Buffs AD George Has High Praise For Dorrell's Performance
BOULDER — There's no way Colorado Athletic Director Rick George could have known last February that a pandemic was about to shut down the entire college sports world.
But now, roughly nine months after George introduced Karl Dorrell as the Buffaloes' new football coach on Feb. 23, George is quite certain about one thing:
His coaching search yielded the perfect man for the Buffs in an unprecedented time. Dorrell not only brought an immediate measure of stability and trust to the program, his calm-but-focused demeanor became a critical factor in guiding CU through pandemic ups and downs.
"He was exactly what we needed," George said in a Monday afternoon press conference. "We needed that calm presence, stability. He has that. Everything we threw at him, he'd say, 'OK, we'll do what we have to do.'"
Almost as soon as he arrived, Dorrell faced issues that could have crippled a program in CU's circumstances for years to come.
Dorrell became the Buffaloes' third head coach in three years. He took the reins at an abnormally late juncture in the "coaching change cycle." He had his first spring ball session canceled, then saw every player sent home when campus life virtually came to a standstill.
That was followed by an abbreviated summer schedule, setting the stage for the Pac-12's now-infamous "we're playing, we're not playing, we're playing" decision loop that ultimately resulted in Colorado not kicking off its season until Nov. 7 (and Dorrell not seeing his team on the field until 228 days after he was hired).
But through it all, Dorrell never wavered. Never complained. Never looked for someone to blame.
He simply went to work. That ethic and demeanor spread through the locker room, and when the Buffs finally had a chance to play, they responded with a 4-1 finish, a stint in the nation's top 25 and a Valero Alamo Bowl berth against Texas.
Monday, he was recognized for his efforts by being named one of nine national finalists for the Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year award.
"I don't think there was a more perfect coach for us than Karl Dorrell this past year," George said.
George also drew parallels to successful teams with which he has been associated previously in his career.
"When we won in '90-91 (at Colorado), we had that same kind of locker room," he said. "When we won with the Texas Rangers (where he served as president of business operations), we had the same kind of leadership in the clubhouse. That's part of it. But the man at the top — the players and student-athletes emulate him. They don't get too down, they don't get too excited. They've done a great job. I credit that to Karl. It's his demeanor, it's the way he handles things, it's his confidence. The players play that way."
Somehow fittingly, Dorrell's team was on the practice field Monday morning when the Robinson finalists were announced.
When informed during his weekly press conference that he had earned the recognition, Dorrell said he was honored — but quickly added, "I have a great coaching staff, I have great players who want to do something special and get this program into a better position. There's a lot that goes into that, and I'm appreciative and honored by the recognition. But it is a team effort."
RESPECT: George was asked whether he felt Colorado was slighted in any way last week when the Buffaloes were forced into "standby" mode. When Washington dropped out of the Pac-12 title game, it left the Buffs in the unenvious position of being the backup in case either USC or Oregon dropped out, meaning CU had to spend the week preparing for two possible opponents.
Of course, the Buffs played neither, and thus ended up spending the weekend at home.
"I appreciate the commissioner's empathy, but we don't need anybody's empathy," George said. "We knew what we were getting into. We had our eyes wide open when the protocols were in place. We knew what was going on. I don't know that they treated us any different than anybody else that was in our position."
Still, Colorado became one of the few teams in the conference that had three games canceled because of the opponent's coronavirus issues.
Now, George said, the Buffs can continue to earn respect in the Alamo Bowl, then next season when Colorado's non-conference schedule includes Texas A&M and Minnesota.
"I appreciate people having empathy," he reiterated. "But we want their respect and we have to earn that respect. We know that. That's what we're going to be focused on. We need to earn respect and you have to play good teams to do that."
George did say he broached the possibility of CU stepping into the championship game against USC when Washington dropped out.
"We certainly had conversations about that," he said. "Did I bring that up? Yes. But again, we had protocols in place and we knew what those protocols were. It was decided not to change those protocols."
FINANCIAL CHALLENGES: George noted that the pandemic, which eliminated fans in the stands (and thus eliminated ticket revenue), continues to take a financial toll on athletic departments across the nation.
CU, he said, could have expected an estimated $23 million in football tickets and another $2.5 million to $3 million in basketball ticket sales. It has meant belt-tightening throughout the department and more in the future.
"We've done a really good job in mitigating what our deficit will be this year," he said. "We're going to do everything we can do keep our deficit low this year."