Rick George didn’t aim to make history and Deion Sanders wasn’t looking to be a part of history.
Colorado’s new head coach is grateful to George, however, for repeatedly giving opportunities to Black head coaches.
When Sanders was introduced as CU’s new head coach on Sunday, he became the third consecutive Black head coach hired by George, the Buffaloes’ athletic director.
“That had no bearing on me, whatsoever,” Sanders said of CU’s hiring history. He then added, “I’m thankful and I’m appreciative that he’s the kind of man that he sees past ethnicities.”
George is the first athletic director in major college football history to hire three Black head coaches. In fact, Stanford is the only other FBS school to ever have at least three Black head coaches. In hiring Sanders, CU became the first FBS program to have four, including Jon Embree (2011-12), Mel Tucker (2019) and Karl Dorrell (2020-22).
Sanders may not have known or concerned himself with CU’s hiring history, but he knows the significance of his opportunity this year.
Sanders is replacing Dorrell, who was one of four Black head coaches who were either fired or resigned this year at the FBS level.
In addition to Dorrell, Arizona State’s Herm Edwards and Florida Atlantic’s Willie Taggart were fired. Stanford’s David Shaw resigned after a 3-9 season that dropped his record to 14-28 the last four years. Prior to the last four years, Shaw had been one of the most successful coaches in the country.
So far in this year’s coaching carousel, 21 FBS jobs have opened, with 18 being filled (North Texas, Purdue and Stanford haven’t filled vacancies). CU is the only school to hire a Black head coach in this cycle.
During his press conference on Sunday, Sanders addressed George, saying, “Rick, thank you once again because there are several African American head coaches around the country that were terminated and they were not replaced by an African American coach.
“But you had the audacity to do such a thing, not only to do such a thing on this time, but several times you’ve done such a thing. So I thank you for your courage. I thank you for seeing past the color and ethnicity and seeing the man with a plan to bring you back to the place of promise. Truly, my man, I thank you.”
History wasn’t George’s intent. He simply wanted the best head coach he could find after CU’s dismal 1-11 record this season and 5-19 record over the past two seasons.
Sanders stood out among a deep pool of candidates.
“He’s just an unbelievable person and a human being and he’s a great football coach, as well,” George said. “We found our guy early, but there were a lot of other people in the process that we really liked. But at the end of the day, we got a man that we thought could lead this program.”
Sanders, a Hall of Fame cornerback, has supreme confidence, but that’s not all that helped him make an impression on George.
“He had the most detailed presentation,” George said. “When we finally sat down and met one on one, he had a book about how he was going to change this around and it’s very detailed, very organized. That was really important because having a plan is going to be important coming in here. … He had everything that we were looking for.
“We needed somebody like him in this program that could re-energize not only our student athletes, but our (fan) base and our community and our state and I think he can do all of that. We found the right guy.”
Overall, there has been an increase in the amount of Black head coaches at the FBS level in the last 12 years.
Prior to 2010, there had never been more than eight Black head coaches at one time in the FBS. Since 2010, there has been at least 11 every year. There are currently 12 Black head coaches employed for the 2023 season, which would be the lowest in the FBS since 2015 (11).
While CU leads the way in hiring four Black head coaches over the years, 72 of the 131 FBS schools have never had a Black head coach, and 40 have had one.