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CU Buffs officially announce Karl Dorrell as head football coach

Dorrell spent last season coaching receivers with Miami Dolphins

PUBLISHED: | UPDATED:
Karl Dorrell (Courtesy photo/Miami Dolphins)

Karl Dorrell is returning to Buff Nation.

On Sunday, Colorado officially announced that Dorrell has been hired as the 27th full-time head football coach in program history. He will be introduced at a press conference on Monday.

Dorrell, 56, spent last season as the receivers coach for the NFL’s Miami Dolphins and was promoted to assistant head coach by them on Thursday.

Now, he will lead a program for the first time in nearly 13 years, as he replaces Mel Tucker, who left the Buffs on Feb. 11 after one season on the job to take over the program at Michigan State.

Dorrell will become the highest-paid coach in CU history, agreeing to a five-year contract worth $18 million. He will have a salary of $3.2 million this season, with annual raises of $200,000. There will also be several incentives in the agreement. The contract will go to the Board of Regents for approval.

In addition, CU will increase its salary pool for assistant coaches to roughly $3.8 million this year. Last year, the assistant pool was about $3.155 million.

“I’m excited to be back, it’s like coming home,” Dorrell said in a CU press release.  “The thing that excited me about this job is that my experience in the past here for the most part has been very successful.  We had a lot of good teams, went to a lot of good bowl games.  It’s a top caliber program that has a lot of potential, and I’m excited to return it to that level.”

Dorrell is CU’s fifth head coach in the last 10 years and he takes over a program that has had one winning season and two bowl appearances in the last 14 years.

The Buffs have had three consecutive 5-7 seasons and their one bowl appearance in the last 12 seasons ties Kansas for the worst among Power 5 conference teams. The other 62 Power 5 teams have been to at least three bowls in the past 12 years.

CU is hoping Dorrell can get the Buffs back on track.

“I am excited that Karl Dorrell has agreed to become our head football coach,” athletic director Rick George said. “Karl has had great success as a college coach, both as a head coach and an assistant, and he knows the Pac-12 Conference and West Coast well. It was important that our next coach have CU ties, and Karl has those ties having worked at CU twice previously.  Karl shares my passion for Colorado and our vision for winning championships.  He will be a tremendous mentor and role model for our student-athletes, and he will provide great leadership for our program going forward.”

Dorrell’s only previous head coaching experience came at his alma mater, UCLA, from 2003-07, when he went 35-27 with five bowl appearances in his five seasons. He led the Bruins to a 10-2 record in 2005, but was fired after going 13-12 in his final two seasons and finishing with a 1-4 record against rival Southern California.

He has spent 11 of the 12 seasons coaching in the NFL, but was lured back to college football because of his strong ties to CU and Boulder.

Dorrell, who played receiver at UCLA, was the Buffs’ receivers coach in 1992-93 under Bill McCartney, helping the Buffs to a 17-5-2 record and two bowl appearances.

After spending the 1994 season coaching the receivers at Arizona State, he returned to CU and worked as offensive coordinator/receivers coach from 1995-98 under head coach Rick Neuheisel. In those seasons, the Buffs went 33-14 with three bowl games.

During Dorrell’s first two seasons as Buffs’ coordinator, 1995-96, he had a graduate assistant, Lance Carl, helping him with receivers. Carl, now associate athletic director at CU, worked with George on the search for Tucker’s replacement.

CU had never had a receiver reach 1,000 yards in a season until 1992, when Dorrell coached both Charles Johnson (1,149 yards) and Michael Westbrook (1,060 yards) to that milestone. It is still the only time in CU history that two receivers have hit the mark in the same season.

Johnson reached 1,000 yards again in 1993. From 1995-98 at CU, Dorrell coached two-time 1,000-yard receiver Rae Carruth.

During his six total seasons at CU, Dorrell coached seven players who rank among the top 20 in school history for catches: Westbrook (fourth, 167 catches, 2,548 yards); Phil Savoy (sixth, 152 for 2,176); Javon Green (10th, 136 for 2,031); Carruth (11th, 135 for 2,540); Johnson (13th, 127 for 2,447); Daniel Graham (16th, 106 for 1,543) and Darrin Chiaverini (19th, 97 for 1,199).

In 1999, Dorrell followed Neuheisel to Washington and then worked for three years (2000-02) as the receivers coach for the Denver Broncos.

With the Broncos, Dorrell coached receivers Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey. He’s also coached Robby Anderson, Ted Ginn Jr., Jermaine Kearse and Brandon Marshall in the NFL. Under Dorrell’s tutelage, Miami’s DeVante Parker led all AFC wide receivers in yards last season, with 1,202.

In 2003, he was hired as the head coach at UCLA. His original coaching staff with the Bruins included former CU players/coaches Jon Embree and Eric Bieniemy. CU’s all-time leading rusher, Bieniemy was reportedly a top candidate for the Buffs’ head coaching job this time around, but elected to remain in his job as offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Since being fired by UCLA, Dorrell has worked for the Dolphins (2008-11, 2019), Houston Texas (2012-13) and New York Jets (2015-18). He has primarily coached receivers, but coached quarterbacks with the Dolphins in 2011 and with the Texas in 2012-13.

During the 2014 season, Dorrell was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Vanderbilt, but was fired at the end of the season.

Dorrell’s daughter, Lauren, played for the CU volleyball team from 2016-18 before transferring to Auburn last year. According to a source, Dorrell had a house built in the Boulder area last year.

Dorrell is the fifth former CU assistant to become head coach, joining Frank Potts, Neuheisel, Gary Barnett and Embree.

This is the latest head coaching hire in the Football Bowl Subdivision since Baylor hired Jim Grobe on May 30, 2016.

For CU, this is the latest hire since Bill McCartney on June 9, 1982. Three years earlier, Chuck Fairbanks did not arrive until April 4 after a court battle between CU and the New England Patriots.

“I know Karl from his past stints at CU, and am confident that his character, experience and passion for leading student-athletes makes him the right fit at the right time for our program,” CU chancellor Philip DiStefano said.  “I want to thank Rick George for his leadership, as well as our student-athletes for their dedication to the program during two coaching changes in the past 15 months.  They are fine representatives of our university, and I know their character and enthusiasm will mesh well with coach Dorrell as he leads the team toward re-establishing our football program as a top-tier competitor in our conference and nationally.”

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