AD George Vows Buffs Will Be Football 'Powerhouse'
BOULDER — Barely a few hours after announcing that he had relieved head football coach Karl Dorrell of his duties, Colorado Athletic Director Rick George made it clear that his expectations for the program haven't changed.
"This place can be and will be a football powerhouse," said George, who appeared at an evening press conference with CU Chancellor Philip DiStefano and newly named interim head coach Mike Sanford. "We have the facilities, we have the location, we have the programs, we have everything that we need to be successful on the football field. My stance on this has never wavered. I'm more confident than ever in Colorado football. We will find a leader that will get us back to prominence. I'm energized about going out to find that individual."
George made the decision to dismiss Dorrell after Saturday night's 43-20 loss at Arizona, which dropped the Buffs to 0-5 this season. Dorrell, who was the Pac-12 Coach of the Year just two seasons ago, finished with an 8-15 record at Colorado.
George also dismissed defensive coordinator Chris Wilson on Sunday. Colorado is 129th in the nation in scoring defense, allowing more than 43 points per game.
"Karl's a good man, I have a ton of respect for him, and I wish him nothing but the best in his future endeavors," George said. "However, the on-the-field performance fell well short of our expectations. I know that starts with me. I hired Karl and it didn't work out the way any of us wanted it to. There's no excuses and I own my part in where we are today. I have to do what's best for our student athletes and I felt that a change in leadership was needed at this time."
Colorado's search, which George said will begin immediately, will result in the Buffs hiring their third head coach in a four-year span, coming on the heels of Mel Tucker (hired in December 2018) and Dorrell (February 2020).
George, who served as a recruiting coordinator and assistant AD for football operations in the heyday of the Bill McCartney era at Colorado, appeared adamant that he believes CU can replicate that success.
"Our expectation for CU football is to become nationally prominent, that we are discussed on Game Day in a positive way," George said. "That we compete every time we go out there and play and we win more than we lose. We consistently go to bowl games, occasionally we compete for a national championship and conference championships."
It has been, however, a long time since the Buffs have come close to those standards. Colorado last won a league title in 2001 and made its last appearance in a conference title game in 2016 — a year that also produced CU's only winning record in a full season since 2005.
CU was under the gun to hire a coach when the Buffs selected Dorrell in February 2020. Tucker left just a few days after assuring George he would remain in Boulder, and his departure came just a few weeks before the Buffs were scheduled to open spring ball.
The timeline this time around will obviously be much different and allow George plenty of time to carefully dissect the situation and evaluate candidates.
"This time around we have two months in front of us to get to the best coach for this job," George said. "To that end, I'll be working and consulting with football people that are knowledgeable that are former Buffs that have agreed to help advise me during this process, in addition to the national network of great football minds that we have access to. These individuals care deeply about this program, and I'll utilize them throughout this process. We're fully committed to doing what it takes to get our football program back to national prominence. We will always do things with integrity, but we will do what is needed to get a winning football team back on this field."
DiStefano, who has been on the CU campus since 1974 and served as chancellor since 2009, said the Colorado administration is fully committed to providing the support necessary for a winning program.
"Dating back to my days as the faculty advisor for athletics, I've seen what a galvanizing force the football team can be, uniting our campus community in support of our beloved Buffaloes," DiStefano said. "Athletics can provide a gateway to all of the important work we're doing throughout the campus. And I know our football program will once again match the ideals we strive for our academic programs. This morning I spoke to President (Todd) Saliman as well as a number of Board of Regents members. They are united with me in full support of Rick as he searches for a new head coach."
But while George and his staff search for a new coach, the current Buffs still have at least seven games remaining in their season. CU does not play next weekend and returns to action Oct. 15 with a home game against Cal.
Sanford, who named defensive line coach Gerald Chatman as his defensive coordinator and tight ends coach Clay Patterson as his defensive coordinator, has roughly two weeks to try to turn the fortunes of the team back in the right direction.
The 40-year-old Sanford is in his 18th season as a coach at the collegiate level, including a two-year stint as head coach at Western Kentucky in 2017-18, where he took the Hilltoppers to one bowl game and compiled a 9-16 record.
Sanford's other coaching stops include Minnesota, Notre Dame, Utah State, Stanford and Boise State, serving as offensive coordinator at each stop. He has also coached quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs, and was a recruiting coordinator at Stanford for two seasons.
"It's been a challenging day, a difficult day for many of us coaches and players in this program," Sanford said. "Coach Dorrell is the ultimate professional, a man of integrity and I'm very grateful to him for bringing me to a place that we love and we would love to call home."
Sanford and the remaining CU coaches met with the team Sunday morning and allowed them to "have their space."
But they also talked about the next couple of months.
"We believe that this is an opportunity to have eight games moving forward," Sanford said. "We're looking at it from the perspective of each game that we play, our mission is to get an eighth game and we believe that the energy that we have to galvanize his football team and bring everybody together … We have not been eliminated from any postseason to this point. And it all starts with having a fantastic bye week leading into the Cal game. The team is what is directly in front of me and what on the forefront of my mind."
Sanford said CU's players are still determined to have a strong stretch run to the season.
"These are tremendous student athletes," he said. "These players haven't quit. They have shown nothing but fight. They have shown resolve and they've shown the leadership that we would all want to see in our own sons. I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunity to lead these men to lead this staff through tough troubled times."
Sanford acknowledged the first five games have been difficult to swallow. But, he said, "We put a black paper over those first five games and this is a fresh start. It's a fresh start for players to have an opportunity that weren't in the position they want to be with regards to playing time. We're going to look for players that are the most bought-in, that are most fired up and the most selfless individuals to represent this fine university."
Sanford said he will meet with every player on the roster on an individual basis on Monday. Then, the Buffs will return to practice Tuesday and begin preparations for Cal.
"There is a ton of football left ahead of us," he said. "This season is not at all a wasted season. We're going to look at this as an opportunity to develop a lot of the young talent that we've seen on offense to re-energize and reinvigorate the defensive veterans that we have on this roster — and most importantly bring a unified front across the board from staff to player. I fully expect to see a much-improved product when we take the field 13 days from today."