Deion Sanders accepts Colorado job: Buffaloes swing big in hopes ‘Coach Prime’ can drive big turnaround

The long-awaited marriage between Colorado and Deion Sanders is finally over. The Buffaloes announced Sanders as their 28th head football coach Saturday night shortly after his Jackson State Tigers defeated the South 43-24 to win 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 had the pedigree, knowledge, and ability to connect with student-athletes like Deion Sanders,” said Colorado’s athletic director. Rick George in a statement. “Coach Prime will not only energize our fan base, but I am confident he will return our program to national prominence while leading a team of high quality and high character.”

Sanders, 55, was expected to announce his intention to join Colorado after the SWAC tournament, sources close to the hiring process told CBS Sports Dennis Dodd. After Jackson State won, “Coach Prime” told his team he was indeed leaving for Boulder, 247Sports’ Carl Reed confirmed.

Sanders told the Jackson State players that he will coach the Celebration Bowl on December 17 against North Carolina Central in Atlanta.

Sanders has spent the past three seasons coaching Jackson State as the Tigers are 27-5 overall with a perfect 12-0 mark this season. JSU posted a 21-40 record across the six seasons prior to his arrival. Sanders took the program to a 4-3 record during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season, the same number of wins it had in 2019 (4-8). Jackson State is 23-2 the past two seasons with a flawless 16-0 mark in SWAC play and back-to-back conference championships.

While at JSU, Sanders recruited some of the best talent in the country—including top recruit in the class of 2022, Travis Hunter—who played a role in revitalizing the program. some talent that could follow him to Colorado; Sanders has already recruited high school prospects and transfer gate arrivals before officially taking over the Buffaloes, according to multiple reports.

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

The Buffaloes fired head coach Carl Durrell in October after starting 0-5. Durrell took over the program in 2020 after Mel Tucker unexpectedly left for Michigan State. Durrell’s tenure started well enough with Colorado going 4-2 in the shortened season, but lost 13 of their next 17 games under him.

An interesting decision by Sanders

While it’s unknown if Cincinnati or South Florida has officially offered Sanders — let alone the value of those potential deals — Colorado looks like the oddest of Sanders’ three most notable options, at least on the surface. Coach Prime is located from Fort Myers, Florida, about a two-hour drive south of Tampa where USF is located. He played college football at Florida State and is a household name not only in the Sunshine State but throughout Georgia due to his time playing with the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves. He also spent four seasons with the Cincinnati Reds during his MLB career and is familiar with that city as well.

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 it. However, when handicapping the three gigs as the “best fit” for Sanders, Colorado seemed the least likely.

Sanders clearly feels differently. The allure of the Power Five firm program training may have played a role in his decision. Cincinnati will join the Big 12 in 2023, and while that’s an impressive move on the surface, it also presents an unknown future for the program in a new league. This may be part of the reason Luke Fickell left Wisconsin despite leading the Bearcats to the College Football Playoff in 2021.

Sanders may also see an opportunity with the Buffaloes in a new Pac-12 format. When USC and UCLA leave to join the Big Ten in 2024, they will leave a huge power vacuum at the top of the league. Perhaps Sanders feels that his ability to attract talent to Boulder, along with his coaching prowess, can establish Colorado as a dominant program out of the West.

Colorado needs Sanders’ help

When Sanders took over at Jackson State, he found himself at the helm of a program that had produced some great players but never seen a high level of success. Jackson State had not won a SWAC title since 2007, which was then its first conference title since 1996. Sanders won the league in his second season and did so again in his third.

Colorado hasn’t won a conference title since the 2001 season, when it was still a member of the Big 12. They’ve only been to two games in the last 15 years, and one of those games came in 2020. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Buffaloes have gone 48- 94 overall, 27-76 in conference play.

If ever there was a Power Five in need of a jolt of electricity to bring it back to life, it’s Colorado. The program has had modest results in the recruiting track as well; A recruiting class has not ranked in the top 30 since 2008 and has routinely found itself outside the top 50.

Sanders’ ability to attract talent was an important factor in Colorado’s interest.

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