Colorado fires football coach Karl Dorrell after disastrous start to season
Colorado has fired head football coach Karl Dorrell just five games into his third season in Boulder, ending a tenure that had plunged the program into the depths of historic despair after starting off with a 4-0 record in 2020.
Colorado announced the move Sunday after the Buffaloes (0-5) suffered a 43-20 defeat Saturday night at Arizona. It was only the fourth time in 133 years of CU football that the team started 0-5. It also was the first time the Buffs ever started with five straight losses decided by at least 23 points.
Dorrell finished with an 8-15 record at Colordo and was 4-15 since his 4-0 start. This year, his team has been outscored 216-67, leading to the termination of defensive coordinator Chris Wilson on Sunday as well. CU's interim head coach for the rest of the season will be offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, the former head coach at Western Kentucky.
“I want to thank Karl for his hard work in leading our program since 2020,” CU Athletic Director Rick George said in a statement Sunday. “Ultimately, however, the results on the field just did not measure up to our expectations and standards, which made it necessary for us to make this change at this time. It was an extremely difficult decision and I wish Karl all of the best in his future endeavors."
According to the terms of his contract, Dorrell is entitled to claim about $8.7 million for the remaining time left on his five-year, $18 million contract through 2024. He also has a duty to mitigate that amount by seeking employment elsewhere and using his pay at his next job to reduce what CU owes him.
His firing means CU will be looking for its fourth head coach since the 2018 season, when it fired Mike MacIntyre and later agreed to pay him a $7.2 million settlement to buy out his contract.
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It also marks another low point for CU football, a former national heavyweight program that won a share of the national championship in January 1991, a Heisman Trophy in 1994 and a Big 12 Conference championship in 2001. After that, the Buffaloes have mostly struggled in the 21st century, especially since joining the Pac-12 Conference in 2011.
They have had only two winning seasons in the previous 16 years, including the pandemic-shortened season of 2020, when they finished 4-2 in Dorrell’s first year. After leaving the Big 12 in 2011, they also have fired three head coaches – Jon Embree in 2012, MacIntyre in 2018 and now Dorrell.
Another head coach, Mel Tucker, was hired to replace MacIntyre but only spent one season in Boulder in 2019 before leaving for Michigan State, which more than doubled his CU pay of about $2.4 million despite his one-year record of 5-7.
That led CU to Dorrell in February 2020.
“It just worked out to be a perfect scenario for me,” he said later that year.
The situation almost seemed to come by accident. Searching for stability after Tucker’s abrupt departure, George thought he found it in Dorrell, a coach with decades of college and pro experience who already happened to own a home in Boulder County. Dorrell, 58, also had a connection to CU’s national glory days of the 1990s, when he had served as an assistant coach under head coach Rick Neuheisel and CU coaching legend Bill McCartney.
But then the bottom fell out after that 4-0 start. His team went 0-2 the rest of the way in 2020 with two losses of at least 17 points. Then the Buffs went 4-8 in 2021, when the normally mild-mannered Dorrell at one point had to apologize for smacking a news media camera in frustration after a blowout loss against Southern California.
This year, like last year, the Buffs often appeared to be overmatched or incompetent on offense, where they tried three different starters at quarterback. Their defense got plowed over, too, ranking last out of 131 major college teams in rushing yards allowed per game before Saturday with 323.3. The star power on their roster also had been dimmed after they lost several top players to other schools in the transfer portal earlier this year, including receiver Brenden Rice (USC), cornerback Mekhi Blackmon (USC) and running back Jarek Broussard (Michigan State).
Such departures added to the angst among CU fans and alumni, who had been largely underwhelmed by Dorrell’s hiring in 2020, even as they accepted it under the circumstances.
That’s because of his history, which didn’t exactly make him a hot coaching candidate at the time. Dorrell previously had been fired as head coach at UCLA, where he led the Bruins to a bowl game every year from 2003 through 2007 but never at the elite level craved by school leaders and boosters. He then served as an assistant coach with several NFL teams, except for one season as offensive coordinator at Vanderbilt in 2014, when he was fired after the Commodores finished 3-9.
His reputation for bland offenses then continued at CU. It even got so bad last year that Dorrell overhauled his coaching staff. This year, George felt compelled to release a statement to CU supporters after a 49-7 loss at Minnesota Sept. 17.
“I want you to know that I hear you,” he said in the statement on Sept. 18. “I recognize and understand your disappointment and frustration and perhaps, even anger. We have not come close to meeting our expectations this season and we own that.”
Dorrell was fired two weeks later.
“I fully support Rick in making this difficult decision to dismiss Coach Dorrell,” CU Chancellor Philip DiStefano said in a statement Sunday. “The football team is an important part of the university and I know our students, alumni, and fans have high expectations for a winning product on the field. I thank Coach Dorrell for his dedication to CU Boulder and his unwavering commitment to our student-athletes.”
Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org