Deion Sanders takes job in Colorado

The long-awaited marriage between Colorado and Deion Sanders has finally been consummated. The Buffaloes announced Sanders would be their 28th football coach on Saturday night shortly after his Jackson State Tigers beat Southern 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 of them had the pedigree, knowledge and ability to connect with students- athletes like Deion Sanders,” the Colorado athletic director said. Rick George in a statement. “Not only will Coach Prime energize our fan base, but I am confident he will bring our program back to national prominence while leading a team of high quality and character.”

Sanders, 55, was expected to announce his intention to join Colorado after the SWAC championship, sources familiar with the hiring process told CBS Sports’ Dennis Dodd. After Jackson State’s win, “Coach Prime” told his team that he would indeed be leaving for Boulder, 247Sports’ Carl Reed confirmed.

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

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

During his time at JSU, Sanders recruited some of the nation’s top talent — including the Class of 2022’s No. 1 rookie, cornerback Travis Hunter — who was instrumental in revitalizing the program. Some of the talent that could follow him to Colorado; Sanders has already recruited high school prospects and transfer portal entrants before officially taking the Buffaloes job, according to multiple reports.

CBS News Colorado reported Friday that Colorado has offered Sanders a contract with a starting salary of “over $5 million” with incentives that could see the annual salary increase “by about 40%” if they were filled.

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

Interesting move by Sanders

While it’s unclear whether Cincinnati or South Florida officially offered Sanders — let alone the value of those potential deals — Colorado appears to be the oddest fit of Sanders’ three most important options, at least on the surface. Coach Prime is from Fort Myers, Florida, about a two-hour drive south of Tampa, where USF is located. He played college football in Florida State and is a household name not only in the Sunshine State, but throughout Georgia, considering he played for the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves. He also spent four seasons with the Cincinnati Reds during his MLB career and knows that city too.

But Sanders has no prior connection to Colorado or the Pac-12. Of course, he is “Deion Sanders”. It’s not like the folks in Colorado haven’t heard of him. However, handicapping all three gigs as “the best fits” for Sanders, Colorado seemed the least likely.

Clearly Sanders feels differently. Perhaps the lure of coaching an established Power Five program played a part in his decision. Cincinnati will join the Big 12 in 2023, and while that’s a big step on the surface, it also presents an unknown future for the program in a new league. That’s probably part of why Luke Fickell left for Wisconsin despite leading the Bearcats to the 2021 College Football Playoffs.

Sanders could also see an opportunity with the Buffaloes in a new Pac-12. When USC and UCLA leave to join the Big Ten in 2024, it will leave a huge power vacuum at the top of the league. Perhaps Sanders thinks his ability to attract talent to Boulder, coupled with his coaching skills, can make Colorado a dominant program in 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 great players but hadn’t had a high level of success. Jackson State hadn’t won the SWAC since 2007, which was then its first conference title since 1996. Sanders won the league in his second season and did it 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. There have only been two bowl games in the last 15 years, and one of those appearances came in 2020. Since joining the Pac-12 in 2011, the Buffaloes are 48-94 overall, 27-76 in conference.

If there was ever a Power Five program that needed a jolt of electricity to bring it back to life, it’s Colorado. The program also performed poorly on the recruitment track; he hasn’t had a recruiting class ranked in the top 30 since 2008 and has consistently found himself outside the top 50.

Sanders’ ability to attract talent has been a big factor in Colorado’s interest.

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