Marching to the Beat of His Own Drummer – Karl Dorrell has a Plan

The 2021 season will be unique in many ways, not the least of which will be the size of team’s rosters. Teams will be filled to overflowing with returning players. Schools will be hard pressed to find their way down to their scholarship limits (which this year is 85-plus returning seniors. In CU’s case, that number is 88, with “super seniors” Sam Noyer, Nate Landman and Kary Kutsch accounting for CU’s “bonus” scholarships).

Colorado entered spring practices several warm bodies over the 88-man limit, meaning that there are several players running around wearing black-and-gold this spring who won’t be on the team come August. What’s more, for every new player coaches may want to add to the fall roster, another current scholarship player will have to go.

From where will the attrition come?

Looking at the current roster, there are a few units which seemed primed for reduction … Tops among them being the tight ends.

CU has 12 tight ends this spring, including five walk-ons, but likely won’t have that many in the fall.

“I’ve never had 12,” CU head coach Karl Dorrell said this past week. “That’s a lot, I get it, but it’s pretty competitive.

“I like that group. It has a lot of different types of players; guys that are more just in the run game and some guys that are just new to the position. It’s a luxury right now, I guess, having 12. The problem is I don’t think we’re going to be able to carry that many going into training camp.”

CU can bring 120 players into fall camp, and Dorrell said the Buffs will have to figure out how to reduce their numbers at tight end.

“I don’t know what that number will adjust to yet but it probably won’t be 12,” he said.

Now … when it was announced on Friday that CU picked up a late addition to the Recruiting Class of 2021, fans were excited.

A defensive back? A defensive lineman? Another linebacker?

Nope … a tight end.

Not just any tight end, but a freshman tight end who only had offers from the likes of Florida A&M, Brown, Fordham and Georgetown. A tight end from football mad Texas … who generated a two-star rating from Rivals, and was not even rated by 247 Sports.

Nothing against Austin Smith. A 6’5″, 220-pound recruit who can run a 11.01 in the 100, Smith might be the answer at tight end that the Buff Nation has been waiting for for over a decade.

But, adding another scholarship player to the roster, when CU is already over the 88-scholarship limit? And another tight end? A Texas prospect who didn’t generate any Group of Five conference offers, much less a Power Five offer?

In Karl we Trust.

If Buff fans have learned anything in the past 14 months since Karl Dorrell was hired, it’s that he has a plan. And that his plan does not conform to ordinary convention.

Convention would have had Dorrell starting Tyler Lytle at quarterback last fall. Lytle was the only quarterback on the roster with any experience, and Lytle’s competition was a true freshman and a converted safety. Buff fans would have forgiven Dorrell for using the 2020 season as a training session for freshman Brendon Lewis. Instead, Dorrell went with Sam Noyer, the third choice for most of the Buff Nation.

All Noyer did was earn second-team All-Pac-12 honors. Not that big a deal? Can you name the last time CU had a quarterback who earned 1st- or 2nd- (or even 3rd-team) all-conference honors? (Answer at the end of the column. Here’s a hint … it’s been awhile).

Convention would have had Dorrell keeping strength and conditioning coach Drew Wilson.

Last October, during the period when only the strength and conditioning staff was allowed to have contact with the players, Dorrell was singing the praises of Drew Wilson:

“I’m glad you brought him up,” Dorrell when asked about Wilson. “Because I’ve been giving him kudos in front of the team and our staff for his dedication from his area and his staff of doing everything within the protocols that have been put on us.”

… “When we had that time period where we only can work out one player at a time, he handled that and they had to work early mornings and late to the evenings,” Dorrell said. “They did that for 10 days.

“He’s kind of an unsung hero right now because he did the job and he didn’t bat an eye about it. He knew we had to get ourselves ready – as ready as we can be for camp and there’s no question that those guys have done a great job with getting us to this point.”

Two months later … Wilson’s contract was not renewed. Dorrell dropped the popular Wilson in exchange for Shannon Turley, who had a stellar record at Stanford (but who left the Cardinal under murky circumstances).

Probably an upgrade in the long run, taking Turley over Wilson … but not the safe move.

Convention would have had Dorrell keeping Tyson Summers on at defensive coordinator. Summers was popular, did not have a bad season in 2020, and perhaps deserved a pass for the final six quarters of poor play from the defense after Nate Landman was lost for the season.

Instead, Dorrell dismissed Summers, promoting defensive line coach Chris Wilson to become the new defensive coordinator.

There are other examples, of course, like Dorrell bringing in an offensive line coach (Mitch Rodrigue) who was last seen coaching high school football in Alabama.

The point being that Karl Dorrell has a vision; a plan. He was a head coach at UCLA for five seasons, taking the Bruins to five bowl games before being dismissed. He has been plotting and planning for a potential return to the head coaching ranks ever since.

He knows what he wants, and what he doesn’t want.

After the 55-23 blowout loss to Texas in the Alamo Bowl, Dorrell said what you would expect the losing coach to say:

“It’s hard for me to imagine any excitement right now,” Dorrell said during his postgame media session. “Even the games that we won this year, it’s really the final impression. That’s kind of the things that are kind of on my mind right now. The way I look at it, we have a tremendous amount of work to go. We’ve got development. We have got a number of issues that we’ve got to get cleaned up, both coaches and players. I’m going to have a lot of work to do this offseason.”

But, here’s the thing … for Dorrell, this wasn’t just coach-speak. His actions since December indicate that basking in the glory of CU’s second winning season in 13 years – and only third bowl appearance in the past 15 years –  was not on his agenda.

A 4-2 record wasn’t good enough. A second-place finish in the Pac-12 South wasn’t good enough.

Dorrell wants more.

Now, time will tell whether using a precious scholarship this week on a two-star tight end with no FBS offers to his name will prove to be a bold move … or a wasted scholarship.

But, until proven otherwise, Karl Dorrell gets the benefit of the doubt. Proof is in the pudding, and, to date, that “pudding” is a team with a winning record and a bowl appearance on its resume, and a roster filled with potential for the 2021 season.

Karl Dorrell may be dancing to the beat of his own drummer at this point, but Buff fans (and the nation’s pundits) would be well advised to join the parade.

Answer to the trivia question – When was the last time CU had a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd-team all conference quarterback? Well, you have to go back quite a ways, all the way to the 20th century in fact, when, in 1999, Mike Moschetti was named to the 3rd-team All-Big-12 team (Joel Klatt, 2002; Sefo Liufau, 2016; and Steven Montez, 2017, were named honorable mention All-Conference).


6 Replies to “Marching to the Beat of His Own Drummer”

  1. I recall that Nate Solder was recruited as a TE out of BV. When nebraska was going good they recruited a lot of high school kids from positions like fullbacks, linebackers etc. that later became very large offensive and defensive lineman. Freshman are only usually about 18 out of HS but many bulk up with better diet and weight training to become much larger by the time they are 21 to 22 and are graduating.

  2. I have to say I agree with you. I see it in your poll a lot. In the coaches we trust. I check that box quite a bit. But the things you called out I know I questioned when they happened. Each and everyone. I think when you did the poll for those back when they happened I probably checked “in the coaches we trust”. Dorrell’s first season was darn near a masterpiece. He took a perennial losing team and won 4. With Landman we likely win 5. He did that without spring ball, wild COVID restrictions. Think about the athletes. Their coach that they had really bought into abandons them. A new guy, no one talked about comes in during what is the most difficult year these guys have likely ever faced. He somehow manages to keep them focused. Gets them to buy in. Motivates them to play their best. We start a true freshman at corner, a kid no one had ever heard of at star, a guy who hasn’t seen the field in who knows how many years at rb, a whole host of freshman wide receivers, and of course a Qi who played safety last year. The best player really does play and start. The guy that is putting in the work, doing the extra things is the one that plays. That will motivate your team. And I don’t think that is an easy choice for many coaches. I suspect Noyer, despite his heroics last year may not be starting. This was our leader during one of the hardest seasons who won in spite of every obstacle and he may not start. I bet he is going to work his tail off and that will make him and his competitors better. And through that he keeps all these young men bought in.

    I gotta say, before the season we heard about how this was going to be a redshirt year. Wasn’t going to count. Then after the amazing season we heard about how we caught UCLA at the right time, Stanford with their qb in a rough spot, dodged USC. I say that is crap. UCLA caught us with a brand new coach with no spring etc. Stanford caught us with a guy who played safety last year at qb. And USC…. well USC owns us. I hate that becuase they are just not that good, talented yes, but spoiled and will fold when punched in the mouth repeatedly. I am afraid like most of us that this was all some kind of mirage. But I am getting better with checking that box “in Dorrell we trust!”

  3. Coach Dorrell has six gotten his teams to bowls in six seasons (5 at UCLA and 1 at CU) as a head coach. His record speaks for itself. Players, former players, and parents speak to his character and work ethic! He will be successful at CU, probably even more successful than his stint at UCLA. The Miami Dolphins JUST missed the playoffs last year and were down and out for years prior to last season. Keep in mind who was Assistant Head Coach of the Dolphins heading into last season. Yes, Coach Dorrell. He definitely has a plan.

  4. I actually liked the signing of the tight end and the Iowa lineman. Look the roster doesn’t have enough talent across the board to really compete a t the high level we all want. If KD doesn’t get moving soon, when will things get to the level he wants them? That Tight end may end up an outside pass rusher or stay TE, either way with his size and foot speed he could really be something at a number of positions. His HS didn’t have a TE position so he was rated against small fast receivers. He runs almost as fast as our track team guys and he catches the ball. The
    Iowa lineman was backing up some very good players and might become a starter here in time. Can’t have enough linemen. As for attrition, that comes when people see their place in the pecking order, and it always happens come spring and summer. We’ll be down to the proper limit as we always do.

  5. A roster filled with potential. Also a coaching staff filled with potential

    Sheesh lots of potential out there. Just like every year.


    I do believe HCKD knows what the heck he is doing.


    Note: The offensive players and coaches need to step up.

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