The calendar just turned over to October but Rick George and CU saw enough through the Buffs’ first five games of the season, it was time to fire Karl Dorrell.
The last time George was in this situation, it was an absolute scramble to replace Mel Tucker as the current Michigan State head coach left Colorado in the middle of February 2020.
Now, George has the chance to let the 2022 football season play out and pick Colorado football’s 28th head football coach from a long list of potential candidates.
While it may be too early in the season to know exactly who is in play for head coaching positions in this year’s coaching carousel, here are 26 coaches that could potentially be leading the Buffs onto the field in 2023.
Garrett Riley, TCU offensive coordinator
Top strength: playcalling and offensive scheme.
Lincoln Riley’s younger brother, Garrett Riley is only four games into his TCU tenure but the Horned Frogs are off to a blazing hot start in 2022. Through four games, TCU’s offense has been rejuvenated, ranking second in the nation in both points per game (48.5) and total yards (549.5). Before TCU, Riley was the offensive coordinator at SMU from 2020-2021 where the Mustangs finished in the top 15 in both scoring and total yards.
Curt Cignetti, James Madison head coach
Top strength: winning track record.
Curt Cignetti has won everywhere he’s been. This year is even more impressive for the James Madison Dukes, however, as they made the jump to the FBS via the Sun Belt this summer. So far the Dukes are 4-0. James Madison was an FCS powerhouse from 2019-2021 going 33-5 under Cignetti. Prior to that, Cignetti went 53-17 at IUP (Indiana University of Pennsylvania) from 2011-2016 and 14-9 at Elon from 2017-2018.
Troy Taylor, Sacramento State head coach
Top strength: quarterback development.
A Cal alum, Taylor has seen a good amount of success in his first three seasons as a head football coach. After finishing last in the conference the season before Taylor’s arrival, Sacramento State made it to the second round of the FCS playoffs in 2019 and 2021, and this year he has the Hornets off to a 4-0 start including a win over Colorado State in Fort Collins. Taylor also coached at Utah as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2017-2018 and was co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2016 at Eastern Washington.
Gary Patterson, Texas special assistant to the head coach
Top strength: Texas recruiting and coaching connections.
Patterson is probably the early favorite amongst the fans and the media to take over at Colorado. First, Patterson will have to play out this season as an assistant to Steve Sarkisian at Texas. Before that, he was the coach at TCU from 2000-2021 where he routinely developed two and three-star recruits from all over the state of Texas into legitimate college and NFL players. In his 21 years as the TCU head coach, Patterson went 181-79.
Brian Harsin, Auburn head coach
Top strength: prototypical quarterback turned coach.
Somewhat of an awkward mention as Harsin is still the head coach at Auburn, but rumors of his dismissal have been swirling for months. He has been underwhelming for the Tigers but before he was walking the sideline at Jordan-Hare, Harsin was a very successful coach at Boise State and Arkansas State, going 76-24 from 2013-2020.
Troy Calhoun, Air Force head coach
Top strength: consistently competitive despite being on an unequal playing field.
Calhoun has been the coach at Air Force since 2007 and has amassed a record of 115-76. His teams have always been well-coached and competitive as he has been able to build good football teams while managing all the unique aspects of Air Force’s university and football program. The biggest question if the Buffs are targeting Calhoun is if the triple option would follow the longtime Air Force coach.
Jamey Chadwell, Coastal Carolina head coach
Top strength: program building.
Surely to be one of the hottest names in this year’s coaching carousel, Jamey Chadwell has forced the entire nation to take Coastal Carolina football seriously over the last three years. Chadwell started off at Coastal Carolina in 2017 as the offensive coordinator before being promoted to interim head coach when then head coach Joe Moglia took a leave of absence. In 2019, Chadwell was formally introduced as the Coastal Carolina head coach and has produced a 35-19 record since then. He does carry some baggage however as the NCAA released a report detailing NCAA violations that Coastal Carolina committed under Chadwell’s watch as interim head coach in 2017.
Matt Rhule, Carolina Panthers head coach
Top strength: program rebuilding.
It seems like it’s only a matter of time before the Panthers pull the plug on Rhule’s tenure in Carolina. While it has not worked out in the NFL, Rhule showed the ability to turn around struggling football programs at Temple from 2013-2016 and Baylor from 2017-2019. The Owls only won eight games in Rhule’s first two seasons before winning 10 games in 2015 and 2016. Baylor only won one game in 2017 but Rhule had a combined 18-9 record in his final two seasons at Baylor.
Dan Mullen, former Florida head coach and current ESPN studio analyst
Top strength: proven SEC experience and offensive scheme.
Despite a 34-15 record through four seasons, Florida made the move to fire Dan Mullen after the Gators dropped to 5-6 following a loss to Missouri last year. Before his stint in Gainsville, Mullen led the Mississippi State Bulldogs to a 69-46 record from 2009-2017. This year Mullen is working as a studio analyst for ESPN/ABC but his track record of winning in the SEC will surely have his phone ringing this winter.
Bill O’Brien, Alabama offensive coordinator
Top strength: proven offensive play-caller and coach.
The latest former head coach turned offensive coordinator for Nick Saban, O’Brien’s time as the Houston Texans head coach ended in disaster but it was more so because of O’Brien’s moves as General Manager. O’Brien is a good football coach and after spending this year and last year commandeering Saban’s offense, it could be time for O’Brien to lead his next team. Before he was hired in Houston, O’Brien did a great job leading Penn State after the university was leveled by NCAA sanctions brought on by Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky.
Jeff Traylor, UTSA head coach
Top strength: program building.
The UTSA Roadrunners have emerged as one of Conference USA’s best teams under Traylor. Hired in 2020, Traylor immediately produced results as the Roadrunners won seven games, their most since 2013. Last year, Traylor elevated UTSA even higher as the school went 12-2 and won their first conference championship in the football program’s short history.
Paul Chryst, former Wisconsin head coach
Top strength: proven ACC and Big Ten winner.
Wisconsin fired Chryst on the same day Colorado fired Dorrell. However, Chryst has not had a losing season since his first year as a head coach for Pittsburgh in 2012 (6-7). He led the Panthers to a 19-19 record from 2012 to 2014 before his alma mater, Wisconsin, came calling. Chryst won the Big Ten West in 2016, 2017 and 2019 for Wisconsin and won eight games in every non-COVID season as the Badgers’ head coach.
Justin Frye, Ohio State assistant head coach and offensive line coach
Top strength: run game production.
A long-time college football offensive line coach, Frye got his first opportunity as an offensive coordinator in 2019 when he was promoted by Chip Kelly at UCLA. This year, Frye is the assistant head coach and offensive line coach for the Ohio State Buckeyes. The former Indiana Hoosier offensive lineman also served as the offensive line coach at Temple (2011-2012) and Boston College (2013-2017) where his offenses consistently finished as one of the best rushing offenses in the country.
Ryan Walters, Illinois defensive coordinator
Top strength: defensive scheme and coaching.
The only former Buff to make this list, Walters was hired as the defensive coordinator at Illinois in 2021. Under his leadership, the Fighting Illini have improved dramatically on defense, helping them to produce upsets over Minnesota and Penn State. The Illini had six defenders earn All-Big Ten honors last year and Walters was nominated for the Broyles Award, given to the nation’s top assistant coach.
Bronco Mendenhall, former Virginia head coach
Top strength: proven winner with regional ties.
After a six-year stint as the Virginia Cavalier’s head coach, Mendenhall stepped down from his post following Virginia’s 2021 bowl game but stated that he was not retiring from coaching. Mendenhall only produced a modest 36-38 record for the Cavaliers but he had great success leading BYU from 2005-2015. While at BYU, Mendenhall became the second-winningest head coach in school history in terms of both wins (99) and win percentage (.697).
Brent Vigen, Montana State head coach
Top strength: abundant FCS championship coaching experience.
A North Dakota native and former North Dakota State Bison tight end, Vigen started coaching at NDSU as a graduate assistant in 1998. He then served as the Bison’s tight ends coach, quarterbacks coach, running backs coach and passing game coordinator before he became the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2009. The Bison won three consecutive national championships from 2011-2013. Wyoming then hired NDSU head coach Craig Bohl and Vigen followed. Vigen was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for Wyoming from 2014-2016. In 2017, Vigen added assistant head coach to his list of roles for the Cowboys and filled those three roles until he left for Montana State. Vigen is only in year two of his head coaching career but last season he was able to lead the Montana State Bobcats to a 12-3 record where they ultimately lost to NDSU in the FCS Championship game.
Josh Henson, USC offensive coordinator
Top strength: offensive line coaching and development.
The Trojans underwent a drastic coaching overhaul last off-season and Lincoln Riley chose Henson to be his offensive coordinator. It’s only the second time in Henson’s career that he has been an offensive coordinator as he previously led Missouri’s offense from 2009-2015. Despite that, Henson is a long-time offensive line coach that has also coached at Texas A&M, Oklahoma State and LSU.
Brian Lindgren, Oregon St offensive coordinator
Top strength: offensive scheme and west coast/mountain ties.
You may remember this name from 2013-2017, when Lindgren was Colorado’s quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator until Darrin Chiaverini joined the program in 2016, when Lindgren and Chiaverini split offensive coordinator duties. Lindgren moved on to Oregon State in 2018 to become the Beavers’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Oregon State’s offense has shown year-over-year improvement since hiring Lindgren. This year, Oregon State got off to a hot start offensively scoring 137 points in their first three games but has struggled with poor quarterback play against USC and Utah.
Kenny Dillingham, Oregon offensive coordinator
Top strength: explosive offense and recruiting.
At only 32 years old, Dillingham has quickly advanced through the coaching ranks. Dan Lanning hired Dillingham to be Oregon’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in December. Before that, Dillingham was in the same positions at Florida State (2020-2021), Auburn (2019) and Memphis (2018). In 2017 and 2018, Memphis was one of college football’s premier offenses in terms of total yards and points per game. Dillingham has also earned a reputation as one of the country’s best recruiters.
Ricky Rahne, Old Dominion head coach
Top strength: tight end and quarterback coaching and development.
Rahne may have some more work to do before he becomes a serious Power 5 candidate, but he’s a name to look out for. In only his second year as a head coach, Rahne has amassed a 8-10 record and the Monarchs sit at 2-3 on the season, including an upset of Virginia Tech. After a rough start to the 2021 season, Old Dominion won five of their last six games. Before he was at Old Dominion, Rahne spent six seasons at Penn State where he served as the quarterbacks coach, tight ends coach and offensive coordinator. Rahne has an impressive track record when it comes to developing talent at tight end.
Kasey Dunn, Oklahoma State offensive coordinator
Top strength: experienced and highly praised.
Kasey Dunn has patiently waited for his opportunity to lead a college football program. His time at Oklahoma State started in 2011 when he was hired to be the wide receivers coach. He served solely in that role until 2019 when he received the associate head coach title and was given offensive coordinator duties in 2020. In the lead-up to this season, Pokes head coach Mike Gundy said, “[Dunn is] ready to be a head coach.”
Josh Gattis, Miami offensive coordinator
Top strength: playcalling and offensive scheme.
In 2007, Gattis was a safety out of Wake Forest that was drafted in the 5th round of the NFL draft by the Jacksonville Jaguars. After playing in the NFL for two seasons, Gattis started his collegiate coaching career in 2010 and quickly earned high-ranking offensive coaching positions at Vanderbilt, Penn State, Alabama and Michigan. Mario Cristobal was hired to be the Hurricanes’ head coach in December and he hired Josh Gattis to be offensive coordinator a couple of months later. He’s been an offensive play caller since 2014 and will continue trending upwards as a head coaching candidate from here on out.
Tom Herman, former Texas head coach
Top strength: proven winner.
Fired after the 2021 season for not living up to Texas’ lofty expectations, Tom Herman is a wild card in this year’s coaching carousel. His career record is 54-22, he’s never won fewer than seven games in a season and has won each of his five bowl-game appearances. Prior to his Texas tenure, Herman was an offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Texas State, Rice and Iowa State before Urban Meyer hired him for those two positions in 2012. Herman then left Ohio State to be the head coach at Houston in 2014 when he led the Cougars to a 13-1 record and a win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl.
Jeff Grimes, Baylor offensive coordinator
Top strength: impressive amount of coaching experience and connections.
Grimes is another on this list that is a virtual lock to be a first-time head coach in the near future. Starting his coaching career in 1995, Grimes has advanced through the coaching ranks with great success. He was an assistant head coach, offensive line coach and run game coordinator for the Buffs in 2007 and 2008 before he was hired to coach the offensive line at Auburn. Alongside Cam Newton, Grimes developed a powerful run game that took the Tigers to the 2011 BCS National Championship game. Grimes also coached and developed Zach Wilson when he was the offensive coordinator for all three of Wilson’s seasons in Provo. He was hired by Dave Aranda to be Baylor’s offensive coordinator in 2021 and was a finalist for the Broyles Award last year.
Kalani Sitake, BYU head coach
Top strength: one of the best coaches in the country.
Possibly the biggest long shot on this list, Sitake is a BYU alum and former player that has been leading the Cougars since 2016. Sitake has developed a reputation as one of the best coaches in college football but will he ever leave his alma mater? The Cougars have a 52-30 record under Sitake and have been a perennial top 25 team since 2020.
Sherrone Moore, Michigan offensive coordinator and offensive line coach
Top strength: offensive line coaching and development.
Last year, Sherrone Moore led Michigan and the Wolverines’ powerful run game to their best season in over a decade. Michigan’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award given to the best offensive line in the country. Moore was promoted to co-offensive coordinator this year following Josh Gattis’ departure. Before he became a coach, Moore played guard for Bob Stoops and the Oklahoma Sooners from 2006-2007. This year may still be too early for Moore to make the jump to head coach but he is a rising star.