chopping block was Tyson Summers. I had no problem with the defensive coordinator, and I actually really liked his style. His blitzes and aggression made the defense a lot more fun to watch. However, he was also very obviously a Mel Tucker hire, and I think that his style did not match what Karl Dorrell wanted to see. So, Karl made the decision to promote from within and move Chris Wilson from defensive line coach to defensive coordinator.
Now, normally, an internal promotion like this is kind of mediocre at best. DC is a position that you want a real rockstar at, and promoting someone from within doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. Chris Wilson is a bit of a different case. Wilson made his bones as a defensive line coach, but he was also a very successful DC at Mississippi State for three years in this decade. His resume, in a vacuum, would be more than enough for the job, and his extensive familiarity with CU also helps. So far, Dorrell is 2/2 on his new hires.
After Dorrell’s prior TE coach, Taylor Embree, left for the NFL, Dorrell now needed to hire a new tight end coach and also replace Tyson Summers as inside linebackers coach. This is where things get a little bit dicier. Dorrell went older with these two hires than I would’ve expected, grabbing Mark Smith from the … Long Island University Sharks … and snagging Bryan Cook from … The QA ranks at CU. On its face, both of these hires are not exactly awe-inspiring. But let’s dig into Smith first.
Smith recently spent time at Arkansas under Chad Morris, which was a disastrous tenure for the coach. However, Dorrell targeted him because he is a known hard worker at recruiting and has DEEP connections to Texas high schools. If he has maintained those connections, Smith is an instant upgrade to the recruiting department. With him and Chris Wilson on the defensive side of the ball, as well as Brett Maxie’s Texas connections, expect a further emphasis in that area. That is a great sign.
Bryan Cook, on the other hand, is a tougher sell. He is well-respected in the athletic department, but his most relevant experience to the TE room is a disastrous spell as OC under Tyson Summers at Georgia Southern. He has never coached the position, has no deep connections to California recruiting, and has been out of the position coaching game for a while. It’s possible that he is a wunderkind, but it’s hard to get excited for him, especially compared to Taylor Embree.
Karl Dorrell is retooling the football program to fit his vision. So far, the results are positive across the board. Except for one place — recruiting. Moving forward, Karl Dorrell (and every other CFB coach) needs to shore up that area of Colorado Football, or things will get hairy in a hurry. The good news is, Karl Dorrell is always a man with a plan.