Homecoming: Karl Dorrell returns to Boulder as head coach

February 24, 2020 GMT
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Karl Dorrell poses for a photograph overlooking Folsom Field after a news conference to announce that he is the new NCAA college head football coach at Colorado during a news conference Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
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Karl Dorrell poses for a photograph overlooking Folsom Field after a news conference to announce that he is the new NCAA college head football coach at Colorado during a news conference Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, in Boulder, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — Scratch house hunting off the priority list for Karl Dorrell.

The newly appointed Colorado head coach already has one in the area. He and his family built it about 1 1/2 years ago because, after two successful stints with the Buffaloes as an assistant coach, the place just always felt like home.

Next on the agenda: Build the Buffaloes back into a contender.

Dorrell steps in for Mel Tucker, who bolted for Michigan State following a 5-7 season that had many in Boulder believing — especially after landing a top-35 recruiting class — that the team was finally on the right path.


The 56-year-old Dorrell wants to expand on that footprint. In a nearly hour-long introductory news conference Monday, Dorrell preached family, stability and commitment.

“I’m here for the long haul,” Dorrell said. “This is my dream job. You’ll get the best out of me. I’m sure it will be reflected in the players that play on Saturdays. I’m happy to be back home.”

Earlier this month, Tucker flirted with Michigan State while talking about commitment to Colorado. He eventually left after one season in Boulder for a hefty pay increase.

Athletic director Rick George vowed to act quickly to find his replacement.

The Buffaloes were rumored to be interested in Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian, Air Force head coach Troy Calhoun and New York Giants linebackers coach Bret Bielema as Darrin Chiaverini served the role of interim coach.

Initially, Dorrell’s name wasn’t in the mix. He didn’t raise his hand, either, because he wanted to avoid stepping on toes.

More specifically, those of Bieniemy, a longtime friend.

But when the Buffaloes eventually reached out, Dorrell took their call.

“They were like, ‘Hey, would you be interested in this job?’” said Dorrell, who had recently been promoted to assistant head coach of the Miami Dolphins after one season as receivers coach. “That kind of floored me.”

It was a fast courtship with Dorrell, who served under Colorado head coaches Bill McCartney and Rick Neuheisel in the 1990s.

As it happened, Dorrell was returning to Colorado last Thursday to visit his family before heading to the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. The Buffaloes set up an interview with him Friday down the road in Lafayette. He checked plenty of boxes, too, including a familiarity with the program (the Buffs went 50-19-1 while he was there as an assistant).


Soon after, Dorrell became their 27th full-time head football coach.

“He was a key part of our success at a time period when Colorado football was relevant — when people came in here and knew that they were going to play a tough football team,” George said. “He knows it can be done.”

To help ensure that, Colorado is proposing a salary pool of $3.8 million for assistant coaches, which is up from nearly $3.2 million for Tucker’s staff. Dorrell said he’s going to carefully weigh his assistant coaches.

“Our staff will consist of great teachers,” said Dorrell, who’s starting to prepare for spring practice next month. “I consider myself a teacher.”

On social media, the news was met with mixed reaction among Buffaloes faithful. Dorrell’s only other head coaching gig was with UCLA when he went 35-27 from 2003-07.

“Trust me,” said George, who has asked the Board of Regents to approve a five-year contract for Dorrell worth $18 million plus incentives. “When we hired Mel there were a lot of people who had that same reaction of, ‘Who the hell is this guy? He’s a defensive coordinator. He’s never never been a head coach.’

“I’m confident that we’ve found the right coach for Colorado to not only build the program into a champion contender but have extended success for a long period of time.”

Among those in attendance Monday was basketball coach Tad Boyle, who has the No. 21 Buffaloes off to a 21-7 record.

“I’m really impressed with his demeanor, how solid he is,” Boyle said of Dorrell. “It’s exciting for the program and for the university.”

Although an offensive-minded coach, Dorrell stressed that defense would be Colorado’s calling card.

“If I have a great defense, they’re turning the ball over and giving me more turns on offense,” Dorrell said. “And that’s what an offensive coach wants — more turns because you get more points.”

Dorrell said he met with the seniors Sunday night and the rest of the players Monday.

His message was simple: Think big.

“I want them to reach for the stars,” Dorrell said. “I want them to put themselves out there and go for what you think is attainable. As a supporter of that, I want to give them whatever I can to get them to obtain that goal.”


AP Freelancer Monica Costello contributed to this report.


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