Colorado on Sunday became the second Pac-12 school this fall, and the fifth in the past 13 months, to make an in-season coaching change.
If you watched the Buffaloes for just a few minutes in any of their five games, the move should come as zero surprise.
They have been awful — the worst team in the Power Five, dreadful on both sides of the ball, careening toward 0-12.
But there is a lot to unpack about this dismissal, specifically to CU’s situation and more broadly as it pertains to the Pac-12’s massive turnover in recent years: Seven schools have experienced coaching changes since the end of the 2020 season.
We’ll get to that momentarily. First, a few thoughts on Dorrell:
— The downfall was stunning in its speed and ferocity.
Just 22 months ago, in Dec. 2020, he was named Pac-12 Coach of the Year for guiding the Buffaloes through the pandemic season with a 4-2 record and impressive steadiness-of-hand.
The performance was remarkable given that Dorrell had been hired a few weeks before the COVID shutdown the previous spring.
But in less than two seasons — 17 games, in fact — he went from Coach of the Year to unemployed.
Yes, the trajectory mirrors that of former Colorado coach Mike MacIntyre, who was named conference Coach of the Year and won a division title in 2016, then was fired two years later.
But there’s one important difference: MacIntyre had a pre-breakthrough body of work in Boulder that (right or wrong) helped frame the decision. Dorrell did not.
— Yes, CU’s performance on the field was abysmal, but there were other forces of erosion at work:
1. His own roster and staff mismanagement. Dorrell, who made some of the most confounding staff hires we have seen in ages, admitted last winter that he had prioritized recruiting over making sure his current players were happy. The best ones weren’t, and they headed to the transfer portal en masse. That was, in our view, the beginning of the end.
2. Dorrell’s best season — his only good season — was the COVID year. But everything about that fall was so screwy that his success didn’t resonate as deeply with CU constitutes as it would have under a normal, 12-game schedule. It was easy to chalk up the wins to the unprecedented circumstances and not assign full credit to Dorrell and his staff.
3. His appointment, in Feb. 2020, was surprising, unusual and met with criticism in many corners. A longtime NFL assistant, he hadn’t coached in college in more than a decade and wasn’t a hot name on the market. He wasn’t even on the market, in fact. As a result, his cache was low, and fan skepticism was high. He lacked the goodwill that highly- coveted new coaches receive early in their tenure. Once the program took a turn for the worse, foundational public support was scarce.
— Of course, the unusual hire was the offshoot of unusual circumstances, with Michigan State effectively doubling Mel Tucker’s salary in Feb. 2020 after his first season with the Buffaloes.
Rocked and shocked by Tucker’s departure, Colorado’s administration was desperate for stability and believed Dorrell, a former CU assistant who built his retirement home in Boulder, would provide the desired long-haul answer.
Instead, he was in over his head and out of a job.
Athletic director Rick George and chancellor Phil DiStefano cannot make the same mistake. The Buffaloes must hire the best coach available, even if they think he thinks CU is a stepping-stone job.
If he turns into a dynamo and leaves after a few years, so be it. At least the program will be in a better place, the job more desirable than it is now.
— Dorrell is the seventh head coach to leave the conference since Dec. 2020. Six have been fired (or quit), while one left for another job.
In chronological order …
Dec. 2020: Arizona fires Kevin Sumlin for poor performance
Sept. 2021: USC fires Clay Helton for poor performance
Oct. 2021: WSU fires Nick Rolovich for failing to comply with a state vaccine mandate
Nov. 2021: Washington fires Jimmy Lake following a suspension for striking a player.
Dec. 2021: Mario Cristobal leaves Oregon for Miami, his alma mater
Sept. 2022: Herm Edwards “relinquishes” his post at Arizona State following a home loss to Eastern Michigan — and with his program under NCAA investigation.
Oct. 2022: Colorado fires Dorrell for poor performance.
It all makes the SEC seem stable by comparison.
If you’re looking for a trend, allow us to help.
Too often in the past six or eight years, Pac-12 schools have hired coaches who are unqualified or marginally qualified to run a major college football program in this day and age.
Some of them were out of work — or out of coaching — when the phone rang.
Arizona hired Sumlin a few months after he had been fired by Texas A&M.
ASU hired Edwards away from the ESPN studios; he hadn’t coached anywhere in 10 years or coached in college in 40.
When Colorado hired Dorrell, he had spent 11 of the previous 12 years as an assistant in the NFL.
Lake was an extremely successful assistant/coordinator at UW but had no head coaching experience.
Helton was promoted from within by a previous (bumbling) USC administration.
Over and over, Pac-12 schools hired coaches who hadn’t won, were on the downside of their career or weren’t even coaching — and the results were predictable.
Not every hire needs to be Lincoln Riley, because not every school is USC. In fact, none of them are USC. But that doesn’t preclude them from making a shrewd hire.
Does anyone think Kalen DeBoer was a bad hire? Of course not. And DeBoer was a successful head coach at the FBS level (Fresno State) when Washington grabbed him last winter.
Unlike Dorrell, DeBoer understands modern recruiting and the transfer portal.
Unlike Edwards, DeBoer isn’t trying to reinvent coaching with some destined-to-fail NFL model.
Unlike Helton, DeBoer has been a successful college head coach.
We’re skeptical that any of the coaches Colorado fans want to hire would actually accept the job, but there are good coaches out there.
Heck, the worst Power Five program in the country, Kansas, recently hired a phenomenal coach, Lance Leipold, after his six-year run at Buffalo.
Colorado and Arizona State are in the same spot, with two months to identify candidates and form a plan of attack.
Both made unconventional hires who backfired.
Neither can afford another whiff.
Don’t overthink it. Don’t get cute. Just hire a good coach, give him enough cash to hire a quality staff, and move forward from there.
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