It’s now Prime time in Boulder.
On Saturday night, Colorado announced that Pro Football Hall of Famer and now former Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders has agreed to become the next head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes.
Sanders, 55, will be the 28th full-time head football coach in CU history, replacing Karl Dorrell, who was fired on Oct. 2. Mike Sanford had been serving as interim head coach since Dorrell’s dismissal.
Nicknamed “Prime Time” during his stellar NFL career as one of the greatest cornerbacks to play the game, Sanders now goes by “Coach Prime,” and he comes to CU after a transformational three-year run at Jackson State, an historically Black college/university (HBCU) in Jackson, Miss.
On Saturday, Sanders led the Tigers (12-0) to their second consecutive SWAC championship with a 43-24 win against Southern. According to reports, Sanders and Jackson State canceled their postgame press conference and scheduled a team meeting on campus.
Carl Reed of 247Sports reported Saturday night that Sanders informed his team at Jackson State that he is taking the job at Colorado.
All week, there has been speculation about Sanders coming to Boulder, energizing a fan base that was frustrated throughout this year’s 1-11 season, just the second 11-loss campaign in program history. The Buffs are 5-21 in their last 26 games and have played in only two bowls since 2007.
“There were a number of highly qualified and impressive candidates interested in becoming the next head football coach at Colorado, but none of them had the pedigree, the knowledge and the ability to connect with student-athletes like Deion Sanders,” CU athletic director Rick George said. “Not only will Coach Prime energize our fanbase, I’m confident that he will lead our program back to national prominence while leading a team of high quality and high character.”
Sanders confirmed on Monday that he had an offer from CU. Justin Adams of CBS4-TV in Denver reported Friday that CU’s offer has a starting salary of more than $5 million per season with incentives that could “significantly” boost Sanders’ annual salary.
“I would be all in,” former CU great Dave Logan said Saturday after leading Cherry Creek to its fourth consecutive Class 5A state title. “I think that (Sanders) would bring an excitement to Boulder. It’s all about being able to go out and recruit good players and then once you get the good players, you’ve got to keep them. And then you’ve got to put them in positions to where they can be successful — the offense, the defense, and those things.
“I’ve talked to people that have worked with Deion and they marveled in terms of his recruiting ability and his football acumen. So, I would cosign on that right now and say, ‘Let’s get this thing going.’”
Sanders had never coached at the college level before being hired at Jackson State in September of 2020. In three seasons with the Tigers, he put together a 27-5 record, including 23-2 over the past two seasons, winning the SWAC title game in both seasons.
Sanders won the Eddie Robinson Award, presented to the top coach in the Football Championship Subdivision, last year. He is a finalist for the award this year and could become just the second back-to-back winner, joining Craig Bohl of North Dakota State in 2012-13. Bohl is now the head coach at Wyoming.
“Deion Sanders’ stature transcends sports, and his hiring elevates not only the football program but the university as a whole,” CU chancellor Philip DiStefano said. “I’m thankful Deion has chosen to join our Buffalo family and I applaud Rick George for a truly inspired choice. This is an exciting new chapter in the long, storied history of Colorado football and I look forward to standing shoulder-to-shoulder with our students, supporters and fans to cheer on ‘Coach Prime’ and our student-athletes next fall.”
Prior to Sanders’ arrival, Jackson State had posted six consecutive losing seasons and had not won the SWAC since 2007.
Sanders’ success at JSU has had a significant impact in ticket sales and national exposure for not only the Tigers, but the SWAC and HBCUs. During the last two seasons, Jackson State averaged 42,195 fans at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. In 2019, the last season before Sanders’ arrival, JSU averaged 33,762 fans.
ESPN’s College GameDay visited Jackson for the first time ever on Oct. 29 for the Tigers’ 35-0 victory against Southern. GameDay has been visiting campuses since 1993, making three of its first 19 stops in Boulder. At the time, Notre Dame was the only other school to host GameDay three times. GameDay hasn’t been back to Boulder since, however, making its last appearance at Folsom Field on Sept. 14, 1996, when the then-No. 5 Buffs lost to No. 11 Michigan, 20-13. GameDay made its other two appearances in Boulder in 1995.
Sanders has also made a significant impact in recruiting at Jackson State, including landing the No. 1 recruit in the 2022 class, Travis Hunter.
According to reports, Sanders and his associates have already started the leg work in assembling a coaching staff and they’ve already talked to recruits about potentially coming to CU.
There is speculation that Sanders will bring his son, Shedeur, to play quarterback for the Buffs. A sophomore, Shedeur threw four touchdown passes in Saturday’s win against Southern. This season, Shedeur completed 70.3% of his passes for 3,063 yards, 32 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Even with his son playing quarterback, coach Sanders will take on a major rebuilding project at CU. He will be CU’s fourth full-time head coach since 2018.
“I love the University of Colorado football program,” Logan said. “It has pained me to see where we are. And I work with (Alfred Williams), and Al, of course his team won national championships. Back when I played, my senior year we had 12 guys drafted. We had dudes, and we could play with anybody and did. That’s where I want to see this program get to and I think we can get that back.
“We’re in the basement right now. You’ve got to start building that thing foundationally and I think a guy like Deion comes in and just because of his persona, he comes in immediately and he gets the attention of not only kids around here, but he gets the attention of kids nationally and to be able to recruit talent. You can’t win football unless you have talent. You don’t have to have the most talent, but you’ve got to have the requisite talent in order to win and I think that’s one thing he’ll be able to do.
“I still wear my Buffs gear on Saturday, no matter what. But it’ll be a little bit easier to wear if he gets that thing turned around.”