Having played offensive line just about a decade ago, William Vlachos knows the recipe to enjoying the position.
“It’s not the most fun, glamorous position to play,” he said. “The personal satisfaction and gratification you get is from winning and rushing for 300 yards and all that type of stuff. When you’re not winning games, it’s not a very enjoyable day-to-day thing. It’s just not.”
By that standard, Colorado’s offensive line hasn’t had a lot of fun this season, but Vlachos is relishing the opportunity to change that. When CU head coach Karl Dorrell made the decision on Oct. 24 to fire offensive line coach Mitch Rodrigue, he turned to Vlachos to lead the group.
A quality control coach throughout this season, Vlachos stepped into a new role last week of leading the offensive line, and on Saturday, the Buffs (2-6, 1-4 Pac-12) will look to snap a two-game losing streak when Oregon State (5-3, 3-2) visits Boulder for a 5:10 p.m. kickoff (TV: Pac-12 Network).
“It’s been fun having to kind of adjust on the fly,” Vlachos said. “It’s been great. Try to keep getting them better and get some wins here to close this thing out.”
Vlachos, 33, was a first-team All-SEC center at Alabama, helping the Crimson Tide win national titles in 2009 and 2011. Since then, he’s worked his way through the coaching ranks and won two more national titles – in 2015 and 2017 – as part of the Alabama staff.
This is his first opportunity to lead an offensive line group.
“It’s been good,” he said. “I played offensive line, I’ve been around a lot of good line coaches and I’ve been in coaching for nine years now, so it’s been a good opportunity.”
Although the role is temporary and still new, the early returns are positive. Last week, Vlachos and graduate assistant Donovan Williams made quite a few changes to the scheme and techniques the linemen were using. CU then had its best game of the season on offense in a 52-29 loss at No. 7 Oregon.
Although the Buffs lost, it was their highest point total against an FBS team and the line played its best game of the year.
“I think there was a lot of new energy,” senior left guard Kary Kutsch said. “I think that really brought us up and then Vlachos changed a few things to try to optimize it a little bit more for us. I’d say the biggest thing was the new energy in the room.
“He wanted us to just have fun playing football. He felt like weren’t at where we were before. So he said he didn’t really want to change a whole lot of things. He wanted to just bring us up more than try to change things.”
There were a few changes and that led to some of the renewed energy.
“Their attention to detail and their preparation was better,” Dorrell said. “There was more energy in how they played. I felt they were engaged and really had great communication with getting everybody on the same page. Now, were there still a few mistakes in there? Yeah, but I would say the body of work was probably our best look that we’ve had so far this season.
“I believe it’s been a positive boost of confidence in the way that they’re coaching those guys and the way (the players) are responding to them. And they’re having fun. I think they’re starting to enjoy the game a lot more.”
Vlachos first joined CU’s staff as a volunteer in 2019. His connection to then-head coach Mel Tucker and offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic brought him to Boulder. After that season, Tucker left for Michigan State and took Kapilovic with him, while Dorrell hired Vlachos to work in quality control for the defense. This year, Dorrell shifted Vlachos to being the “blitz and front specialist.”
In taking over the line last week, Vlachos went back to much of what he learned from Kapilovic.
“I think Vlachos’ philosophy is a little closer to coach Kap,” Kutsch said. “That was more some of the stuff that Vlachos changed a little bit because we were all so familiar with it.
“I think it’s something that might fit us a little bit better than some of the older stuff.”
In reverting back to a system the players are more comfortable with, Vlachos believes the line can have more success, and therefore, more fun.
“Winning makes it fun,” he said. “Executing kind of fuels the emotion that makes it a more tolerable deal to play. So I just want to make sure they kept that in the back of their mind. Let’s just play fast, play confident. Let’s enjoy ourselves.
“Half of blocking people is just believing you can block the guy across from you and wanting to block the guy. I’m just trying to instill that and play with confidence, play fast.”