Cheerleaders, former players, current staff members, donors, members of the media – many of which haven’t been to Boulder in years – all filled the Arrow Touchdown Club on Sunday to welcome Coach Prime.
Deion Sanders, walked into the room with his entourage and he brought all the confidence and swagger he displayed as a Hall of Fame football player, electric baseball player and transcendent coach.
Following a dismal 1-11 season and nearly two decades of irrelevance on the national stage, Colorado athletic director Rick George swung for the fences and landed Sanders as the Buffaloes’ next head coach.
Fans are buzzing with talk of an immediate turnaround of the program: in recruiting, in the win column and with relevance.
Sanders has a mighty task in front of him to meet the expectations created by the hype this weekend – and he’s not the least bit fazed by it.
“Do I look like a man who worries about anything?” the charismatic 55-year-old Sanders said at his introductory press conference. “Did you see the way I walked in here? Did you see the swagger that was with me? Worried? Baby, I’m too blessed to be stressed.
“I’ve never been one for peer pressure; I put pressure on peers. I’ve never been one to worry; I’ve made people worry. I don’t get down like that. I’m too darn confident. And you’ve heard me with this quote many times: that’s my natural odor. I don’t even wear cologne. That’s confidence I’m wearing.”
There may not have been a program in the country that needed a jolt like Colorado, and the Buffaloes certainly got it with Sanders.
Flamboyant as a multi-sport athlete in the NFL and Major League Baseball years ago, Sanders pumped life into a struggling Jackson State program the past three years.
Although he had never coached at the college level, JSU hired him as head coach in September of 2020. The Tigers were coming off six consecutive losing seasons, yet went 27-5 under Sanders, including 12-0 this year.
On Saturday night, Sanders coached the Tigers to their second consecutive SWAC title. He intends to coach them in the Celebration Bowl against North Carolina Central on Dec. 17.
After Sanders put Jackson State, the SWAC and historically black colleges and universities in the national spotlight, CU is banking on him doing the same for the Buffaloes.
From 2006-22, CU had more head coaches (five) than bowl appearances (three) and winning seasons (two).
As George watched the Buffs routinely routed early this season, he knew it was time to change again. He fired Karl Dorrell after CU’s 0-5 start. Interim head coach Mike Sanford led the Buffs to a win in his first game, but the Buffs were embarrassed several more times, including during a miserable four-game stretch to end of the year.
This hire, George knew, had to be different.
“Yes, it had to be a redo from top to bottom,” George said. “That’s why I’m gonna give coach Prime latitude to do what he needs to do. We’ve talked about resources and what he needs. We need to go out and recruit the very best student athletes. He’s gonna shoot for the sky, just like we did in this hire. We shot for the highest point that we could and I think we got what we shot for. And I think our football program will do that, under his leadership.”
CU is opening its checkbook like never before.
BuffZone learned Sunday that Sanders is getting a five-year deal worth $29.5 million in base and supplemental salary. He will make $5.5 million in the first year, with annual raises of $200,000. Sanders could make more with incentives.
CU has also committed $5 million for Sanders to use in assembling his coaching staff.
Prior to this year, the most CU had ever paid a head coach was $3.6 million (Dorrell’s 2022 salary) and the largest salary pool for assistants was this year’s $4 million.
“The support that we got from our regents, our president and chancellor to be able to pay him what we think we needed to pay him and his assistants to get him the kind of staff he needs, this is the time for us to put all the chips in the center,” George said. “And it’s time for us to make a significant commitment to athletics and this football program.”
Sanders is making a significant commitment to the Buffs, who gave him an opportunity he couldn’t refuse.
When he got to the podium, Sanders stood in silence for a few moments.
“I’m not lost for words. I’m just trying to seize the moment,” he said before flashing his trademark smile.
Comfortable in the spotlight after decades of being a national celebrity, Sanders deftly mixed humility with humor and swagger as he had the packed house repeatedly laughing at jokes or cheering his confidence.
“Now that I’ve gotten here and I see it and understand it, Rick, I can grasp it and I can touch it,” Sanders said. “I can feel it and I can taste it. I truly understand what you want. All you want is the opportunity to win, to compete, to dominate, to be amongst the elite, to be amongst the best. And darn it, I’m gonna give you that.”
Why Colorado, of all places? Perhaps it was Sanders’ best opportunity to make the leap in his coaching career, but he repeatedly cited his faith in God for why he’s now in Boulder.
“(As a player), God took me from place to place and faith to faith and glory to glory to bring unity, to bring solvency, to bring peace, to bring joy, to bring happiness, to bring love to others,” he said. “And that’s the same darn reason I’m here now, because He always uses an unlikely person to do an unlikely thing.”
Taking CU to national prominence would seem unlikely today, but Sanders is ready for the challenge.
“Do you understand it? Do you feel that?” he said. “Do you understand the intensity and excitement and adrenaline? The rush that I’ve got right now that I can’t wait until this thing kicks off because we are coming. Boulder, Colorado, you have no idea what you’ve blessed me with, the opportunity that you give me and I feel like I owe you. Every day I’m gonna work for you, I’m going to strain for you, I’m going to develop for you, I’m going to commit for you, I’m going to do the things that others wouldn’t do.
“Baby, we’re coming.”