Gold: Puzzling hire, poor results; Colorado had no choice but to fire Karl Dorrell
For UCLA fans of a certain era, they reacted to Colorado’s initial hiring of Karl Dorrell in 2020 with a bemused glee.
So sorry Buffs fans. https://t.co/rVtcuCz7Kw
— David Woods (@daviddavidwoods) February 22, 2020
Dorrell, an NFL retread with just 1 year of coaching at the college level in the previous dozen — and more importantly, 1 year of recruiting in that interval — was replacing the talented Mel Tucker, who’d left the Buffaloes in a jam to take the Michigan State job.
Hiring Dorrell was as unheralded as it was curious, even if Colorado had ties to him going back nearly three decades.
And then what happened? In a chaotic, COVID season, the Buffaloes opened the season 4-0 and jumped to No. 21 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.
For a moment — or for a month, anyway — Dorrell was the prince of Boulder. Colorado was on the verge of capturing its former glory.
And just as quickly as the magic happened, it all disappeared.
The Buffaloes lost the last 2 games of the abbreviated 2020 campaign, then went 4-8 last year. And this year, they truly bottomed out with one of the worst starts in college football history, with 4 losses by 25-plus points and a 5th by 23 on Saturday, a 43-20 defeat to the same Arizona squad the Buffaloes beat 34-0 at home last year.
The writing was on the wall, and it became chiseled in on Sunday: Colorado fired Dorrell after posting an 8-15 record in the equivalent of 2 years spread across 3 seasons.
Now Colorado will search for its 4th head coach since 2018.
To those disaffected Bruins backers from the mid-aughts, they saw the stamp that Dorrell had left on their program. This day isn’t all that surprising.
Dorrell’s UCLA tenure from 2003-07 was marked by a feeling of what if? As in, what if Dorrell could coach? He could recruit pretty well, and the Bruins had a natural foil at the time — an annually title-contending USC rival — with which to strategize against. “Be the UCLA team that topples Goliath!” was an easy sales pitch at the time.
But Dorrell’s Bruins went 6-7, 6-6, 10-2, 7-6 and 6-6 in his 5 years, done in by questionable scheming, questionable play-calling, quarterback inefficiencies and eventually quarterback injuries.
UCLA’s Scout.com recruiting rankings somewhat mirror those records: No. 29 overall in 2003, then No. 31, No. 22, No. 46 and finally No. 91 in 2007, sounding his death knell.
For Colorado fans, that feels all too familiar.
And familiarity isn’t always a good thing in college football.
Dorrell is the living embodiment of the Peter Principle. That Colorado even chose to hire him is baffling.
Sure, the parties had a history, and Dorrell had a successful run as the Buffaloes’ wide receivers coach in 1992-93 and as offensive coordinator from 1995-98.
But what do they say about familiarity? It breeds something, and it’s not joy.
And Buffaloes fans were rightfully not exactly overjoyed when Colorado hired Dorrell to replace Mel Tucker in February 2020, after Tucker fled Boulder following just 1 marginal 5-7 season to take the head coaching position at Michigan State.
When Dorrell was hired, Colorado athletic director Rick George said he was excited to land Dorrell. He lauded his Pac-12 background in general and stated how it was important to hire a coach with Colorado ties. “Karl shares my passion for Colorado and our vision for winning championships,” George said. “He will be a tremendous mentor and role model for our student-athletes, and he will provide great leadership for our program going forward.”
Going backward, though, wasn’t that pretty. It’s not as if Dorrell’s résumé was littered with accolades.
After getting fired by UCLA in 2007, Dorrell was hired by the Miami Dolphins as wide receivers coach. Miami’s leading receivers the next 2 years were Ted Ginn (790 yards) and Davone Bess (758).
Then came a 1-year stint as Dolphins quarterbacks coach, guiding Matt Moore and Chad Henne to mediocrity, before a 2-year stint as Houston Texans quarterbacks coach, where he led Matt Schaub, not exactly an NFL All-Pro.
Dorrell returned to the college ranks in 2014 for 1 year as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Derek Mason at Vanderbilt. The Commodores went 3-9 and 0-8 in SEC play.
Then he bounced back to the NFL with a 3-year stint as New York Jets wide receivers coach — the Jets went 14-34 — and 1 year as Miami’s assistant head coach and wide receivers coach in 2019. Miami lost 7 straight to open the season and finished 5-11.
You’ll notice one key thing there: From 2008-2019, Dorrell spent precisely 1 season at the college level.
As UCLA found out with Jim Mora Jr. and as Arizona State so stupendously discovered with Herm Edwards, plucking coaches from either the NFL, their couch, or the announcer’s booth, isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
Now comes the hard part for George, who issued a much briefer statement on Sunday announcing Dorrell’s firing.
“I want to thank Karl for his hard work in leading our program since 2020,” George said. “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.”
Dorrell exits with a buyout of nearly $9 million, and George remains with a critical task: Find a head coach who can restore Colorado to its former glory. The Buffaloes were once one of the foremost programs in the country, a national champion in 1990 and a regular New Year’s Day bowl contender. George thought he found his man in Tucker, but Tucker bolted. Dorrell was never the solution
George needs to avoid the NFL ranks this time and go find a Kalen DeBoer or Jake Dickert to lead his team, someone with college football bona fides, no matter the level.
Here’s one thing that is readily apparent, though: This year, anyone would’ve been better than Dorrell.