Deion Sanders' unique command of spotlight exactly what moribund Colorado needs as turnaround effort begins
By Dennis Dodd
Deion Sanders chose a scenic, run-down football program in a hippie town to plant his Power Five flag. What exactly were you expecting?
"Prime Time" has always confounded, irritated, inspired -- zigged when others zagged. High-stepped when others merely crossed the goal line. The dude invented the durag. There is no odder combination than Sanders and Nick Saban making insurance commercials with a talking duck.
We'd say Sanders stepped out of his comfort zone in taking the Colorado job, but what exactly is his comfort zone? Well, we're about to find out.
Sanders played for five NFL teams and four MLB teams. "Coach Prime" could have waited for another Power Five job (next year), but Colorado suddenly was the only Power Five job remaining this coaching cycle.
Well, in theory.
Calling Colorado a "Power Five" job is stretching the truth. It had degraded to the point that a case could be made CU has the worst Power Five program in the country. There was no alignment with the administration. Resources were lacking. So was vision. Forget about jumping into the transfer portal with both feet; CU couldn't get transfers in school. (That is already in the process of changing.)
It was an odd marriage, for sure. Until a tent revival meeting of a press conference Sunday. One part Richard Pryor (non-profane version), one part evangelist, one part field general who can't wait to get started, Sanders revealed more of himself than ever in this journey as a coach.
"Baby, we're coming," Sanders told a willing crowd of fans, administrators and media. "Do you feel that?"
No one in the room will be putting on pads. It just felt like it they would if the new coach demanded it. Sanders quoted the Bible and a lot of himself. No prepared remarks. No filter, either. Along the way, he was almost talking himself into the job on the fly.
"[Can you believe] a Florida boy who resides in Texas could come to Colorado?" he mused. "You gotta clap for that."
And so they did, like seals in a circus.
For an icon who admittedly hates the cold and isn't exactly Kevin Costner when it comes to heading out West, it was a triumph. For diversity, too. Athletic director Rick George hired a third consecutive Black head coach. For Colorado's give-a-crap factor as well. The Buffs had molded and stagnated with just two winning seasons since 2006.
For Sanders the man, who for all his flamboyance at Jackson State, never revealed himself like this.
"All you want is an opportunity to win, to compete, to dominate, to be amongst the elite, to be among the best -- and darn it, I'm going to give you that," he told his flock, er, those in attendance at the press conference.
One reporter asked about his coaching style.
"My coaching style is prominent," Sanders told a female reporter, "like those boots and [that jacket] . You see how you took your time to [meticulously] to put that together?"
That was uncomfortable and possibly inappropriate.
"Do I look like a man who worries about anything?" he said later. "Did you see the way I walked in here. Did you see the swagger that was with me?"
Sanders, 55, relayed with amazement that a year ago he was in the hospital being treated for blood clots that caused the amputation of two toes. Now, he'll wake up every morning wrangling Buffaloes and breathing clean, fresh mountain air.
"This beautiful weather, this beautiful place, this beautiful city, which is virtually crime-free," Sanders raved.
For his next trick, Coach Prime will run for mayor.
A job in the South seemed to make the most sense. Sanders might have been a home run in Atlanta, where he is revered, at Georgia Tech. But there were reportedly concerns from the coach on the school's commitment to football. South Florida was sitting there as a nice FBS starter job only two hours from Sanders' native Fort Myers.
But this? OK, hippie town might be too much. Boulder, Colorado is a beautiful, progressive place and a wonderful college town known for its laidback vibe. Pearl Street is a collection of brew pubs, esoteric shops and eateries. But championship football is not the first thing that comes to mind when you take in the picturesque town of 100,000 nestled up against the Rockies.
A lot of that could change with a hall of fame player, media mogul and budding coach-on-the-rise choosing to take this mile-high step into the mountains. Suddenly, the vision of Sanders himself leading out Ralphie by himself doesn't seem so far-fetched.
Maybe it's simple as Sanders projecting young, hip and cool in a program that had long ago become old and stale. Mel Tucker stayed a year. Karl Dorrell bombed out in 2 1/2 seasons. Not saying Coach Prime is a lifer at CU, but he is something different.
And different is good in a radically changing climate where you're only as good as your NIL war chest.
Colorado has always been one of those sleeping giants. On game day, there are fewer more scenic, unique experiences in the country. In that sense, it needed someone like Sanders to wake the football echoes of the past.
No doubt recruits will flock to him. The man attracted five-star prospects to Jackson State, for gosh sakes. On his first day, Sanders landed a 2025 five-star wide receiver. Yes, 2025. Winston Watkins Jr. is presently a sophomore in high school.
When Colorado left the Big 12 for the Pac-12, it lost part of its recruiting base in Texas. CU didn't capitalize on its Western recruiting base in California where a large chunk of alumni live. It is the easternmost outpost in a West Coast league, essentially hiking alone in the Rockies. Apathy had set in, big time.
Sanders' impact -- maybe the reason he came in the first place -- has been immediate. CU as a university is ready to relax its stance on transferrable credits after hiring a football coach.
Sanders has seen what the likes of what USC and TCU have done in the portal. The question of whether Coach Prime's son, Shedeur Sanders would follow his dad from Jackson State to the Flatirons was quickly answered.
"This is your quarterback," Deion told the crowd introducing his son, who was in the room. Shedeur has thrown for 3,383 yards and 36 touchdowns with six interceptions and five rushing touchdowns in 2022.
The lift at Colorado is significant, but both sides are going in with eyes wide open. George had to make a splash given the Tucker/Dorrell fiascos. The tradeoff is likely Sanders using the job as a steppingstone, if he is successful at all.
But it can be done. Bill McCartney, Rick Neuheisel and Gary Barnett proved that during a 23-year run (1982-2005) that included 17 bowl games and a share of the 1990 national championship.
"Deion Sanders' stature transcends sports," said CU chancellor Phil DiStefano in a release, "and his hiring elevates not only the football program but the university as a whole."
Buffaloes loyalists would settle for a bowl appearance.
One thing seems certain: Sanders is going to be bigger than the program. That's because wherever he goes, he is bigger than life. Sanders was that way as a player (in two sports), media celebrity and now major-college coach. But how is that out-sized visibility different from the likes of Saban, Lane Kiffin and Brian Kelly -- celebu-coaches whose every move and phrase are scrutinized?
If they don't court the spotlight, sometimes they lose traction in recruiting. Sanders knows that. Plus, Coach Prime dresses cooler.
"You have no idea what you blessed me with," Sanders concluded.
Based on early returns, Colorado is happily still figuring out what it got itself into.
for more features.