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Colorado football: Gerald Chatman embracing tough challenge with Buffs

Defensive line coach promoted to coordinator role this week

DL coach, Gerald Chatman, during University of Colorado football practice on August 12, 2022.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)
DL coach, Gerald Chatman, during University of Colorado football practice on August 12, 2022.(Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Former LSU head coach Ed Orgeron is one of many people to reach out to Colorado’s Gerald Chatman this week as he takes on a daunting challenge.

A year ago, Chatman was working for Orgeron as a defensive analyst at LSU. Now, as of Sunday, he’s running the Buffs’ defense.

“When I woke up (Sunday), I was motivated and energized as I usually am to do what I was called to do, which was coach the D-line,” Chatman said. “I was called to do something else that day and I instantly accepted the calling and the challenge and got right to work.”

Following a 43-20 loss at Arizona on Saturday night that dropped the Buffs to 0-5 (0-2 Pac-12), CU fired head coach Karl Dorrell and defensive coordinator Chris Wilson. Mike Sanford is the interim head coach and the keys to the defense were handed to the 34-year-old Chatman, who was hired just seven months ago to coach the Buffs’ defensive line.

In his 13 years as a coach, Chatman has never been a coordinator, so he’s soaking up the advice of Orgeron and others as he embarks on a new journey. Chatman, however, is mainly leaning on his fellow coaches at CU and relying on his own experience to carry him through.

“When the opportunity came up, I hit the ground running,” he said. “All my focus has been on the defensive staff to start, to make sure that we’re all led the same way and that we’re all on the same page and we have an understanding. We have an open dialogue to be able to discuss everything and vet everything out before we go to the players. That’s what we’ve been doing the last couple of days.”

During its ugly start, CU has had many issues on both sides of the ball, but the defense has been particularly substandard in recent weeks. Arizona shredded the Buffs for 673 yards (fourth-most ever allowed by CU) and 36 first downs (third-most allowed).

Five games into the season, CU ranks last (out of 131 FBS schools) in run defense (294.2 yards per game) and 129th in pass efficiency defense (168.04 opponent QB rating) and scoring defense (allowing 43.2 points per game).

As he takes over as coordinator, Chatman is returning to the basics.

“We have to change our traits first,” he said. “How we look, how we take the field, our energy, our sense of urgency. Overall, what you see besides the scheme and being sound, we have to change our traits and we’ve been talking to the entire team about that.

“An outside eye could look and they ask the question, ‘Do these guys believe?’ I think that what we need to change and what we’re going to change is to the outside eye, you’re not going to have to ask that question. You’re going to look at the team and say that they believe. … I’m gonna give them everything I’ve got and give them my heart, and the coaches are gonna do the same thing.”

That’s only a starting point, however. The Buffs have been a mess fundamentally all season, with numerous missed tackles and assignments. Chatman’s biggest challenge might be in fixing that aspect of the defense.

“Scheme wise, we’re going to be sound and we’re gonna put guys in the right position to be successful, give ourselves a chance,” he said. “When you do that and when you’re sound, then tackling improves, and the takeaways improve.

“(Being sound is) to make sure that everyone on the defense has a clear understanding of what they can do, where they should align, what their responsibility is and then what their technique is. That’s going to be huge. … We’re going to make sure that the guys know what to do and how to do it.”

As a first-time coordinator with very little time to prepare, Chatman is grateful for this week’s bye. He said this week would be “like a mini training camp” as the Buffs prepare for their next game, Oct. 15 at Folsom Field against California (noon MT, Pac-12 Network). He hopes that day kicks off a seven-game stretch of better defense.

“It’s not just going to be me making the perfect call, but I think it’s going to be the process and our preparation and our energy and who we are and how we carry ourselves when everybody is not around,” he said. “When those things change, the things that you do see, I believe they can change. It’s still gonna be very challenging, but that’s what we’re gonna fight and work to do.”