Deion Sanders is bringing his Louis Vuitton luggage to Boulder, Colorado. For tempo, swagger and national attention, the University of Colorado Buffaloes could not have made a better hire as their new head coach. One of the worst college football programs in America over the past twenty years has just got a jolt in the arm it needed. With Sanders at the helm, Colorado goes from a recruiting and football basket case to being relevant nationally, overnight. One of America’s most revered sports personalities, Prime Time and Coach Prime - as he likes to be known - is hoping to further his claim as the ascending head coach who recruits top talent and wins wherever he goes.
The Deion Sanders Story In a sporting life known for its dizzying heights, Deion Sanders’ emergence as a successful coach in his early 50s has surprised some. Famously, Sanders once played in the NFL for the Atlanta Falcons in football and travelled that same day to suit up for the Atlanta Braves Major League baseball franchise. During the 1989 season, he hit a major league home run and scored a touchdown in the NFL in the same week, becoming the only player ever to do so. Sanders is also the only man to play in both a Super Bowl and a World Series. He’s won Super Bowls and is in the NFL Hall of Fame. After retiring as a player, Sanders pursued a sports analyst position. He was a celebrity long before he was a football coach. But there was also a coaching itch. He started out as a high school football coach in Texas. It was in Jackson, Mississippi where he made his head coaching debut. HBCU Prime
As the head football coach at Jackson State from 2020 to 2022, he led the team to its first undefeated season in school history. The town of Jackson was beset by a water crisis while he coached there. As head coach of a Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Sanders was outspoken about the lack of HBCU drafted in the NFL and the social issues facing Jackson.
As I wrote in a previous article on HBCUs, Sanders used his platform to encourage his team and operational staff, and the public in Mississippi, to get vaccinated. Comfortable at dovetailing between preacher and cock of the walk character, Sanders brought a national spotlight to Jackson State and HBCU football during his three seasons leading the Tigers. In December 2021, he won the recruiting battle for five-star cornerback Travis Hunter, the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2022 who had previously committed to Florida State. Sanders also has family ties to Jackson State, as two of his sons play for the Tigers. Shedeur Sanders is the team’s starting quarterback while defensive back Shilo Sanders transferred from South Carolina to play for his dad. He told 60 minutes recently - “I want to change lives and perceptions of HBCU football.” He opened up doors for the conference, never better exemplified than when ESPN’s College GameDay went to Jackson.
The Rocky Road to Boulder
The roster Deion Sanders inherited at Colorado was horrific. And that’s why coaching here represents a formidable challenge and significant step up from Jackson State. Overhauling a SWAC program and leading it to an unbeaten season is one thing. In comparison, doing something similar for the worst Power Five school seems fanciful. Nevertheless, Sanders remains undeterred. He’s gone out and signed a top 21 recruiting class - Colorado’s best in 15 years - featuring two five star recruits. According to 247 Sports, he also signed a top five transfer portal class. He’s just getting started.
Colorado was one of the best programs in the country in the late 80s, early 90s when it won a national championship under Bill McCartney. This season, the Buffaloes finished 2022 with a 1-11 record and fired their coach mid-season.
They’ve tapped Coach Prime to pick up players in the transfer portal and help deliver NIL deals for recruits. The man with the charisma to a room and in his indomitable old school way carry the players with him. His critics will wonder what happens if the hype train derails in Boulder. Sanders was a candidate for the Auburn job but not offered it. Within minutes of arriving in Boulder, Deion Sanders was already stamping his imprint all over the program. He made his pledge to his team and fanbase (“Baby, we’re coming”), introduced his son Shedeur (“that’s your new quarterback”) and showcased his cool demeanor (“Do I look like a man that is worried about anything?” In turn, he delivered a sharp message to the players he inherited: get onboard or go to the transfer portal.
Overhauling the roster and bringing talent in it at the skill positions will be the easy part. Colorado’s offensive and defensive line might need up to three years to get into the right place. As the much needed sprinkle of Hollywood for his new employer, Deion Sanders knows he’ll be ultimately judged by how good a coach he is on the field. Packed stadiums and Pac-12 TV deals come and go. Nothing less than a winning football program is what’s expected. That’s why getting him on campus is a coup for the University of Colorado. Now that they have Coach Prime, they have hope and expectations. A lot of recruits who wouldn’t have given Boulder the time of day are taking note. One of football’s great disruptors has come to town to elevate a once storied college team. The cameras have been rolling his entire life. Colorado is learning to love and embrace its slice of Prime Time.