It is officially “Prime Time” for the University of Colorado Boulder. Athletic director Rick George pulled off one of the most improbable hires in Colorado history, making Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders Colorado’s 28th head coach. This impressive hire marks a change in CU’s commitment to the football program.
Sanders, one of the best NFL football players of all time, was officially named CU’s new head coach on Saturday, Dec. 3. A Hall of Famer at both the collegiate and professional levels, Sanders finished his career with two Superbowl wins, a six-time All-Pro and was the 1994 defensive player of the year.
Sanders brings the confidence and swagger that has been missing from the program for so long. In his introductory press conference, Sanders was candid about his expectations for this program.
“I want our kids in a relaxed atmosphere, and I want them to have fun, but it’s hard to have fun when you’re not winning,” Sanders said on Dec. 4. “So we’re going to create a winning atmosphere. That’s number one. We’re going to get young men in here, as well as coaches and staffers in here, that are committed to excellence and committed to winning, so then [we] don’t even fathom the word ‘lose.’ I love what I do, and I do what I love.”
It’s no secret the struggles the football program has had this year and it goes much deeper than that. For nearly 20 years, Buffs fans have watched the once-prominent and prized football program fall into disarray. Since 2003, Colorado has only had four winning seasons, in stark contrast to the 16 losing campaigns.
If the Bill McCartney era can be heralded as the golden era of Colorado football, which from 1982-1994, had 10 winning seasons and a claim to a national championship; the past two decades can be described as something far from that. Head coaching hires like Jon Embree in 2012 and Dan Hawkins in 2006 did little to reinvigorate the program — not to mention Mel Tucker rushing off to Michigan State in 2020 after affirming his commitment to Colorado.
If there is one thing that Colorado has never had to worry about, it’s the facilities. Colorado’s football facilities are some of the best in the nation. Folsom Field is one of the most iconic sports venues in the country with the Flatirons as the backdrop.
“I think we all know it’s been a challenging year,” said George during the Dec. 4 press conference. “Today’s a new day. This is when we focus on what’s ahead — the bright future that’s ahead of us.”
The 2022 season can be viewed as the lowest of lows, going 1-11 for only the second time in school history. Colorado went 1-11 in the 2012 season, which was the first in Colorado history. Despite decent expectations for the season, it almost instantly took a turn for the worse. Bad loss after bad loss led to the in-season firing of Karl Dorrell after five losses on Oct. 2 and despite an inspirational 20-13 win a few weeks later after against the California Bears on Oct. 15, Colorado looked outmatched in every facet of the game.
Throughout the season, buff fans took to Twitter to express their frustrations with the current administration. Yet, they couldn’t see the work being put in by George and his staff to recruit the man who can change this program in an instant. They could not see the beginnings of a hire that instantly put Boulder back on the map in the world of college football for the first time in over two decades.
Sanders is the type of hire that changes the trajectory of a program. He can take a 1-11 team that was historically bad and change them overnight. It took Sander just three years at Jackson State to turn them into a powerhouse, going 27-5 in that time span. Sanders has the ability to attract the type of talent that Nick Saban at Alabama, Kirby Smart at Georgia and Lincoln Riley at the University of Southern California have recruited for years.
Like anything new, there will be growing pains. Sanders is expected to overhaul the entire football staff and has already started recruiting players to Boulder. Current players — once thought to be definite starters for the 2023 season — will now certainly have competition with players Sanders can bring from the portal.
“We are going to have one of the best coaching staffs assembled,” Sanders said. “[We are recruiting] some of the best scouts, some of the best kids. There are already commitments on the way as we speak.”
With this statement, Sanders shows what he will bring to Colorado: the confidence and swagger that will attract the best of the best to want to play for this school. The football program needed this type of coach to turn this program around.
Overnight, Colorado has gone from the worst power-five team in the nation to the premier destination for players. A new era of Colorado football has been bestowed on Buff nation.
“I truly understand what you want,” Sanders said. “All you want it the opportunity to win, to compete, to dominate, to be amongst the best, to be amongst the elite…. and darn it, I’m going to give you that.”
Contact CU Independent Assistant Sports Editor Jason Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org.