Deion Sanders has made the Colorado Buffaloes relevant again, and he has yet to coach a game.
Since arriving in Boulder in December, “Prime Time” has made Colorado a destination, pulling in a top-25 recruiting class and a top-5 transfer portal.
And while Sanders’ presence has certainly been a boon for the program – CU will set an attendance record for its spring game in April – it does not come without its challenges.
Sanders will make headlines, as he quickly did upon taking the job to lead the Buffaloes.
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Sanders’ message to returning players went viral in his first meeting with CU, imploring players to “go ahead and jump in that [transfer] portal” as he was bringing players with him to Colorado.
His message may have caused a stir, but it garnered support within the Colorado program.
“A little bit I thought, ‘Dang, that could be construed as rude, disrespectful,’ but at the same time, he wouldn’t be here if we didn’t need him,” Darian Hagan, former CU player and member of the football staff told ESPN. “The truth is the truth, and he spoke the truth. The guys that got in the portal, they didn’t deserve to be here, because if you let words convince you to move on and not fight for what you believe in and what you signed up for, you shouldn’t be here.”
The Buffs are looking to return to prominence and Sanders is seen as the man to lead the way back.
In the last 21 seasons, Colorado has won double-digit games just once (2016), going 1-11 in 2022 with the only win coming in overtime against a Cal team that finished the year 4-8.
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“He put everybody on notice, and I don’t know if that’s a bad thing,” Colorado athletic director Rick George said. “We all saw that message. In our department, people saw it and said, ‘It’s time to step up.’ It was tough to hear and some people may say, ‘That’s not the way to approach it,’ but it set the tempo on how he’s going to run his program.”
It’s not the only time Sanders’ remarks have created controversy, with Coach Prime’s comments on what he looks for in recruits making headlines.
Sanders joined “The Rich Eisen Show” on Radio Row at the Super Bowl, saying he looks for attributes that are different in quarterbacks than in defensive linemen.
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“Well, we have different attributes. Smart, tough, fast, disciplined with character. Now, quarterbacks are different,” Sanders told Eisen. “We want mother, father. Dual parent. We want that kid to be 3.5 [GPA] and up. Because he has to be smart. Not bad decisions off the field, at all. Because he has to be a leader of men.”
“Defensive linemen is totally opposite. Single mama, trying to get it, he’s on free lunch,” Sanders continued. “I’m talking about just trying to make it. He’s trying to rescue mama. Like mama barely made the flight. And I want him to just go get it.
“It’s a whole different attribute that you look for in different positions. And we have that stuff just chronicled. We know what we want, and we go get it.”
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Colorado declined to comment to ESPN on Sanders’ remarks.
But for Colorado, the years of losing meant taking a risk with Sanders, giving Coach Prime his first FBS coaching opportunity.
“Where was our football program? It was at the lowest of lows,” Colorado’s associate athletic director for administration and chief of staff, Alec Roussos told ESPN. “You can’t argue that last year, the product we were putting on the field was not at a level that we ever wanted to be…. Again, what is the downside of hiring Coach Prime? Because even if it ‘fails,’ 1-11 is still failing.”