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Deion Sanders looking to transform Colorado into contender after unprecedented overhaul

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It was unprecedented. It was stunning. It was unheard of. 

It was also everything you would expect from Deion Sanders, the bombastic, flashy and tell-you–exactly-what-he’s thinking Hall of Fame cornerback-turned-coach. 

Upon taking over at Colorado, he cleaned house.

Talented players were run off.

Promising recruits were told to look elsewhere. Coach Prime, as he calls himself, wasn’t going to waste any time building the dormant program, which has one 10-win season in the last 21 years, is 24-42 over the last six seasons and went 1-11 last fall. 

“We got a few positions already taken care of because I’m bringing my luggage with me and it’s Louis [Vuitton],” he told Colorado players in his first team meeting back in December that was posted on YouTube. “I’m coming and when I get here, there’s going to be change. So I want y’all to get ready, so go ahead and jump in that portal. The more of you jump in, the more room you make. 

“Those of you that we don’t run off, we’re going to try to make you quit. I want ones that don’t want to quit, that want to be here, who want to work, who want to win. … I don’t want to get in the game and then find out I’ve got Jane, when all offseason I had Tarzan.” 


Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders cleaned house upon taking over at Colorado.
AP

He compared it to having a new house and needing space for the new furniture. Well, Sanders sure did make a lot of changes to that home.

There are 86 new players on the roster, the most by one program since the advent of the transfer portal in 2018.

Aided by a star-studded coaching staff that included top-notch recruiters Sal Sunseri, Sean Lewis and Charles Kelly, Sanders brought in the nation’s top-rated transfer recruiting class, according to 247Sports.com. 

It includes his two best players from Jackson State: His son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders, and former overall top recruit Travis Hunter, a cornerback/wide receiver who is a projected first-round pick in 2025.

It also features transfers from Florida State (cornerback Omarion Cooper and safety Travis Jay), Arkansas (safety Myles Slusher), South Florida (receiver Jimmy Horn Jr.) and Houston (running back Alton McCaskill).

He brought in highly-regarded high school recruits Cormani McClain and Dylan Edwards, flipping them from Miami and Notre Dame, respectively. 

“He’s brought a lot of energy and passion to this program again,” Colorado athletic director Rick George said on Signing Day. “It’s what we desperately needed.” 

Sanders did draw negative headlines for his roster purge.


Deion Sanders speaks to the media after Colorado practice on Aug. 4.
Deion Sanders speaks to the media after Colorado practice on Aug. 4.
AP

Recruits and former players spoke out. Former offensive lineman Travis Gray told The Athletic he didn’t think that Sanders knew the names of half the kids he forced out.

Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi blasted Sanders’ use of the transfer portal, saying it wasn’t what the rule was intended for and “looks bad on college football coaches across the country.” 

It hasn’t mattered. 

“He’s got an electric personality. If he wants to make you feel good, he can make you feel tremendous,” 247Sports.com director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong said in a phone interview. “[You look at] coach Sanders and his track record, what he accomplished at Jackson State, which not only was to turn them into a winner, not only make them the most talented team on the field in their classification through recruiting, but he excited a fan base.

“The attendance skyrocketed. They had 40,000, 50,000 at their games. … He not only can ignite a locker room, he can ignite a whole community and have tremendous support. 

“There’s a lot to like about Colorado and the trajectory of their program in Year 1, from the way they’ve recruited, from the way they’ve hit the portal, from the support they’re getting in the community to the coaching staff [they] put together.” 

In three years at Jackson State, Sanders went 27-6 and won two SWAC titles for a program that last achieved that feat in 1995-96 and spent the seven seasons prior to this arrival in last place.

He had two players, James Houston and Isaiah Bolden, drafted.

Now he’s at Colorado, a school with far better resources that will be joining the Big 12 in 2024.

There has already been change, before the Buffaloes have played their first game.

They sold out their spring game, drawing 47,277 fans. The previous record of 17.800 was set in 2008.

For the first time in 27 years, season tickets were sold out. 

That’s what Coach Prime does.

He energizes people, according to new Jackson State coach and former Sanders assistant T.C. Taylor.

He put in the time, arriving early and leaving late, setting an example for his players.


 Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders has backed up his words behind the scenes.
AP

Sanders obviously has a way with words, but he backed it up behind the scenes. 

“You could see that on a day-to-day basis, why he was all that [as an athlete],” Taylor said. 

Steve Mariucci, the former 49ers and Lions head coach who worked alongside Sanders at NFL Network for several years, isn’t surprised by his friend’s success.

Sanders always had a passion for coaching, spending several years teaching kids the game at the youth level.

He never understood why people thought college would be any different for Sanders. 

“He does things that we all hoped we could accomplish when we were trying to coach college football, and he’s getting that stuff done,” Mariucci said. “He will say exactly what he feels and thinks sometimes, and he can do that because he’s Deion Sanders and he is who he is. At times, some of us are careful of what we say and how we say it, and he just tells it like it is. 

“He’s got old school in him, big-time, but he also has a blend of a current, in-touch [connection] with this generation. He understands when to push and pull, when to relate. He’s very up to date that way. … He’s tough on these kids. The kids don’t make the decisions, he does.” 


Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders expects to win a national championship at Colorado within a few years.
AP

The expectation is that eventually the 56-year-old Sanders will not only win at Colorado, but win big.

That’s certainly his plan.

Coach Prime said in February his expectation was to win a national championship in a few years. 

As he repeatedly told Colorado players in that first team meeting: “I’m coming.” 

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