Karl Dorrell – First Impressions of CU’s new head coach

What to make of of the phrase, “Karl Dorrell – University of Colorado head football coach”?

To be perfectly honest, I’m still processing the news.

One thing is certain, it didn’t help that the story broke as the CU men’s basketball team was turning a 50-41 lead into a 61-53 deficit on Senior Day against UCLA (it just had to be UCLA, didn’t it?). Needless to say, the fact that the Buffs ultimately lost the game to the Bruins, 70-63, did not help my state of mind as I was digesting the news.

“Karl Dorrell – University of Colorado head football coach”.

Well, what do we know right now?

The Dorrell timeline … 

— Dorrell was the Buffs’ receivers coach in 1992-93 under Bill McCartney, helping the Buffs to a 17-5-2 record and two bowl appearances.

— After spending the 1994 season coaching the receivers at Arizona State, he returned to CU and worked as offensive coordinator/receivers coach from 1995-98 under head coach Rick Neuheisel. In those seasons, the Buffs went 33-14 with three bowl games.

— During Dorrell’s first two seasons as Buffs’ coordinator, 1995-96, Lance Carl – now the Associate Athletic Director, who, along with Athletic Director Rick George was part of the “Committee of Two” who was charged with hiring Dorrell – was on the staff as a graduate assistant, working with Dorrell in coaching the receivers.

— In 1999, Dorrell followed Neuheisel to Washington and worked for three years (2000-02) as the receivers coach for the Denver Broncos.

— In 2003, the former UCLA receiver was hired as the head coach at his alma mater, going 35-27 in his five years at the helm. Under his leadership, the Bruins advanced to a bowl game in each year. In 2005, he took UCLA to a 10-2 record and a victory in the Sun Bowl over Northwestern.

— After being fired by UCLA after the 2007 season, Dorrell spent 11 of the past 12 seasons in the NFL, working for the Dolphins (2008-11, 2019), Houston Texas (2012-13) and New York Jets (2015-18). He has primarily coached receivers, but coached quarterbacks with the Dolphins in 2011 and with the Texas in 2012-13.

— On Thursday, February 20th, Dorrell was promoted by the Dolphins to the position of assistant head coach … two days before he accepted the head coaching position at Colorado.

What does the Dorrell bio tell us? …

Dorrell is familiar with Colorado. Dorrell was an assistant coach for Bill McCartney and Rick Neuheisel … and he was in Boulder when the Buffs were good. He was the CU wide receivers coach in 1992, when Charles Johnson (1,149) and Michael Westbrook (1,060) became the first and second players in school history to post a 1,000-yard receiving season. The following year, Charles Johnson repeated the feat, with a 1,082-yard season.

As offensive coordinator under Rick Neuheisel (1995-98), the Buffs’ offense was ranked 8th, 10th, 35th and 66th in total offense. In case you are wondering … CU hasn’t had a team ranked in the top ten in total offense since the 1996 season.

Dorrell is familiar with the Pac-12.   In addition to growing up in California and playing for UCLA, Dorrell has coaching experience in the Pac-10/12. In addition to his four years in Boulder, Dorrell was an assistant at Washington before getting his five years as a head coach at his alma mater.

There is something to be said for the argument that Dorrell’s coaching record has a very Mike MacIntyre feel to it … two years of mediocrity, followed by one very good year, followed by two more years of mediocrity:

  • 2003 – 6-6 regular season (4-4 in Pac-10) … lost 17-9 to Fresno State in Silcon Valley Bowl
  • 2004 – 6-5 regular season (4-4 in Pac-12) … lost 24-21 to Wyoming in Las Vegas Bowl
  • 2005 – 10-2 regular season (6-2 in Pac-10) … defeated Northwestern 50-38 in Sun Bowl (finished season ranked No. 16)
  • 2006 – 7-5 regular season (5-4 in Pac-10) … lost 44-27 to Florida State in Emerald Bowl
  • 2007  – 6-6 regular season (5-4 in Pac-12) … team lost 17-16 to BYU in Las Vegas Bowl (Dorrell didn’t coach the bowl game)

Glass half empty? The Dorrell resume is strikingly similar to MacIntyre’s … and CU fired Mike MacIntyre.

Glass half full? Dorrell’s teams went to five bowl games in his five seasons in Westwood … I’m guessing CU fans, based upon the Buffs’ last 15 years, will take five straight bowl appearances from Karl Dorrell.

Dorrell allows CU some continuity – which is important when you hire a head coach in late February. We will see how well Dorrell is able to put together a coaching staff. Under the best of circumstances, a new coach has to work hard to assemble a strong coaching staff in his first season. Under these circumstances – in late February, when coaching staffs for the 2020 season are all but set nation-wide – it is going to be extremely difficult.

While there is no word yet on which of the remaining staff members will be retained, it seems that keeping Darrin Chiaverini would be a good fit. Dorrell was Chiaverini’s position coach when Chiaverini played for Colorado … and keeping one of the nation’s top recruiters on board would seemingly be a good start to Dorrell’s first staff.

Dorrell is not going to use CU as a stepping stone. CU athletic director Rick George – and the Buff Nation – can shout from the top of the Champions Center that the University of Colorado is a destination job, not a stepping stone … but Mel Tucker proved us wrong.

Which is why the Dorrell hire may prove to be a strong move in the long run.

Would Steve Sarkisian have been a splash hire? Yes. But would Sarkisian have stuck around had he been successful in Boulder? Unlikely.

Dorrell doesn’t have any ties to the SEC or Big Ten. As a result, he wouldn’t have any immediate need to ditch Colorado at his earliest opportunity.

Plus, Dorrell has something to prove. He didn’t take his alma mater, UCLA, to new heights, and will want to build Colorado up, rather than use it for a greater gain.

“I learned from being a first-time head coach,” Dorrell said in a 2011 ESPN interview. “And [that] is going to allow me and enable me to [be] better when I get this next opportunity.”

But …

Dorrell hasn’t been out on the recruiting trail in a decade. Dorrell has been in the NFL for 11 of the past 12 seasons, so there will be questions about his ability to recruit to Boulder until he proves otherwise.

Of course, the same would have held true for Eric Bieniemy, who also has been in the NFL for the past decade … but CU fans were excited about Bieniemy as an option.

It also won’t hurt Dorrell’s chances of being a successful recruiter if retains Darrin Chiaverini – consistently recognized as one of the top 25 recruiters in the nation – as his recruiting coordinator.

So … how did Dorrell fare as a recruiter at UCLA?

  • Class of 2003 … 29th nationally … four four-star commits
  • Class of 2004 … 31st nationally – one four-star commit
  • Class of 2005 … 21st nationally … one five-star; three four-star commits
  • Class of 2006 … 15th nationally … seven four-star commits
  • Class of 2007 … 53rd nationally … six four-star commits (only 11 members in the Class)

While it must be noted that UCLA’s recruiting Classes routinely get the benefit-of-the-doubt CU recruiting Classes do not receive from the national pundits, these are not bad numbers. Mel Tucker’s 35th ranked Class this year was the best for CU in a decade, and Dorrell bettered those numbers every year except for his last Class, which would have made the top 35 if it had been a regular-sized Class.

We’ll see what Dorrell can produce from the CU Recruiting Class of 2021 and beyond, but to say that he can’t recruit would be a misstatement.

CU will get killed in the national press. Just be ready for it. If you listen to national podcasts, be ready for some CU bashing over the next few weeks. If you check out the Athlon’s, Lindy’s and Sporting News preseason magazines, be prepared to see Karl Dorrell ranked among the lowest-rated of the new hires.

It’s coming.

We may never know whether Steve Sarkisian or Eric Bieniemy were serious candidates to replace Mel Tucker. We will certainly never know how they would have fared in Boulder as head coach.

But the speculation will be that CU found a safe, boring, and uninspired choice in Karl Dorrell. I refuse to read the Denver Post as long as Mark Kizla is there, but the title to his article, “As CU football coach, best thing about Karl Dorrell is he’s safe, boring and the anti-Mel“, tells you all you need to know about how the Dorrell hire will be spun by the media.

Everyone’s fifth choice … no one’s first.

It’s going to be a long six months before Dorrell has the opportunity to prove the naysayers wrong.

And, the unknowns …

How will the players react? Dorrell will be a complete unknown to the current CU roster. They were in elementary school – or pre-school – when Dorrell was last a collegiate head coach. What sort of offense will Dorrell run? Who will he get to run the defense?

And, just as importantly, will he be able to connect with the players?

“Sometimes he’d walk by you and not say anything. That kind of threw people off a little,” said a former UCLA player who was recruited by Dorrell. “But I didn’t mind that at all. I liked Coach Dorrell, you just had to know him. He was down-to-earth; you could talk to him about anything. All the players liked him. We were excited about playing for him”.

That’s a far different scenario that what we heard about Mel Tucker, who had an open door policy, and seemed to connect with the players on a very personal level.

But that coach is gone. And, for CU’s upper-classmen, this will be the third coaching staff in as many seasons. Will they see the Dorrell regime as a step up – or a step back?

How many players from the current recruiting Class will see Dorrell as an uninspired hire, and look to play elsewhere?

Time will tell …

Will Dorrell be able to assemble/retain a staff? Already touched on this, but it bears repeating. Dorrell has been out of the collegiate game for a decade, but he now must assemble a staff – in February – which can prepare the CU roster for battle in the Pac-12. Mel Tucker had been an assistant coach at the highest level of Power Five football, and had multiple connections to collegiate assistant coaches who he wanted for his staff.

Karl Dorrell doesn’t have that luxury.

And the start of spring practices is less than three weeks away.

Sounds like Mission: Impossible.

At the end of the day, Buff fans can’t worry about the “what might have beens”. There were over a dozen names bandied about in the past ten days since Mel Tucker abandoned his team (has it only been ten days? It seems like a lifetime). There were more glamorous names on the list of potential candidates, names which certainly would have been more popular with the Buff Nation … and better received by the national pundits.

But, if the Dorrell hire becomes official, he will become the 27th full time head coach at CU.

“Karl Dorrell – University of Colorado head football coach”.

Time to rally the troops, and prepare for battle with our new leader.

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48 Replies to “Karl Dorrell – First Impressions”

  1. Since the folks on the board seem to share the general attitude of most in Boulder re. race…I’ll say it. Very happy we hired an African-American HC, I know that is ‘strange’ and potentially ‘wrong’ for some of you to hear. However, as I’ve pointed out Boulder is not a melting pot of socioeconomic and cultural diversity. Therefore, it’s very important that our kids have a strong role model showing the way (and I think it’s important to parents too).

    1. Irie, my thoughts exactly. Glad you said it though. I don’t think that was THE determining factor, by any means. But, I do think Lance prefers a black man leading the program. I also think there’s value in that, for obvious reasons.

      I do think that Karl was lower on their list of candidates, and his relationship w/ Lance helped drive the bus his way, after others said “thanks but no thanks”. I’m fine w/ all that.

      I just hope it works out better than the parade of coaches for, uh, I guess the last 25 years?

      I guess the reality is, it can’t get much worse. I hope.

      Go Buffs.

      1. You must have missed this

        It was not until Thursday, however, that George told Carl, “What about Karl (Dorrell)? and he said, ‘Why didn’t I think about that?’”

        Buffs

          1. No dance. Lance drove the bus this time, as he did last time.

            Here’s to hoping it works out better this time, than last time.

            Go Buffs.

          2. If lance drove the bus, RG was telling where to go. Your need to continue to believe you believe to know what happened and how it worked is just one of of your funny little strawmen.

            Buffs

      2. Just gonna leave this here……………….

        The opening In one paragraph:
        I don’t think
        I do think
        I also think

        And then the summary
        I do think
        uh, I guess
        I guess

        Go Buffs

        1. Exactly. I don’t profess to know with certainty the inner machinations of this process. Only you try to foist your opinions as facts around here.

          Go Buffs

          1. I cannot and will not reveal my sources. But, we know some of the same people. You profess to have inside knowledge and contacts, so go ask them.

            Go Buffs.

  2. Buff Nation…let’s stay positive and give our leadership the support they need and they have earned…standing shoulder to shoulder! I trust Rick G and Lance K to interview/hire the right candidate by filtering thru all the “BS” during the many long interviews. Never let the national press sports writers select your coaches, players or playbook…who cares what Kisla thinks? Coach Chev may get a 2nd shot at OC, perhaps Troy Walters (left Neb Cornshuckers and is a former CU Buffs WR Coach) also returns again be a great WR Coach to go along with Coach Chev and HC Karl…? KD has great overall experience in varied roles with 3 PAC-12 teams along with great NFL experience and knowledge. Coach KD will invest 100% to build a foundation and team for success long-term…and Rick G must believe that in his heart also or he would not have hired Coach KD.
    Coach Karl Dorrell will make a great CUBuffs Coach…he also has endorsements from Mike Shanahan, Ed McCaffrey, Matt McChesney, Mike Moschetti and others…
    Coach KD will hire a great staff. CUBuffs against the P5 world! Great Hire…nice job Rick and Lance!

  3. My first reaction was that this hire is a bit of a head scratcher. But Rick George has certainly earned my trust… so welcome, Coach Dorrell!

    (and never forget, as it was pointed out below, that Tucker was a “splash” hire simply because he came from the highly propagandized SEC)

  4. It is worth giving the guy support. The Herm Edwards comparison is reasonable. There were many, including myself, that laughed at that choice. But he seems to be the best of the recent PAC-12 hires.

    1. SCJBuff….., I think that another consideration regarding the Herm comparison is that KD has remained in coaching the entire time whereas Herm put in a few years at TV before going back to probably the career that he really wants in life.

  5. I only know of about him, but do not know him. Remember he took over a UCLA program that had big problems and he had to stabilize it. CU is in much better shape, other than the timing of hiring assistant coaches. He has been a number of places so seen different position coaches at other teams. Doubt he doesn’t have good contacts, though many may be Pro coaches who can leave now. His staff ant UCLA was a really good collection of coaches. Regarding not talking much, for older folks, Tom Landry didn’t speak a lot either and he did all right! But good recruiting needs the people connection.

  6. Thanks for this site and staying up to speed the last 10 days.
    We just never know with this stuff.
    No coach comes with 8, 9, or 10 guaranteed wins.
    KD hire makes sense to me under these circumstances and checks a lot of boxes.
    If he is a more seasoned HC than at UCLA and has the passion, we may actually be looking back at this favorably and soon…
    Really would like some commentary soon from RG about this process.

  7. I think this was a great hire. Your crazy if you think that this guy is not connected. There is a really good possibility that CU football just hired a Tad Boyle. My only concern is that Mel _ucker is going to continue to cherry pick the staff and of course, the players, namely one strong side defensive end who Buff fans have already fallen in love with. Colorado is in a great spot because nobody is going to expect anything and Karl is a perfect fit with Chevy. A left and right hand in recruiting and coaching what Colorado excels in….producing legendary wide receivers!

    1. Just so you know
      Chev has scrubbed his twitter acccount of most things about CU football and all his rah-rah CU stuff.

      Pouting Buff.

  8. Stuart, I love your website and you have exceptional writing skills, but no matter how much you polish a turd it will never shine like a diamond. Dorrell took over what is probably the best offence in Colorado history in 1994 and progressively got worse every year after that. Every new coach talks about building a winning culture but, Dorrell hasn’t been around a winner culture in over 15 years. I just hope George and Carl discussed this hire with the current staff before they made this decision. I am not sure if Chev is ready yet to be a head coach but, he would have been a better hire then this one.

  9. The anti Mel. I can’t believe Kisla beat me to that moniker. Kisla probably knows less about Dorell than me…which is barely anything but listening to Moschetti and others talk about his personality the “anti-Mel” is probably what the recruits and even the second year kids need to hear after being betrayed by big talkin Mel. Hopefully his low key style will be comforting and not another alarm that would be set off by someone just like Mel.
    And the potential of offense. So sick of the exact same boneheaded play calling that existed under both Lindgren and Chev that points straight to the guy under the ridiculous green hat who is probably suited for offense better against potato bugs. Johnson, who promised an “explosive offense” wasn’t much better either. As usual most of any explosion was after Viska got his hands on the ball.
    Its hard for me to understand why D background head coaches aren’t better at designing an offense. They should know what they have the hardest time defending and apply that to their own O. Denial and ego I suppose.
    If Dorell keeps Summers and makes a home run hire to replace Kapilovic I think things will work out. I’m always on board (well maybe not with B-lame) with a new coach. It took me 2 years to realize HWSRN was a fraud. After being let down as a fan by 4 HCs in a row I can understand what might be going through a recruits head.
    Hang in there players. Listen to Jake Wray. I think he said something to the effect you guys were all going to stick together through this. Please dont give Mel any credit for leaving by leaving too. Also remember you are getting an education in a wonderful place no where in the SE?C can match..

    1. ..all Vanderbilt grads just did a collective eyeroll….but otherwise you are correct (University of Florida can hold its own with CU as well)

      1. I knew someone was going to bring up Vanderbilt. Point taken. Even though my family is from that part of the country I have been in Colorado since high school and I wouldn’t leave the Rockies for anything.
        btw
        I sure hope Buff’s football still has expectations exceeding those of Vanderbilt

  10. Be strong Buff nation.
    We have been on the hamster wheel for a long time.
    I trust that RG made the right decision, he is pretty damn smart and loves CU.
    I did not have season tix last year but I will this year.
    Putting my $ where it belongs, supporting CU!

  11. My first impression is I am sick to my stomach and I expect recently signed recruits to be sprinting to the transfer portal. I would if I was them. Most recent job as the former wide receivers coach for the Jets and Dolphins. Two perennial dumpster fires. No thanks transfer please.

      1. I wouldn’t know and I don’t care. I’m a CU grad that lives in Northern California. I gave my first impression. I’m not stoked with my first impression either. Unfortunately that’s what it is.

  12. The statement from a previous player above about KD walking. Y players in the hall and not saying anything really resonated with me. I bet he is an introvert. I am as well and much of the time when I am walking down a hall my mind is on something and I am largely oblivious to the people around me. This can often make it difficult to lead teams as they get the same read on me that I think that player was alluding to. This behavior shows up in more places than just walking down the hall. It occurs in tons of places and interactions. And I have heard comments about him being an intense very smart football coach, which all plays into line with this initial potential thought. Teams led by this sort of person will not reflect the leadership of that person becuase essentially the team does not feel bonded to the leader. You would get exactly what we have seen in the past from his teams real inconsistent play. When everything is going well they are beating the best, when things are bad he does not have the ability to rally the troops and overcome adversity.

    So the good news. If this is indeed his personality type it can be overcome. I am massively better leading my teams than when I was in my 30s. I have learned skills and techniques that help me connect with them better, keep them engaged and motivated. You have to want to learn how to do this and it is. It the easiest thing in the world but it can be done. If this is indeed one of the reasons he did not have the success at UCLA that he wanted the good news is that he has had 15 years to pickup those leadership skills. It is also possible for his coordinators to have that leadership as well. Chev definitely connects with his players, Summers seems like he connects pretty well too. I have heard that Mac never really connected with his players well and that it was the senior leaders that drove the 2016 team. I think Tucker’s leadership held the 2019 team together through some rough times and got a couple of wins as well. It is critical and I can see how an introverted 30-40 year old coach could misunderstand the importance of that connection his first time as a head coach.

  13. Bill Belichick was fired by the Lions in 95.
    He then went to the Patriots. It seems to have worked out OK there.
    Sometimes a coach just needs the right situation at the right time to have success.
    My hope this becomes a good situation for Dorrell and the Buffs.

  14. Since this article about the KD hire ends with a war metaphor, I think it apropos to insert a Churchill quote after the Anzio landing: ”I hoped,” he (Churchill) said, ”that we were throwing a wildcat on the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale.”

    Sums up this whole coach-search process. The only open major power 5 position out there and the result was a safe, no controversy hire. Perhaps RG and LC just wanted stabilization for the next few years–can’t say I blame them. That other article speaking on his UCLA tenure was nothing but a bland, vanilla-laced piece basically saying “I will do things differently next time” (and Embree lamenting his work commute). The article was bland and vanilla-like probably because it imbued KD’s personality. Nothing wrong with that as long as he is genuine–unlike the Mel Tucker carnival barker and snake-oil salesman show we all bought into.

    I’m pulling for KD. He’s got his work cut out for him. Go Buffs.

    1. Some thoughts. What will really count is how well he does in living rooms. He has to keep Chiaverini for his zeal and recruiting ability. He must immediately click with the team, not easy for an introvert (if he is). Tough row to hoe. I wish him well.

  15. Well I feel like I was dumped by the exotic Homecoming Queen, and after all the other girls shot me down, I married the fat ugly girl down the street cuz it felt safe and she couldn’t possibly hurt me

      1. VK… I’m not Rick George! Or you! I have faith, time, taste, and don’t panic. But it seems our Buffs might have done just that to avoid losing recruits, Chiav, support etc. This was a safe, panic hire. You don’t see it? Well I hope I’m wrong. I hope recruits, Chiaverini are all kept. But this hire was a panic move

          1. VK I hope you’re right. Worried about Coach DC though, why is he going dark. I hope they are working on a deal to give him a raise and keep him here with intentions of being the heir apparent

          2. Coach Chiaverini did the same thing last year after Tucker was hired.
            Until he has a new job under the new coach, he is no longer the interim head coach.
            Coach Dorrell may not retain coach Chiaverini, or Chiaverini may decide to go elsewhere, but not likely.
            Glad to see that you are “worried about Coach DC”, though. Some may have gotten the impression you are just trying to stir the pot.

  16. The more I read about Dorrell, the more I see him as possibly a stealth hire that may be much better than many of the other choices; & better then many posting are seeing. Regarding being out of the college game for years and his potential to assemble a quality staff, how many years was Herm Edwards out of coaching? “Edwards returned to coaching in 2018 to lead the Sun Devils after eight years as an ESPN analyst.” & “Edwards also has been a solid recruiter despite never having been a college head coach before going to Arizona State.”

    Dorrell is older, wiser & better prepared to be a HC then when he was a young 1st time HC 15 years ago. He’ll have instant chemistry with Chev, having been his coach at CU & if he can win his 1st (public) recruiting battle by keeping Stenstrom, and other players from leaving, he’ll be off to a good start.

    So let’s get behind him and give him a chance, this just may work out to a better hire than most are seeing; plus I bet he stays longer then most would have, bring some stability, especially if he can win too.

    1. We need stability to if we want to win – like having Barnett. We can’t go through coaches every year. The kids won’t stay for that. McChesney Seems ecstatic about the hire. He is way more plugged in and doesn’t blow sunshine up CUs butts.

  17. Hey Stuart: Tucker zero head coaching experience, had moved 10 times in 13 years, had zero connections to PAC 12…and he was a “splash” hire? Meanwhile, Dorrell has huge PAC 12 experience, head coaching experience, great connections to CU, and he is somehow a bad or boring hire? Excuse me? In what way does that make sense? This was a great move under very difficult circumstances…Go Buffs!

    1. Agree. MT said all the right things, BUT, I think Dorrell will DO the right things. Been here before too… two times to CU… 😉 get it too?

    2. Agree. MT was only a good hire (in the media) because he was from the Holy than Thou SEC. same as star ratings in recruiting. Can only take it with a grain of salt. I will take NFL experience over SEC experience any day.

      Great Hire! Go Buffs!

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