Focus simply on the resumes of the two newest members of Colorado’s football assistant coaching staff and it might prompt some head scratching.
On Friday, CU officially announced Bryan Cook as the new tight ends coach and Mark Smith as the new inside linebackers coach. Neither has much experience coaching those positions.
CU head coach Karl Dorrell believes he got two exceptional teachers, however.
“(In interviews), the biggest thing that I look at as a head coach is how well they communicate, how well they can explain the schematic concepts that we do, so that our players can understand it,” Dorrell said. “And I feel strongly about those communication skills with these two.”
Cook and Smith complete CU’s 10-man assistant coaching staff.
From the day he was hired as CU’s head coach nearly one year ago, Dorrell has expressed his intention of filling the staff with excellent teachers. Hiring Smith and promoting Cook falls in line with Dorrell’s philosophy.
“You don’t have to play the position to coach a position,” Dorrell said. “I’ve coached quarterbacks and never played (quarterback), so that tells you something right there. I think these guys have such a broad knowledge base that, with their communication, they’re going to continue to learn and get better at what they do from their assignment’s standpoint of coaching their positions. … They’re going to understand their roles and what needs to be coached. It’s really how well they communicate. I thought these two did a tremendous job on their interviews.”
Cook is being promoted after spending the past two seasons with the Buffs as director of quality control for defense. He is replacing Taylor Embree, who left the Buffs last month after one season as tight ends coach to take a position coaching running backs with the NFL’s New York Jets.
Cook’s only experience working directly with tight ends came in 2002, as a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech, but he’s worked on both sides of the ball.
Cook, 44, will return to offense after being a quality control coach on defense for the past three years, at CU (2019-20) and Georgia Tech (2018).
In 2017, Cook was the offensive coordinator at Georgia Southern. From 2013-16, he coached quarterbacks and “B-Backs” at Georgia Tech. He was also co-offensive coordinator at Cal Poly from 2009-12, coaching quarterbacks and fullbacks.
“Bryan has a wealth of experience,” Dorrell said. “He’s an excellent football coach, excellent teacher. I watched him quite often this past season, working with the linebackers and his coaching style and how he communicates and I think he’s a great communicator. Very good knowledge on both sides of the ball.”
Dorrell believes Cook’s experience on defense makes him “a tremendous asset for us for our offensive staff.”
From 2004-08, Cook was in the prep ranks, including four years as a head coach. A graduate of Ithaca College, where he was a starting safety and an all-conference lacrosse player, Cook got his start in coaching with three years as a graduate assistant at Georgia Tech (2001-03). He worked at various times on offense and defense for the Yellow Jackets.
Smith comes to CU after a short stint as defensive coordinator at Long Island University, and he fills the vacancy created when defensive coordinator/inside linebackers coach Tyson Summers was fired last month. Smith will be reunited with recently promoted defensive coordinator Chris Wilson, as the two worked together at Oklahoma in 2008.
Smith was hired by LIU, an FCS school, last summer, but the Sharks had their 2020 season postponed to this spring. Prior to LIU, Smith coached cornerbacks at Arkansas (2018-19), his first full-time on-field coaching position in college. At Arkansas, he worked under head coach Chad Morris, who was fired during the 2019 season.
Before Arkansas, Smith worked for Morris for three years (2015-17) at SMU, where he was the director of recruiting for the Mustangs. In 2017, Smith added defensive analyst duties.
In 2008, Smith worked as a defensive quality control coach at Oklahoma, helping to coach linebackers. Wilson was the Sooners’ defensive ends coach at that time and he and Smith developed a good relationship during that season.
“What Mark brings is a great knowledge base of some different areas on defense,” Dorrell said. “I think that’s important. Our back seven – linebackers and safeties and corners – that whole coverage group has to be pretty much on the same page and understanding everyone’s role and how the coverages work. … His experience on both the back end and at the linebacker position, it’ll be a good chance for a lot of that information to be seamless.”
Smith also has 14 years of experience as a coach at three different high schools in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, including four seasons (2011-14) as the head coach at L.D. Bell High School. He was a defensive coordinator for six of his 14 seasons at the prep level.
A native of Abilene, Texas, Smith played one year at Baylor before transferring to Hardin-Simmons University, where he was a three-time first-team All-American Southwest Conference kicker, from 1997-99. He also played receiver for the Cowboys.
Dorrell said running back Alex Fontenot, who missed the 2020 season with an injury, has “a clean bill of health” and is ready to go for spring practices next month. The Buffs want to bring him along slowly, however. Fontenot led the Buffs in rushing in 2019, with 874 yards and five touchdowns.