In 1988, Karl Dorrell got his start in the coaching business as a graduate assistant at UCLA.
The 24-year-old Dorrell helped his alma mater finish 10-2 that fall, including a victory in the Cotton Bowl.
“I was having success and like, ‘I’m never getting fired. I’m gonna be great at this,’” Dorrell said this week in looking back at his start in the coaching profession.
It didn’t take long for Dorrell to realize there isn’t a lot of job security in coaching. Like all coaches who are in the business awhile, he’s been fired a few times.
Now 58 years old and entering his third season as the head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes, Dorrell is fueled every day by knowing his job security comes not in a contract, but with the results on the field.
“We’re in a business of winning,” he said. “I’ve always tried to just stay in the moment about coaching your guys to be the best they can be, regardless of whatever the environment is. I told (athletic director) Rick George that I’m approaching this year as if it’s my last year. I say that to him every year because I want that level of stress. That kinda feeds that inner monster inside when you do have success, which I think this team will have. It’s a great feeling, just knocking off the chips as you go and the naysayers as you go. It’s making progress.”
Coming off a 4-8 season in 2021, Dorrell is well aware of the task in front of him. He’s in the third year of a five-year contract and that makes this a pivotal year for him at CU. Dorrell isn’t thinking about his contract, however.
In preparing for this season, which begins Friday when the Buffs host TCU at Folsom Field, Dorrell is consumed by the desire to bring a collection of veterans and youngsters together to win – and he believes he has done that.
“At the end of the day, if I were not here (in the future) and I’m not the leader of this program, this program is in such better shape than when I got here,” he said.
Some pundits disagree, as there are plenty of naysayers.
Graduation and the transfer portal took several of the Buffs’ best players out of Boulder. Many of them are being replaced by freshmen or sophomores that haven’t played much or at all for CU and therefore the expectations outside of the Champions Center are low.
Most projections have the Buffs finishing last in the Pac-12. The Athletic put them 11th, just ahead of an Arizona State team in disarray. Still, The Athletic projects only two wins for CU.
To feed the inner monster – and to prevent this from truly being his last year in Boulder – Dorrell has a quality group of veterans, but he must rely on a large collection of young players that haven’t proven themselves.
Asked if he’s nervous about relying on so many 18 and 19-year-olds this season, Dorrell smiled and said, “I’m actually excited.”
Some of those youngsters, such as cornerbacks Kaylin Moore and Nikko Reed and safeties Tyrin Taylor and Trevor Woods, played as backups in 2021. So did receivers Chase Penry and Ty Robinson.
Others, such as true freshmen Dylan Dixson, Eoghan Kerry, Jordyn Tyson and Joshua Wiggins haven’t played a snap at CU. Redshirt freshmen Caleb Fauria, Devin Grant, Tyas Martin and Ryan Williams have just a few minutes of game time under their belt.
Experience matters and those young Buffs don’t have it. What has Dorrell excited, however, is the mindset of his young players.
“They want it; they want that opportunity to make a play for their offense or their defense,” he said. “They’re really confident and they’re really talented. Just because they’re young, I don’t feel like that’s the excuse. Get them in there and play.
“I’ve got old guys that don’t want to play in the heat of the moment. I want a guy that wants to. I couldn’t tell you that was the case in tough moments the last couple of years, but our young guys stepped up. Nikko Reed steps up. I like these young guys that have this confidence that the game is not bigger than them. I love kids like that. Regardless of their age, those are the guys I want to go to bat with.”
Whether or not there’s enough moxie in the youngsters to help CU prove people wrong remains to be seen, but Dorrell firmly believes that the young players on the roster will make a positive impact on the program.
“Bottom line is, to build it right, like we’ve done, and for the type of players we have in the program now that are more committed and inspired and competitive; great work ethic, things like that – those things were missing from the bulk of this team when I first got here,” he said. “I think the makeup of this team is actually much, much better than it was with last year’s team. And to be quite honest with you, I would be more concerned if everybody was back from last year. We wouldn’t be where we are right now.
“My job is to get it turned around. Now we’re at that point, it’s turned around and now we’re ready to win.”