Cheerleaders, former players, current staff, donors, members of the media — many of whom 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 with him all the confidence and swagger he displayed as a Hall of Fame football player, electric baseball player and transcendent coach.
After 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 tapped Sanders as the Buffaloes’ next head coach.
The fans are buzzing with talk of an immediate turnaround for the program: in recruiting, in the win column and with relevance.
Sanders has a tall order ahead of him to live up to the expectations created by the hype this weekend — and he’s not the least bit surprised.
“Do I look like a man who worries about something?” said the charismatic 55-year-old Sanders at his introductory press conference. “Did you see the way I walked in here? Did you see the bullshit that was with me? Worried? Baby, I’m too blessed to be stretched out.
“I’ve never been one for peer pressure; I put pressure on my peers. I’ve never been one to worry; I’ve made people worry. I don’t fall down like that. I’m too confident. And you’ve heard me say this many times: it’s my natural smell. I don’t even wear cologne. That’s the confidence I have on me.”
There may not have been a program in the country that needed a boost 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 2020. The Tigers were coming off six consecutive losing seasons, but still went 27-5 under Sanders, including 12-0 this year.
On Saturday night, Sanders coached the Tigers to their second straight 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 betting he’ll do the same for the Buffaloes.
From 2006-22, CU had more head coaches (five) than bowl appearances (three) and winning seasons (two).
When George watched the Buffs routinely get routed early this season, he knew it was time to change again. He sacked Karl Dorrell after CU’s 0-5 start. Interim head coach Mike Sanford led the Buffs to victory in their first game, but the Buffs were embarrassed several times, including during a miserable four-game stretch to end the year.
This appointment, George knew, had to be different.
“Yes, it had to be redone from top to bottom,” George said. “That’s why I’m going to give Coach Prime the freedom 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 going to shoot for the sky, just like we did in this hire. We were shooting for the highest point we could, and I think we got what we were shooting for. And I think our football program will, under his leadership.”
CU opens the checkbook like never before.
BuffZone learned Sunday that Sanders will receive a five-year deal worth $29.5 million in base salary and additional salary. He will earn $5.5 million in the first year, with annual increases of $200,000. Sanders could earn more with incentives.
CU has also committed $5 million that Sanders can use to assemble 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 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 middle ,” 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 presented him with an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.
When he got to the podium, Sanders was silent for a few moments.
“I am not at a loss for words. I’m just trying to seize the moment,” he said before flashing his trademark smile.
Sanders was comfortable in the spotlight after decades of being a national celebrity, mixing humility with humor and antics as he repeatedly had the packed house laughing at jokes or cheering his confidence.
“Now that I’ve come here and I see it and I understand it, Rick, I can grab it and I can touch it,” Sanders said. “I can feel it and I can taste it. I really understand what you want. All you want is the opportunity to win, to compete, to dominate, to be among the elite, to be among the best. And damn, I’ll give you that.”
Why Colorado, of all places? Perhaps it was Sanders’ best opportunity to take the leap in his coaching career, but he repeatedly cited his faith in God as why he is now in Boulder.
“(Like a player) God took me from place to place and faith to faith and glory to glory to bring unity, to bring solidity, to bring peace, to bring joy, to bring happiness, to bring love to others,” he said. “And that’s the same 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 up for the challenge.
“Do you understand it? Do you feel it?” he said. “Do you understand the intensity and the excitement and the adrenaline? The rush that I have right now that I can’t wait for this thing to start because we’re coming. Boulder, Colorado, you have no idea what you’ve blessed me with, the opportunity you’ve given me, and I feel like I owe you. Every day I will work for you, I will make an effort for you, I will develop for you, I will commit to you, I will do the things that others would not do do.