Deion Sanders takes job in Colorado: Buffaloes swing big in hopes ‘Coach Prime’ leads major turnaround

The long-awaited marriage between Colorado and Deion Sanders has finally been consummated. The Buffaloes announced Sanders as their 28th head coach Saturday night, shortly after his Jackson State defeated Tigers Southern 43-24 and won the 2022 SWAC Championship Game.

“There were a number of highly qualified and impressive candidates interested in becoming Colorado’s next head football coach, but none of them had the pedigree, knowledge and ability to connect with student athletes like Deion Sanders,” the athletic director said by Colorado Rick George in a statement. “Coach Prime will not only energize our fan base, I am confident that he will restore our program to national prominence while leading a team of high quality and character.”

Sanders, 55, was set to announce his intention to join Colorado after the SWAC championship, sources close to the hiring process told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. After Jackson State’s win, “Coach Prime” told his team he was indeed heading to Boulder, confirmed 247Sports’ Carl Reed.

Sanders has spent the last three seasons coaching Jackson State, where the Tigers have gone by a 27-5 aggregate and a perfect 12-0 mark this season. JSU compiled a 21-40 record in the six seasons prior to his arrival. Sanders brought the program to a 4-3 record during the 2020 season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic, the same number of wins as 2019 (4-8). Jackson State is 23-2 for the past two seasons with an unblemished 16-0 record in SWAC play and back-to-back conference championships.

During his time at JSU, Sanders recruited some of the best talent in the country — including No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2022 cornerback Travis Hunter — who played a role in reinvigorating the program. Some talents that could follow him to Colorado; According to multiple reports, Sanders was already recruiting high school prospects and transfer portal applicants before officially taking the job with the Buffaloes.

CBS News Colorado reported Friday that Colorado offered Sanders a contract with a starting salary of “more than $5 million” with incentives that could result in an annual salary increase of “about 40%” if met.

The Buffaloes fired coach Karl Dorrell in October after starting 5-0. Dorrell took over the program in 2020 after Mel Tucker unexpectedly left for Michigan State. Dorrell’s tenure started well enough, with Colorado winning 4-2 in an abbreviated season but losing 13 of the next 17 games under his leadership.

Interesting decision by Sanders

While it’s not known if Cincinnati or South Florida officially offered Sanders — let alone the value of those potential deals — Colorado appears, on the surface at least, to be the oddest combination of Sanders’ three most prominent options. Coach Prime is based out of Fort Myers, Fla., about a two-hour drive south of Tampa, where USF is located. He played college football in the state of Florida and is a household name not only in the Sunshine State but throughout Georgia, having played for the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves. He also spent four seasons with the Cincinnati Reds during his MLB career and is also familiar with that city.

But Sanders has no prior connection to Colorado or the Pac-12. Of course he is “Deion Sanders”. It’s not like the people of Colorado haven’t heard of him. However, when the three gigs were handicapped as “best suited” for Sanders, Colorado seemed the least likely.

It’s clear that Sanders thinks differently. Perhaps the appeal of coaching an established Power Five program played a role in his decision. Cincinnati will join the Big 12 in 2023, and while that’s a great move on the surface, it also offers the program an unknown future in a new league. This is likely one reason Luke Fickell left for Wisconsin despite leading the Bearcats to the 2021 college football playoffs.

Sanders could also see an opportunity with the Buffaloes in a redesigned Pac-12. When USC and UCLA join the Big Ten in 2024, it will leave a huge power vacuum at the top of the league. Perhaps Sanders believes his ability to attract talent to Boulder, coupled with his coaching skills, can establish Colorado as the dominant program out west.

Colorado needs Sanders’ help

When Sanders took over at Jackson State, he found himself at the forefront of a program that had produced some great players but not met with much success. Jackson State had not won the SWAC since 2007, which was then its first conference title since 1996. Sanders won the league in his second season and did it again in his third.

Colorado hasn’t won a conference title since the 2001 season when it was a member of the Big 12. It has only appeared in two bowl games in the past 15 years, and one of those appearances came in 2020. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Buffaloes have won 48-94 overall, 27-76 in conference play.

If ever there was a Power Five program that needed a surge of electricity to bring it back to life, it’s Colorado. The program has also achieved mediocre results in terms of recruitment; Since 2008, no recruiting class has ranked in the top 30 and has regularly found itself outside the top 50.

Sanders’ ability to attract talent was a major factor in Colorado’s interest.

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