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Colorado makes a surprise hire, bringing back Karl Dorrell

(Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Eric Bieniemy. Bret Bielema. Troy Calhoun. Steve Sarkisian.

These were the names bounced around last week as the top prospects to replace Mel Tucker as the head football coach at the University of Colorado. According to reports, three of the our were offered the job in some way, shape or fashion.

But when nothing came to fruition, the school announced that they were going back to the drawing board. Rick George and Company were going to widen their net, expanding their search for the next man to lead the Buffs.

So it came as a bit of a surprise when rumors surfaced on Saturday that Colorado’s athletic director had made a decision. It came as a bigger shock when the name was revealed – Karl Dorrell.

It’s not as though Dorrell isn’t a qualified candidate. And he certainly has ties to the program. He just wasn’t on anyone’s radar prior to the announcement. It’d be difficult to find a list of candidates during the search that included his name.

But George liked what he saw and heard from the former Buffaloes assistant and UCLA head coach. The AD was won over during the interview process.

“I am excited that Karl Dorrell has agreed to become our head football coach,” George said. “Karl has had great success as a college coach, both as a head coach and an assistant, and he knows the Pac-12 Conference and West Coast well. It was important that our next coach have CU ties, and Karl has those ties having worked at CU twice previously. Karl shares my passion for Colorado and our vision for winning championships. He will be a tremendous mentor and role model for our student-athletes, and he will provide great leadership for our program going forward.”

It’s certainly impossible to argue with the notion that Dorrell knows the Pac-12 well and has connections to the West Coast. The five seasons (2003-07) he spent as head coach at UCLA provided him with a blueprint on how the conference works, where the recruiting hotbeds lie, etc.

The more-debatable portion of George’s comments is the fact that the next CU coach needed to have connections to the school. Clearly, this is because the Buffaloes want to avoid what they just went through with Tucker, who bolted for greener pastures at Michigan State after just one year in Boulder. But it’s a strategy that greatly reduces the options available, limiting the pool of potential candidates.

Dorrell checks the box on this front, but it’s not as though he’s engrained with the program. He was an assistant coach at CU during two different stints in the 1990s. He hasn’t been a Buff since following Rick Neuheisel to Washington in 1998, when Colorado’s head coach pulled a Tucker and bolted for more money.

That said, Dorrell is playing up the fact that he’s worked in Boulder before. He’s saying all of the right things.

“I’m excited to be back, it’s like coming home,” Dorrell said. “The thing that excited me about this job is that my experience in the past here for the most part has been very successful. We had a lot of good teams, went to a lot of good bowl games. It’s a top-caliber program that has a lot of potential, and I’m excited to return it to that level.”

That’s music to the ears of Buffs fans, who’ve been waiting a long time for Colorado to return to relevance. Save for a season or two here and there, it’s been a dark decade-plus on the gridiron in Boulder.

The difficult task of getting out of that rut now falls to Karl Dorrell. The surprise choice to replace Mel Tucker has a big job in front of him.

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