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CU Coaching Moves: Grading the Hires

Colorado head coach Karl Dorrell made three moves in his coaches’ room this week … with two more to go before the coaching staff is complete.

Defensive line coach Chris Wilson was promoted to defensive coordinator, replacing Tyson Summers, who was let go earlier this month after two years as the Buffs’ coordinator. Meanwhile, safeties coach Brett Maxie was elevated to defensive passing game coordinator, while Shannon Turley has been hired as the strength and conditioning coach.

Still to come … hiring of an inside linebackers coach and a tight ends coach.

Rating the hires …

Chris Wilson – Defensive Coordinator

The Wilson announcement had been in works for some time … which is actually a source of concern for some in the Buff Nation.

With more than 25 years of experience, mostly at Power Five schools or the NFL, Wilson, 52, has been a coordinator at the Power Five  level once before. He was co-coordinator at Mississippi State in 2010 before being sole coordinator for the Bulldogs from 2011-12. Wilson was also a coordinator at Northeastern (Okla.) A&M in 1996. In between, Wilson was the defensive line coach for Gary Barnett’s Buffs from 2000-04.

“I’m excited about his experience, what he brings to the table from a knowledge base and all the places that he’s been in his career,” Dorrell said.

Wilson’s resume is impressive …

— Prior to returning to Boulder, Wilson spent the 2019 season as a defensive assistant with the National Football League’s Arizona Cardinals.  From 2016-18, he was the defensive line coach for Philadelphia under head coach Doug Pederson, where in 2017, the Eagles won the NFC East with a 13-3 record and defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl LII.

—  Wilson left the CU staff after the 2004 season to join coach Bob Stoops at Oklahoma, his alma mater.  He was the defensive ends coach for the Sooners for 2005-06, and added special teams coordinator to his duties there the next three seasons (2007-09).  He was on the Sooner staffs that won the 2006, 2007 and 2008 Big 12 titles, the latter team earning its way into the BCS Championship game where second-ranked OU fell to No. 1 Florida, 24-14.

—  Wilson then moved on to Mississippi State for the next three years, and then was hired by Georgia to coach its defensive line in 2013.  He swapped coasts in 2014, heading west to Southern California for two seasons (2014-15) before taking the similar position for the Eagles in the NFL.  At USC, the Trojans won the 2015 Pac-12 South Division title but lost the league’s title game to Stanford.

While Wilson’s long list of successful stops is impressive, it is also the reason some Buff fans are leery of the promotion.

The announcement was in the works for several weeks after Tyson Summers was let go, with the reason for the delay believed to be tied to the fate of Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. It was taken as a given this fall that Bieniemy, who was passed over for an NFL head coaching position last off-season, would be hired away this year. Seven NFL head coaching positions opened up, but, as the openings fell away one by one, it started to look as if CU’s all-time leading rusher would be passed over once again.

It’s perhaps not a coincidence that the announcement of Wilson’s promotion came on heels of the final NFL position – the Houston Texans – being filled this week.

With Eric Bieniemy staying put in Kansas City, Chris Wilson was free to stay put in Boulder.

Should Colorado fans be concerned that Chris Wilson may well be out the door after the 2021 season?

Sure. A comment posted this week by CU at the Gamer SouthBuff lamented the lack of coaches like Darian Hagan and Clemson’s Brent Venables, who have decided to stay where they were, rather than chasing the next gig.

A fair statement, but these are exceptions which prove the rule. If I remember correctly, there was a comment made during the national championship game that there were no coaches on Nick Saban’s title winning staff who were on the staff in 2017, when the Crimson Tide last won it all.

The coaching life is a nomadic one, with assistants consistently on the move. If they’re not being fired, they’re looking for a promotion.

So, if Chris Wilson has a good year in 2021 as CU’s defensive coordinator, he may be on the move next January.

For me, if we get the first half of the equation “if Chris Wilson has a good year in 2021 as CU’s defensive coordinator” … I’m willing to accept the second part.

Grade: B

Brett Maxie – Defensive Passing Game Coordinator

Brett Maxie was also hired last year by Dorrell and worked with the Buffs’ safeties. A 13-year NFL veteran, he has coached defensive backs for 22 seasons at various levels of football, and now will serve as CU’s defensive passing game coordinator.

“I’m really excited about this opportunity for him, to have a little bit more leadership on our defense and in really getting our back end people shored up to playing great football,” Dorrell said.

Maxie, 59, joined Dorrell’s staff last March, the final hire that completed his staff.  He came to CU from the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he was the defensive coordinator for the 2019 season.  He is a veteran secondary coach of 22 combined seasons between the professional and collegiate ranks, which followed 13-year career as a defensive back in the National Football League (In all, he played in 153 NFL games that included 104 starts).

In 1998, after he retired from playing, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers gave him his start in coaching, as he was the team’s quality control coach along with working with the defensive backs.  He moved on to the San Francisco 49ers for five seasons (1999-2003), the first three seasons as the assistant secondary coach and the last two years (2002-03) as the secondary coach.  Atlanta then hired him as its defensive backs coach for three seasons (2004-06), and then he moved on to the Miami Dolphins for the 2007 season as their secondary coach, with Dallas his next stop, as he was the Cowboys defensive backfield tutor for four years (2008-11).

Maxie then served in a similar capacity for the Tennessee Titans for the 2012 and 2013 seasons, remaining in Nashville for the following two years, coaching Vanderbilt’s entire secondary in 2014 and specifically the cornerbacks in 2015.  In his first year at Vandy, he was on the same staff as Dorrell, who was the Commodores offensive coordinator that season.  He returned to the NFL in 2016 as the secondary coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he would tutor the defensive backs for three seasons (2016-18).  After landing at Tampa Bay (NFC South), he became one the few coaches in NFL history to coach at all four teams in the same division.

Maxie gives CU’s returning defensive backs some continuity in the coaching staff, and – with his NFL experience – will have the ears of players like Christian Gonzalez who have their eyes set on playing in the league.

There was improvement in CU’s passing defense this past season, with the Buffs going from surrendering 288.3 yards/game passing (123rd in the nationally) to 239.2 yards/game (71st nationally) … but there is still a great deal of room for improvement.

We’ll see if giving Maxie more control over the secondary makes a difference …

Grade: B-

Shannon Turley – Strength and Conditioning Coach

There was a great deal of hand-wringing in the Buff Nation when the news broke that CU would not be renewing the contract of strength and conditioning coach Drew Wilson.

Wilson had been on staff for the last five seasons, and earned the praise of head coach Karl Dorrell for his work with the team during the lockdown.

“That strength staff has done a really good job of moving with the signs of the time,” Dorrell said in October. “Whatever has been the protocol for that given week, they’ve been able to adapt and be productive. Whatever it was told that we can do we were able to do. The things that we’re limited on, we’ve got to make the most of what the ordinance was given us at the time.

“Those guys have done a really good job.”

Apparently not good enough.

Popular with the players, there were questions as to why Dorrell would want to make this move. The players had gone through three head coaches in three years, but Wilson had been a source of continuity in the program.

Fans were worried about the move, and were demanding a great hire to justify losing Wilson.

And they got one.

A veteran and one of the nation’s top strength coaches, in 12 years at Stanford under head coaches Jim Harbaugh and David Shaw, the Cardinal won three Pac-12 titles, earning five New Year’s Six bowl berths, with 42 players drafted into the NFL, nine of those earning Pro Bowl status.

Turley is a two-time national strength coach of the year, acknowledged by FootballScoop.com in 2011 and by the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA) in 2013.

At Stanford, he was renowned for his innovate approach to strength training, which included many more components than just weights and conditioning.  Integral parts of his program included sports nutrition education, lifestyle management and sports psychology programming, all of which ensured the optimal physical and mental preparation of Stanford’s athletes. He was also responsible for planning meals for the program’s training table, travel and game days to guarantee optimal nutrition and hydration.  He also collaborated with the sports medicine staff to develop an individualized, sport and position specific, active integration rehabilitation plan to ensure the successful return to competition of all injured players.

What’s not to love.

Well … Despite his success with Stanford, Turley was placed on administrative leave on Feb. 2, 2019, and was fired about two months later, with Stanford issuing a statement that read, “Coach Shannon Turley no longer works at Stanford. As this is a personnel matter, we will not be providing further information.”

Dorrell said CU conducted a background check on Turley and felt comfortable bringing him aboard.

“We’ve done our due diligence with finding out as much information as we could, in terms of his previous employment, things of that nature,” Dorrell said. “No one’s said anything bad about this guy, whether professionally, whether it’s former players, former coaches, administrators there at Stanford. There were no violations, Title IX violations or any unlawful issues or anything like that, which are the key components for hiring anybody.

“We went through an extensive process about that, just to make sure we did what was necessary and we did. We think in the end we came away with a fantastic hire.”

Based upon Turley’s resume, it’s hard to argue with Dorrell’s conclusion.

And, with CU’s players beginning their eight-week workout ramp up to spring practices on Monday, nothing has been lost in terms of off-season preparations.

“It happened in the nick of time,” Dorrell said of getting Turley to Boulder by February 1st. “He’s going to be able to be here and be where he needs to be and get our program started. We’re excited and I know our players are, too.”

I’m going with … if there had been an issue with Turley’s past, Turley would not have passed muster in his background check, and would not have been a viable candidate.

If that’s the case, then it appears that Karl Dorrell scored a home run hire.

Now, Turley has to win over the locker room.

Grade: A- 

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2 Replies to “CU Coaching Moves: Grading the Hires”

  1. Wilson expected; hope he can do the job. Maxie was a bow to his NFL experience. We;’ll see how that translates, but continuity is good at he back on”D.”
    Turley is a home run! Innovative, thorough, Boulder-like in his approach, his long-term success speaks for itself, but it will take time for him to have an overall impact on everybody. When he gets freshmen in, he takes time to learn their weaknesses and imbalances and seeks to correct those, before he starts the hard work. Be interesting to see how he works with a bunch of upperclassmen and how quickly he can get them up to his speed..

    Best hire possible for those injured guys like Landman and C, Miller. Turley knows how to get players back to form and playing, if not better than they were before an injury, as injuries often result from imbalances in a player’s body muscularity, or his approach to his own fitness (diet, sleep, etc.) Reducing Furd’s overall injuries by 80+% speaks for itself, as does his record of AAs and NFL guys. (Fired? He worked for a woman AD, that can be tough if you run afoul of her “fine sensibilities”—just ask women how they like working for a female boss! )

  2. I have no problem w/ the move of Chris Wilson to DC, even if he is only there for a year. I’d rather have good people for a short amount of time who can make an impact than lesser quality who stick around. Having said that, we’ll have to see how good he really is, anyway.

    But, three things happen to good employees: They either end up owning a part of the business, you pay them enough that they don’t have to own a part of the business, or they move on to their next big gig. Option 1 obviously is not an option in college sports, and option 2 probably isn’t an option for CU more often than not, so… you’re left w/ option 3. Dorrell may be the one exception, if he does well at CU b/c he seems very content to be a lifer, if he can be, given where he is in his life now.

    Go Buffs

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