Rooney: Karl Dorrell an ill-fated fit from the start with CU Buffs

Oct. 2—It was an ill-timed fit pretty much from the start.

Some of that, initially, was fate as much as it was any shortcoming of Karl Dorrell. But time couldn't hide the truth. The deeper Dorrell's imprint became on the Colorado football program, the worse the Buffaloes performed.

If Dorrell's CU tenure was a graph, that arrow has been descending rapidly toward the bottom right corner for nearly two full years.

The misery of Buffs fans aghast at the depths of program erosion under Dorrell's watch finally ended on Sunday, as CU athletic director Rick George announced the Dorrell experiment was over after 23 games and an 8-15 record. The house cleaning also swept aside defensive coordinator Chris Wilson, whose shared vision with Dorrell of shifting the Buffs from a 3-4 front to a 4-3 has been an abject disaster.

It will be offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford, hired less than 10 months ago, taking over as interim head coach.

In the end, the downward spiral was too obvious for George to ignore. Dorrell guided the Buffs to a surprising 4-0 start during the shortened and delayed 2020 pandemic season, earning the Pac-12 Coach of the Year honor along the way. That asterisk start proved to be the high point.

Since then, the Buffs have gone 4-15, playing progressively worse along the way. The only one of those 15 losses that was by fewer than 15 points was last year's 10-7 defeat against then-No. 5 Texas A&M in Denver. Last year, the Buffs boasted one of the worst offenses in the nation. Despite wholesale changes on the offensive staff, CU's offense again has been dreadful. This year the Buffs have at least been more balanced. Wilson's unit and its 4-3 front has been one of the worst defenses in the country, and is coming off what is, statistically, one of the worst defensive efforts in program history.

For George, the opportunity at hand is one he can't fumble. George's track record across the board during his tenure at CU is commendable, but the football component hasn't happened. It is widely agreed that George made a sound pick in tabbing Mel Tucker to replace Mike MacIntyre in George's first opportunity to hire a football coach. It wasn't George's fault Tucker bolted in February of 2020 for money CU wasn't going to pay.

Finding Dorrell at an awkward stage of the calendar wasn't the mistake the contract was. Regardless, the entire Dorrell era felt like a scramble. From the onset of the COVID pandemic to the shortened 2020 season to all the transfer-portaling and staff shakeups since, it was an eternal shuffle, a constant reboot without ever attaining a clean template to work with. When Year 3 of a coaching tenure has the feel of Year 1, that tenure is unlikely to reach Year 4.

George now has the time to invest in this decision that he didn't have previously. He has to make the most of it. Not just in finding a shrewd Xs and Os strategist. The long-suffering enthusiasm of Buffs fans needs to be rejuvenated. George has to find a leader who not only will take control of the locker room and establish a clear, definitive vision for the program, but the next coach must also rekindle the battered confidence of Buff Nation. Fans couldn't wait to clear out Folsom Field in each of the two dreary home losses so far this season. Win or lose, that has to change.

George's next football hire likely will define his term at CU. Making this move in early October allows George a chance to perhaps dive into a more all-encompassing state-of-the Buffs football analysis. Chances are he has a shortlist of candidates in mind. It's equally plausible, at this early stage, the name of the person who ultimately fills the role has yet to reach George's ears.

Some matters — like the lack of funds that allowed Tucker to walk, regents who aren't fully invested in athletics — are beyond George's control. But asking hard questions (Why are there competitive teams in Corvallis and Pullman, but not Boulder?) and making shrewd assessments on why the program has floundered for the better part of 17 years will offer the first step out of the unfulfilling cycle of hiring, crossing fingers, firing, repeating.

Despite those financial and bureaucratic restraints, there is zero reason CU can't soon become the Kansas, 5-0 for the first time in 13 years, of 2023 or 2024. Regardless of the struggles it remains an attractive job.

George will have options, and he vowed on Sunday night to take his time to find the right fit. To borrow parlance from another sport, he needs to work the count before hitting a home run.