Ever since Colorado’s football season came to a close, Coach Prime has been revamping his coaching staff. Five key coaching changes have been made in Boulder so far, some of which are more important than others. This has left many Buffaloes fans asking what all these changes mean for the team going forward. I’m here to break down every decision made by Deion and tell you the impact it’ll have on the Buffs.
Sean Lewis’ departure and Pat Shurmur “very likely” staying at offensive coordinator
Before the Buffs’ Week 10 game against Oregon State, Deion stripped OC Sean Lewis of his play calling duties and handed them to analyst Pat Shurmur. Lewis was pseudo-fired midseason, so it’s no surprise that he made the decision to leave Colorado for the San Diego State head coaching gig.
Last week, Prime said that Shurmur is “very likely” going to stick around in the offensive coordinator position in 2024. This begs the question: What does Shurmur sticking around mean for the offense?
The biggest change Shurmur made when taking over play calling duties was to slow the offense’s pace down significantly. Lewis ran things at a pace he called “hyper-tempo,” meaning the unit moved as fast as they possible could and no-huddled nearly every single play. Under Shurmur, the pace of play is more akin to a traditional offense. Shurmur doesn’t feel the need to try to go at a breakneck pace, which certainly makes things easier on the offensive line because they get more time to catch their breath.
Using the regular tempo means that the offense becomes less explosive. Lewis was trying to run down opposing defense so that Shedeur Sanders could take shots downfield at a moment’s notice that the secondary is too winded to catch up to. There’s big trade-offs to both these systems, but Deion seems to favor the slow-and-steady method if Shurmur is staying in the OC roll.
Shurmur is also far more intentional with his use of running back personnel in specific situations than Lewis was. Under Lewis, the offense was pretty ride or die with the most talented RBs on the roster and always had them in the game, regardless of the situation. This meant that Dylan Edwards, Colorado best but smallest RB, was running between the tackles very frequently every game. Edwards’ small build makes it difficult for him to get the power to break through opposing defenders at the line of scrimmage, but Lewis kept him in anyways because he has the highest upside.
Shurmur moved away from just throwing Edwards in because he’s the best back and opted to throw the bigger bodied RBs into the game for short yardage situations. If you noticed Sy’veon Wilkerson got more touches in the Buffs’ last few games, that would be why. Shurmur used Wilkerson to run people over and it worked well. Expect to see the bigger guys get more touches next season, which is probably for the best.
This is a smaller difference, but Shurmur also used his tight ends to block more than Lewis did. Lewis opted to line Michael Harrison up out wide basically every single play last season. I could likely count on one hand the amount of times that Lewis had a tight end line up as a blocker last season, which probably was a mistake now that we know how atrocious our offensive line was. Shurmur actually will line his tight ends up with the linemen as a blocker, albeit still not that often. The TEs still aren’t fully pass-blocking most of the time in Shurmur’s system, but hitting a quick chip on an edge rusher could help protect Shedeur. With the recent portal addition of Cincinnati’s Chamon Metayer, the TE position is poised to play a bigger role in Shurmur’s schemes in 2024.
Shurmur’s also tends to staggers his receivers more than Lewis in their play designs. If you go back and watch some of the Buffs’ earlier games in the season, you’ll see that pretty much all of CU’s receivers are running routes that leave them in about 10 yards of each other, regardless of where they are on the field. Shurmur seems to have designed plays with more leverage than Lewis did, which gives Shedeur more options when making reads. Under Shurmur, Shedeur usually has a target in the flat, about 5 yards deep, 15 yards deep and 40 yards deep. Staggering your receivers like Shurmur does makes it easier to take advantage of gaps in opponents secondaries easier than Lewis’ system, which could help in 2024.
Lewis’ offense was also EXTREMELY predictable. The Buffs were basically throwing one of three options every play: a short flat to Dylan Edwards, a 15 yard slant to Jimmy Horn Jr., or a 30-40 yards moon ball down the sideline to Xavier Weaver or Travis Hunter. There was very little variation to Lewis’ routes, which opponents exploited. This system worked well for the first 2-3 weeks of the season but after other teams got tape on Colorado, they could just prep all week on stopping the very few routes the Buffs’ ran.
Shurmur mixed things up with his play calling and it’s less predictable than Lewis was, but he also has Shedeur throwing the ball more shallow. Under Lewis, Shedeur pretty much never threw the ball in between the sticks. This meant the defense pretty much didn't have to defend the pass between 10ish yards of the line of scrimmage. Shurmur has Shedeur throwing for a distance of 5 or so yards far more often. These short and consistent gains help combat the predictability problems, but frankly make the offense boring to watch. It’s far more enticing to watch Sean Lewis’ high-flying passing attack rather than Shurmur’s dink-and-dunk system.
In 2023, Colorado’s offense was severely handicapped by their offensive line. The unit proved to be one of the worst in the country and had massive problems in both run blocking and pass protection. In 2024, the Buffs offensive line is going to be completely revamped. The additions of Jordan Seaton, Tyler Johnson and Tyler Brown should make a night and day difference to the line. Shedeur should actually get time in the pocket next year and the line should be able to clear gaps so the Buffs can run between the tackles.
This new offensive line is going to give Pat Shurmur infinitely more options when calling plays for the Buffs, so they shouldn't be limited to spreading the field and running quick buttonhook routes every single play anymore. Shurmur has now has the tools to succeed in Boulder, but we’ll have to see if Shurmur can take full advantage of them. Shurmur was a former center at Michigan State and has spent many years as an offensive line coach, both at the college and NFL level. Perhaps Shurmur is the man to get the absolute most of this new group next year.
Offensive line coach Bill O’Boyle getting replaced by Phil Loadholt
When Lewis jumped ship to SDSU, he took offensive line coach Bill O’Boyle with him. It’s not super surprising that O’Boyle decided to leave after how atrocious the Buffs o-line was last year. O’Boyle was on the hot seat, so leaving to coach the Aztecs is likely a smart move to save face on his part. The offensive line coach is an extremely pivotal spot for this team, especially after landing the commitment of five star recruit Jordan Seaton. Deion elected not to fill the seat with someone super experienced, but instead called upon first time coach Phil Loadholt to command the linemen in 2024.
Loadholt is Colorado kid who played high school ball at Fountain-Fort Carson and was originally committed to play at CU before admission turned him away because he didn’t meet the school’s academic requirements. Instead, Loadholt would attend the University of Oklahoma where he’d be an All-American at offensive tackle. The Minnesota Vikings would draft Loadholt in the second round of the NFL Draft, where he’d have a very successful six year career before having to retire early due to an Achilles tear in 2016.
Before getting the nod to coach in Boulder, Loadholt was an offensive analyst at Oklahoma. Loadholt has never been a full-fledged position coach in his budding career and Deion has given him an opportunity to prove himself on one of the biggest stages possible. Because Loadholt hasn’t coached at this level, it’s nearly impossible to predict what specifically he can bring to the table on the field. The decision to bring in Loadholt was sort of a risky move for the Buffs, but it’s been paying off in dividends so far. Loadholt played a big part in bringing in Jordan Seaton and Tyler Johnson, so he’s proven to be a major asset in recruiting. Based on these early recruiting results, it looks like Deion may have hit the jackpot with this hire.
Defensive end coach Nick Williams leaving for Syracuse
The departure of Williams came as a big shock to many, especially after he announced he was leaving to take a job at Syracuse. Nobody in their right mind leaves a Deion Sanders led squad who gets all the spotlight to coach the Orange, so it’s possible that Williams was pushed out of Boulder to make room for Warren Sapp or someone else on the staff. Regardless of the reason for his departure, losing Williams is a massive blow for the Buffs.
While in Boulder, Williams made most of his impact in the recruiting deportment. Williams was one of the best recruiters in the nation and was an invaluable asset to Deion’s efforts to poach talent from the transfer portal. Losing Williams like this is going to hinder Colorado’s efforts to plunder the portal greatly. Deion and the Buffs are going to need all the help they can possibly get to help bolster the roster for 2024 and losing Williams isn’t going to help with that.
Thankfully, it seems like Loadholt and other staffers have picked up the slack left by Williams in recruiting. Landing a player like Jordan Seaton is a very good sign that things are headed in the right direction without Williams in Boulder, so let’s all hope it stays this way.
Tight ends coach Tim Brewster’s resignation
Just one day after the Buffaloes’ final game, Brewster announced he’d be leaving the team and going elsewhere. Brewster’s resignation wasn’t really a big surprise, as he was demoted to an analyst position in order to make room for Pat Shurmur in the Buffs’ coaching box. The coaching veteran and journeyman is now heading to Charlotte to be part of the 49ers’ staff as their assistant head coach.
In Boulder, Brewster’s player development skills helped the Buffaloes greatly in 2023. Brewster had no small part to play in the sudden emergence of walk-on Michael Harrison, who was one of Shedeur’s top targets in 2023. The Buffs are going to miss Brewster’s help with player development and his fiery attitude in 2024, but his departure doesn’t really make that big of an impact. We will see what happens moving forward with this group. The hope is that Deion adds someone with recruiting acumen to make up for the loss of Williams.
Darian Hagan leaving to be SDSU’s running backs coach
Hagan leaving Colorado came as a massive shock to Colorado fans. Hagan is the only quarterback in CU history to lead the Buffs to a national championship victory and is absolutely loved by the fanbase. Hagan has coached RBs at CU from 2006 to 2010, then from 2016 to 2022. Deion decided to retain Hagan on his staff when he got to town, but demoted him to an ambassador role. Hagan unfortunately had limited responsibilities within the program in 2023 and worked mostly as a recruiter.
Hagan was offered the RB coaching position from Sean Lewis at SDSU and decided to take the job. This gig is a pretty major promotion from Hagan’s current job with Deion’s staff, so it’s understandable that he’d take it. That doesn’t make it any less sad that Hagan is leaving Boulder though. It’s going to be strange to be without Hagan at CU, but this move doesn’t make much of an impact to the program. Hagan didn’t really do much for the team under Deion, but losing him is certainly a big blow to the fanbase’s morale.
Even more coaching changes and important hires are certain to come soon with the opening of the transfer portal. Despite losing some key pieces to the staff, the Buffs are currently in pretty good shape. The team should be fine under Shurmur, as long as the offensive line gets better. Phil Loadholt could very likely be a slam dunk hire for the Buffs if he can keep up his recruiting efforts. The biggest loss the Buffs suffered was certainly Nick Williams, but they’ll be okay without him it seems. The team looks to be in a good spot for 2024, which feels crazy to say after the coaching chaos of last week.