Dorrell Named FWAA's "First Year" Coach of the Year
BOULDER — The University of Colorado's Karl Dorrell was named the Football Writers Association of America's (FWAA) "First Year" Coach of the Year, an honor bestowed on a head coach in his first season at a school.
A coach could have been a head coach at a previous school (Dorrell was at UCLA from 2003-07); the FWAA created the honor in 2002 coinciding with its Freshman All-America team to recognize a coach taking over a program and acknowledging the success he had with his new school (or in his new role if promoted from within).
Dorrell is the 19th recipient of the honor, and he joins a pretty impressive list of names in the business, most notably Tyrone Willingham (Notre Dame, 2002); Steve Spurrier (South Carolina, 2005); Chris Pederson (Boise State, 2006); Chip Kelly (Oregon, 2009), Jimbo Fisher (Florida State, 2010), Urban Meyer (Ohio State, 2012), Lincoln Riley (Oklahoma, 2017) and Ryan Day (Ohio State 2019).
"This is such a great honor, I want to thank the Football Writers on the behalf of the University of Colorado," Dorrell said. "We all know as coaches this has been one doozie of a year, with COVID, how it started, I was hired Feb. 23, we were supposed to start spring ball on March 23. You guys all know the story.
"(But) It was a blessing to go through that, I think the biggest thing I try to do every day is to maximize the things I can control and focus on those things and do it day by day. I hired a good staff, we tried to keep the communication throughout the spring into summer, the ebbs and flows of games being played or not, kids being off campus then coming back. Instead of complained about it, I embraced it and took every opportunity I could as a coach to make our team as good as it can be."
"In my opinion, that success wasn't good enough, but that's me, I'm always going to feel that way as coach, my goal is to make a positive impact, I can do that through the medium of coaching, be good mentors. We have a tremendous amount of work to do, but we have our ground floor established now and we can work our way forward. But I'm very grateful an appreciate the recognition from the Football Writers."
Colorado finished 4-2 for the 2020 season, and though the Buffaloes only played six games compared to other top candidates for the award, CU had to overcome perhaps more than any other school in the country. The last head coach hired following the 2019 season, Dorrell was named CU's 27th head coach on Feb. 23. Between then and when spring football was scheduled to start on March 16, he had to interview the current assistant coaches and put together a staff, meet individually with all the players, get to know the support staff as well as he could, and devise his plan for spring practices, the latter of which were called off when all collegiate athletic competition came to a stop just three days prior due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It would be 228 days from when he was hired until he had his first practice where he could actually see his team on the field. Then during the course of the season, the Buffaloes had three games canceled due to COVID issues with other schools, the first a home game against Arizona State in the third week of the season. Then a game at USC the following Saturday was scratched; not wanting to go three weeks between games, CU athletic director Rick George arranged for a non-conference game against San Diego State. The Pac-12 did not approve the replacing of a league game with a non-league tilt until the Wednesday night of that week, leaving the Buffs two days to prepare for the Aztecs. CU won a defensive battle with SDSU, 20-10.
The third cancellation was the wildest of them all: CU was set to play Oregon in Los Angeles the day after the original Pac-12 championship game between USC and Washington; the game was scheduled there in case the Trojans or Huskies would have to cancel out of the game late. As it turned out, Washington opted out the previous Sunday night, which put Oregon in the title game and leaving the Buffs with no opponent for the final week of the regular season. But for three days, CU was practicing for both the Trojans and Ducks.
Colorado did earn a bowl invitation for the first time since the 2016 season, losing to Texas, 55-23, in the Alamo Bowl. While Dorrell is firm on never making any excuses and did not after the loss, one factor was between season-ending injuries to three key players (two on defense) and COVID issues that finally found their way to the Buffaloes, particularly on the defensive side of the ball, the Longhorns were able to eventually pull away in the second half after leading by just 17-10 at halftime.
Dorrell was named the Pac-12 Coach of the Year by both the Associated Press and the league coaches. He is 39-29 overall in six seasons as a head coach, including a 27-19 mark in Pac-12 conference games.
Others likely considered were Appalachian State's Shawn Clark (9-3 record), Memphis' Ryan Silverfield (8-3), Texas-San Antonio's Jeff Traylor (7-5), Hawai'i's Todd Graham (5-4) and Missouri's Eli Drinkwitz (5-4). There were 24 schools with new head coaches in 2020, though one, Old Dominion, opted not compete due to the pandemic.
FWAA FIRST YEAR COACH OF YEAR
2002 Tyrone Willingham, Notre Dame
2003 Steve Kragthorpe, Tulsa
2004 Mike Price, UTEP
2005 Steve Spurrier, South Carolina
2006 Chris Petersen, Boise State
2007 Jeff Jagodzinski, Boston College
2008 Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech
2009 Chip Kelly, Oregon
2010 Jimbo Fisher, Florida State
2011 Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia
2012 Urban Meyer, Ohio State
2013 Gus Malzahn, Auburn
2014 Bryan Harsin, Boise State
2015 Tom Herman, Houston
2016 Justin Fuente, Virginia Tech; Clay Helton, USC
2017 Lincoln Riley, Oklahoma
2018 Josh Heupel, UCF
2019 Ryan Day, Ohio State
2020 Karl Dorrell, Colorado