CU prodigal son Darrin Chaiverini returns to Folsom Field Saturday. Can Buffs fans admit 2021’s mess wasn’t all his fault?
Darrin Chiaverini is about to jog a mile in Russell Wilson’s cleats. And the coming-back-home part is already crimping his toes.
“I told my wife, ‘I’ve never been in the opposing locker room (at Folsom Field),’” the former CU Buffs wideout/assistant coach/offensive coordinator/sometimes pariah told me by phone from Southern California earlier this week. “’I’ve never been on the (opposing) sidelines.’ So that’ll be … interesting.
“(There are) so many memories, just as a player and as a coach. So many good memories of just blood, sweat and tears on that field.”
Welcome to Cringe Bowl Week, kids. When Chiaverini and his UCLA Bruins visit Folsom on Saturday in the Pac-12 football opener for both programs, you’ll be able to cut the layers of sheer awkward with a butter knife.
It’s the first game back in Boulder for Chev, who was hired by UCLA coach Chip Kelly as an offensive analyst after being let go last November as offensive coordinator by current CU coach Karl Dorrell.
More juice: Chiaverini interviewed for Dorrell’s job after Mel Tucker abandoned the Buffs in the middle of a February night more than two-and-a-half years ago. And he was one of four offensive coaches Dorrell cut loose after a 4-8 season in 2021 as part of a program reset.
If the best revenge is living well, then Saturday’s matchup is no contest. UCLA comes in 3-0 and three-touchdown favorites. Dorrell’s Buffs, meanwhile, limp into the arena at 0-3, scoring 10 points per game, and with some fans hoping a true freshman can save them at quarterback.
A day after Minnesota’s Golden Gophers ran over the Buffs like they were a high-school team, CU athletic director Rick George released a statement to Buffs faithful in which he acknowledged their “disappointment” and “anger” while asking them to double down with love after arguably the worst opening month in modern CU history.
As more vultures join the circle that’s hovering over Stadium Drive, can we all just come out and admit something? Maybe what ailed CU last fall wasn’t entirely Chiaverini’s fault.
Look, as a play-caller, Chev was never going to be confused with Bill Walsh. But Dorrell spent a lot of the last 10 months assuring us that the parties responsible for a bad Buffs offense in 2021 — CU’s 18.8 points and 257.6 yards per game ranked No. 121 and No. 129, respectively, out of 130 FBS programs — had been excised from Boulder like a cavity off the second molar.
Fast forward to the present, though, and whole teeth are falling out. The Buffs head into Saturday with the nation’s No. 129 scoring offense (out of 131 programs) and No. 127 yardage offense (245.3 per game). Under new offensive coordinator Mike Sanford, CU quarterbacks Brendon Lewis and J.T. Shrout have combined to complete 46.8% of their passes for a total of 324 yards — just 108 per game.
The Buffs’ opening trio of opponents are among the country’s best in terms of speed (TCU), execution (Air Force) and power (Minnesota). And yet, regardless, Dorrell’s offense has somehow regressed from bad to worse.
Right along with the mood of the fan base.
“Obviously, when I didn’t get the job, it hurt on two levels,” said Chiaverini, who declined to discuss Dorrell or George specifically.
“First and foremost, as a human being, and I felt like I put the work in, I felt like, I was the assistant head coach, I was the interim head coach — I felt like I learned a lot.
“At the time, I’d been there with different head coaches, and I felt like it was the right time. And on a second level, I’m a (CU) alum. People know how I feel about that place. So it definitely hurt. It was disappointing. But, you know, that’s life and that’s football. You have to move on and move forward. And that’s what I’ve done with my family.”
And Saturday? Pasta Jay’s aside, Saturday is another business trip.
“You’ve got to keep it professional. You really do,” Chiaverini said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of emotions with a lot of the former players that I coached, that I recruited and sat in their living rooms. But I’m a Bruin now. This is where I’m working, and this is the profession I’m in. And I have a job to do.
“I mean, I hope (I) get a good welcome back. I know that Russell (Wilson) was hearing it from the fans over there (in Washington). But I gave my heart and soul to that university. And I know the fans know that. I know they know that.”
Like the man said, it’ll be … interesting. At the least, Chev’s hoping for a saner reception than the one Big Russ got in Week 1 in Seattle. A saner ending, too.