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Deion Sanders transforming Colorado college football, bringing "Coach Prime" hype

Deion Sanders: The 2023 60 Minutes Interview
Deion Sanders: The 2023 60 Minutes Interview 13:19

Deion Sanders has reinvigorated the Colorado Buffaloes football program, bringing "Prime Time" hype to a team that won just one game last season. 

The team debuted this season with a 45-42 win over TCU, last year's national runner-up, then dispatched Nebraska, 36-14. Sanders is credited with turning the Jackson State University Tigers around and, with his move to Colorado, he's turned the program there into the unlikely epicenter of college football.

"God wouldn't relocate me to something that was successful," Sanders said. "That don't make sense, do it? He had to find the most disappointing and the most difficult task. And this is what it was. And this is what it is. And I love that."

Sanders, also known as Coach Prime, previously told 60 Minutes that God called him to Jackson State University. The coach, a Pro Football Hall of Fame member, stayed there three seasons, but last December, on the same night that JSU won the Conference Championship, Sanders announced he was off to Colorado to climb another mountain. 

The coach has hinted that JSU's lack of resources may have factored into his decision to leave, but he's largely been elusive on the topic. 

Deion Sanders

"Sooner or later in life, there will be opportunity that knocks at your door," Sanders said. "And at this juncture in my life, I felt like the opportunity for not only me, but for my kids as well, was tremendous."

The distance between Jackson and Boulder is a thousand miles, and immeasurably further culturally. Sanders went from a city that is 83% Black to one that is 1% Black. The move brought him from a place with a water crisis to the kind of hipster college town where there's a shop devoted to kites. 

He brought his sons, new Colorado quarterback Shedeur Sanders and defensive back Shilo, with him. Shedeur and Shilo knew they would capture attention with the move.

"I mean, we both didn't come here, have our dad coaching just to lose," Shilo Sanders said.

Shedeur Sanders put up big numbers at Jackson State. There were questions about whether he could do the same against stiffer competition, but in his first two games at Colorado, he threw for nearly a thousand yards, without an interception.

Shedeur Sanders, Jon Wertheim and Shilo Sanders

Travis Hunter also followed Coach Sanders from Jackson to Colorado. He's playing offense and defense, which is virtually unheard of in the modern college game. Sanders has already publicly talked about Hunter's Heisman chances. 

Hunter and Coach Sanders' sons aren't the only new members of the Buffaloes. At the first team meeting in December, Sanders encouraged players to enter the transfer portal, an open market for athletes to find new schools. More than 50 players eventually transferred out as part of Sanders' roster overhaul. 

"You take a team that's won one game, and you fire the whole coaching staff. … So, who did the coaching staff recruit? The kids. So, the kids are just as much to blame as the coaching staff," he said. "And I came up to the conclusion that a multitude of them couldn't help us get to where we wanted to go."

He said he was there to "coach hard" and "coach tough." Sanders said he brought an old-school staff of disciplinarians to Colorado. 

"My kids that play for me," he said, "they didn't choose a university. They chose me. That's a difference."

The change has been a lot of fun for Rick George, who hired Coach Sanders. George has been Colorado's athletic director for a decade. 

"It's great for us to be able to bring this program back to relevancy," George said. "And we had failed in my previous nine years, 10 years."

It's too early to quantify Sanders' full effect, but merchandise sales for the team are already up 819% from last season. Instagram followers are up more than tenfold and season tickets are sold out. 

Sanders' sudden impact is indisputable. 

"I make a difference. I truly make a difference," the coach said. "I make folks nervous, man. I get folks moving in their seat. I get folks twiddling their thumbs. I get them thinking and second-guessing theirself."

Editor's Note: 60 MINUTES first profiled Deion Sanders in October 2022 when he was head football coach for Jackson State University. The CBS newsmagazine profiled him again for the September 17, 2023 broadcast after he took the job of head football coach for University of Colorado. Both reports showed footage of a neighborhood in Jackson directly across from the JSU football facility and focused on Sanders' career, the changes he's made to the football programs in Jackson and Boulder and the Sept. 17 story noted the differences between the two cities. In response to the Jackson City Council resolution passed on Sept. 26, we want to note that our reporting is not an exploration of those two great cities, but rather a look at the influence one man is having on both.

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