Rooney: Clock ticking on Karl Dorrell's quest to reverse fortunes of Colorado football

·3 min read

Sep. 22—If you're the glass-half-full type of Colorado football fan, presumably with a glass half-full of something strong enough to distort reality, the start of Pac-12 play represents a chance to wipe the slate and start over.

If the Buffaloes' pervasive ineptitude continues over the next nine days, at most, then athletic director Rick George will have no choice but to do the same with the Colorado football program.

The plot lines abound this week as the Buffs' fruitless quest to get on track continues at Folsom Field on Saturday in the Pac-12 opener against UCLA. The Bruins, of course, gave CU's Karl Dorrell his first shot at a head coaching gig nearly two decades ago. He was fired after going 35-27 in five seasons (24-18 in the Pac-10) with five bowl berths, which seems like a gluttony of riches compared to the current state of the Buffs.

On the opposite sideline, of course, will be former Buffs receiver/recruiting coordinator/offensive coordinator Darrin Chiaverini, who no doubt has suppressed a few telling grins as the Bruins put together a 3-0 start, no matter how tenuously, while the Buffs' offense continues to flounder.

Chiaverini was part of a staff purge following the 2021 season in which Dorrell looked to reboot an offense that finished among the worst in the nation. The Buffs remain fully immersed in those depths. And at this rate, the next in line to be purged is Dorrell.

This was not a season surrounded by high expectations, so the galling part isn't the 0-3 start. It's that the Buffs have been outscored 128-30 and have been thoroughly outclassed. CU has scored just three touchdowns but only one of consequence, with the other two arriving firmly within garbage time. The last two games have featured Buffs turnovers right out of the gate that pretty much squashed hopes of upset bids within minutes of kickoff. The defense has been repeatedly worn down and gashed.

Clearly, the Buffs have regressed under Dorrell, whose program has gone 4-13 since the unexpected 4-0 start to the 2020 pandemic season. The next two weeks — first against UCLA, then at Arizona — present two of the best opportunities, and perhaps the last, for the Buffs to display some fight. If not? It's difficult to foresee George letting Dorrell's misery continue beyond the bye week following the trip to Arizona.

Much has been made about CU's ability to absorb the remainder of Dorrell's contract. But at what point is it even more costly — to perception, prestige and reputation — to keep going on national TV only to be on the embarrassing end of a 35-0 score by halftime? Yes, the price tag drops to about $7.8 million after Dec. 31, but that fails to take into account continuing to pay Dorrell up to that date. Essentially, Dorrell will be owed the remaining balance of his contract. Which at this moment is roughly $8.7 million.

There are mitigating factors that make that sum less daunting than it appears. CU does not have to come up with that lump sum, but instead would pay the buyout in monthly installments over the course of about two years. Furthermore, the final tally of Dorrell's buyout, should it come to that, would be lessened appreciably by any future employment. Think what you will of Dorrell's ability to lead an FBS-level program, but he's a coaching lifer, still has gas in the tank (he turns 59 in December), and has a valued reputation at the NFL level. The idea he would be fired, head home and kick his feet up, and just cash checks from CU for the next few years is far-fetched.

After Saturday, CU doesn't play at home again until Oct. 15 against Cal. Continue to average just one "real" touchdown every three games against the upcoming lightweights, and it's easy to wonder what the sideline leadership will look like by then.