Colorado coach Karl Dorrell had a thought while flying back with his team from a lopsided Alamo Bowl loss last month.
“How far we have to go,” he said Friday in a wrap-up video call.
That’s why Dorrell hasn’t taken much time off since the 55-23 loss to Texas closed the chapter on his first season in Boulder. He’s evaluating everything, from coaches (the team recently let go of their defensive coordinator) to schemes to players as they build off a 4-2 campaign.
“It was a good measuring stick of where we are as a program, and we’re not close to where we need to be,” said Dorrell, who was named the Pac-12 coach of the year. “I’m going to make sure our staff does a really good job of, with a fine-tooth comb, going through everything we’ve done – to scrutinize the good, the bad and the ugly.
“I’m trying to get our program to be as good as it can be and at a level it should be.”
He’s already counting down the days to spring practice, which is tentatively scheduled for the end of March. Dorrell, who was hired in February after the sudden departure of Mel Tucker to Michigan State, didn’t have a spring session last season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s a roster filled with potential as the Buffs turned in their first winning season since 2016. Back on the field will be returning starting quarterback Sam Noyer, although he’s recovering from a shoulder injury. He will compete with Brendon Lewis, a freshman who flashed his skills during his first action of the season at the Alamo Bowl. Waiting in the wings is recent Tennessee transfer J.T. Shrout.
Some of the best news Dorrell received was a call from standout senior linebacker Nate Landman, who tore his Achilles in a late-season game against Utah and missed the bowl game. Dorrell figured Landman was letting him know he was moving on to the next level.
Instead, Landman, one of Colorado’s all-time leading tackers, announced he was returning to campus.
“An extremely pleasant boost,” Dorrell said. “He knows there’s unfinished business.”
Still, there figure to be some losses with players entering the draft (defensive lineman Mustafa Johnson) or the transfer portal, which includes starters like receiver K.D. Nixon and safety Derrion Rakestraw. Tailback Jaren Mangham and backup QB Tyler Lytle also entered.
“There are a lot of kids in the portal, and I don’t know if there’s a lot of resources to support all the kids that are in the portal,” Dorrell said. “I’m going to wait to see how this things works out.”
At the top of his to-do list will be replacing defensive coordinator Tyson Summers, who was hired under Tucker in December 2018 and was one of the staff members retained by Dorrell. The Buffaloes are coming off a season in which they allowed 420.3 yards per game and 31.7 points.
“We’re going to make sure the next person that’s in that position will do a great job of just bringing our defense forward,” Dorrell said. “There’s a number of things we need to fix and reexamine and really try to tailor to the skill-set of our players that are in the program.”
As for time away from the job, there hasn’t been much for Dorrell.
“I guess when you’re in this seat, your mind is rolling all the time,” Dorrell said. “It’s hard to just relax.
“I’m very driven and passionate about getting this thing right. The pivotal years for that to happen toward a change and the set-in foundation...is the first couple of years. That really sets the trajectory of where you’re going. There’s still a lot of work to do.”