DENVER • When the Karl Dorrell era becomes official Saturday, on one of those postcard autumn evenings at Folsom Field, his No. 1 fan will be there.
Kim Dorrell is the real MVP of this operation.
“I’m not afraid to admit it: my wife is my rock and my soul mate,” Karl Dorrell told The Gazette last week.
This love story is for coaches wives (and husbands!) everywhere. It must be a love story; there can be no other way a relationship would flourish through 15 coaching jobs and eight states over 28 years of marriage. Chandler, their son, finished high school living with friends in Arizona. Lauren, their daughter and a former CU volleyball player, attended four high schools.
Shoot, Kim’s father used to joke there are some supremely well-dressed Goodwill shoppers from all the football swag they’ve donated: UCLA, Central Florida, Northern Arizona, Arizona State, CU-Boulder (one, two, now three times), Broncos, University of Washington, Vanderbilt, Houston Texans, New York Jets, Miami Dolphins ... yep, that’s 33 years of coaching for you.
As his CU Buffs debut against UCLA — yes, Dorrell’s been head coach at both — the big question is, Where is home, exactly?
Their 14th home — their current home, in lovely Lafayette outside Boulder — forever will be associated with Feb. 20, 2020. It was a Thursday, Kim says, as if it were yesterday.
“The day that all the stars in the universe aligned,” she says.
They had built the Lafayette home in 2018 as the spot they ultimately would retire, and Kim had been living here for over a year. Meanwhile, Karl was living and working in Miami as assistant head coach of the Dolphins. Not an ideal situation, but one they had made work other times too. Many, many other times.
Karl was flying to Colorado that Thursday before leaving for the NFL Combine on Sunday.
“It was supposed to be just a quick trip to see my family,” Karl says.
He never made it to the Combine, and he hasn’t left Colorado since.
This is the fourth time the Dorrells have lived in Colorado — thrice with the Buffs, once with the Broncos — and familiarity has built a long list of friendships. One was with the Carl family — Jenn and Lance, an athletics administrator at CU. A few days earlier, Kim had reached out to Jenn about job prospects for their son, a recent college graduate and aspiring personal investor.
Sure, Jenn Carl said, but give it a day or two, as football coach Mel Tucker had just bailed on CU and her husband was in the thick of a coaching search at a most unfortunate time of year.
On that fateful Thursday, Lance Carl texted Kim Dorrell: Hey, is your husband’s cell number the same? The Buffs sought to hire Karl Dorrell as their 27th football coach. The search committee asked to visit their home in Lafayette, down the road, the very next day.
“I didn’t want to pinch myself,” Kim says.
When the search committee arrived Kim ran out to get sandwiches from Jersey Mike’s. She took the dogs, Tucker and Lily. Tucker’s the wild one, a 4-pound Yorkie. When he yips he goes by “Mother Tucker.” CU Buffs fans can relate.
(Credit CU for its tight-lipped search, by the way. Even Jenn Carl, married to a prominent football administrator, didn’t know their close friend was interviewing for the job. “Jenn told me, ‘Hey, why doesn’t Karl go for the Buffs job?’ And they were already at our house,” Kim says.)
Two years after building a dream home, the Dorrells landed the coaching gig — 20 minutes away. What you’ll notice about Dorrell on the Folsom sideline is the calm, cool demeanor he’s offered on Zoom calls and in private through months of a pandemic. That’s him, Kim says.
“Now his wife during games?” says his wife. “His wife is not so calm.”
“There have been challenges with the pandemic. But that’s true for everyone. We really have great people here,” Karl says. “I will say what has made it wonderful is being back home.”
Karl calls Kim “a remarkable woman.” The coaching life demands all-hours requests of a spouse, such as when Karl last year left the New York Jets for a job with the Dolphins.
“She flew from Denver to my apartment in New Jersey just to arrange and ship all my stuff down to Florida,” he says. “If you ask our kids, she’s the rock for us. Everybody relies on her.”
The same was true of Karl’s mom. She raised seven children in Southern California, their father often working on aircraft carriers as a chief officer in the Navy. The family didn’t have a whole lot of money, Karl says, and the Dorrell kids who played sports were assigned one pair of shoes and one pair of cleats for the year.
“I would get what I needed, and that was enough,” the Buffs coach says.
One sister lives in Virginia, one lives in San Diego, one older brother lives in Highlands Ranch. The other siblings passed. Coaching was never the plan for Dorrell. Upon graduating from UCLA he had a sales job lined up with IBM. Instead, he later coached the Bruins to five bowl games from 2003-07 before he was fired. Crosstown rival USC had it rolling at the time, back in the Pete Carroll years.
“I think I was ready to leave,” Kim says. “I was so tired of (local media) bashing him.”
One year she drove her husband through L.A. traffic to and from the university, an hour each way, simply to score some rare together time.
“They always say coaches wives are very special. And it’s true,” Karl says. “You can’t credit them enough.”
When Rick George introduced Dorrell as coach, the Buffs AD said, “I feel really good about the fact Karl’s going to be our coach for a long time.”
After years of life upheavals and cross-country separations, Kim Dorrell agrees: “I told Karl, ‘You might have to bury me in this backyard.’”
Fourteen moves later, back to that question: Where is home? Turns out, home for Karl is wherever Kim is. Home is Colorado.
Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at firstname.lastname@example.org