CU Buffs football is ready to go Prime Time again.
Deion Sanders has agreed to become the Buffs’ football coach, CU announced Saturday evening, ushering in a new era for both a downtrodden Buffs program and for an NFL icon tasked with leading them out of the darkness.
Terms were not immediately confirmed, but the multi-year deal is believed to be worth at least $4.5 million annually, sources told Pointypress.
Former Buffs coach Karl Dorrell — who had been fired Oct. 2 after an 0-5 start this season and an 8-15 record since his hire in February 2022 — made $3.6 million this past season and $3.24 million in 2021.
Sanders picked the CU job despite reported interest in the head-coaching vacancies at Cincinnati, which moves from the American Athletic Conference to the Big 12 next year; and South Florida, an AAC program roughly two hours and 20 minutes north of his hometown of Fort Myers, Fla.
“Not only will Coach Prime energize our fanbase,” athletic director Rick George said via a university news release, “I’m confident that he will lead our program back to national prominence while leading a team of high quality and high character.”
It’s the largest investment — and statement — yet at a university whose administration’s taste for, and dedication to, championship-level football has been questioned for much of the past 15 years.
Multiple sources told Pointypress that, as part of that commitment, CU’s policies regarding transfers and transfers’ academic credits are likely to be modified, although how sweeping and permanent those new policies will be was unclear as of Saturday evening. Several sources said modifying CU’s transfer policy was important for Sanders, whose son Shedeur, Jackson State’s quarterback, is one of a number of current Tigers players who are expected to follow Coach Prime north to Boulder via the transfer portal.
When the NCAA required FBS-to-FBS transfers to sit out a year after their move, any concern over credits carrying over at CU was a moot point, as that student-athlete would’ve effectively been out of the picture regardless. But with the collegiate model transitioning to one of immediate transfers with immediate eligibility, CU alums and fans felt the program was working from a competitive disadvantage.
CU is slated to open the 2023 season, Sanders’ first, at TCU on Sept. 2. Coach Prime is on tap to make his home debut vs. Nebraska on Sept. 9.
Given the recent histories of both sides of this professional marriage, each is taking something of a risk.
CU is regarded nationally as one of the tougher jobs among Power 5 programs, decades removed from its salad days under Bill McCartney, Rick Neuheisel and Gary Barnett. From 1982-2005, the Buffs played in 17 bowl games and won a share of the national championship in 1990.
The 55-year-old Sanders, who asked to be referred to as “Coach Prime” during his tenure as the head coach at FCS Jackson State from 2020-22, will be the Buffs’ fifth different full-time coach since 2012.
CU has lost eight or more games in a season seven times since joining the Pac-12 for the 2011 season and has put together one non-pandemic winning football season — a 10-4 mark in 2016 — over the past 17 years. The Buffs are coming off a 1-11 season, their fifth in 12 seasons that has featured at least nine losses.
This will be Sanders’ first opportunity as a head coach at the FBS level and his first in the mountain region, where he has few professional ties as a player or coach. The Florida native had been enormously successful at Jackson State, winning 27 of his first 32 games with the Tigers and coming off a 12-0 season and SWAC championship in Jackson, Miss., this fall.
Sanders last season won The Eddie Robinson Award, presented annually to the top coach in FCS, after leading Jackson State to an 11-2 mark, 9-0 in conference play. The two-time Super Bowl champion and ex-NFL cornerback joined the Tigers in 2020 after serving as the offensive coordinator at Trinity Christian High School in Cedar Hill, Texas, where his sons Shilo and Shedeur played. Sanders co-founded the Prime Prep Academy in 2012, a collection of charter schools in Texas, but the project was shut down in 2015 after a series of financial and legal concerns.
A sophomore quarterback, Shedeur Sanders had thrown for 62 touchdowns and 6,294 yards entering Saturday’s SWAC championship game, which Jackson State won 43-24, over Southern.
Last December, Sanders got the nation’s top recruit, Georgia cornerback Travis Hunter, to flip from Florida State to Jackson State. The Jackson (Miss.) Convention & Visitors Bureau reported late last year that the Tigers’ football revival nearly doubled its financial impact on the city, bringing in a reported $30 million in 2021 compared to $16 million in 2019, which took place pre-Sanders and pre-pandemic.
“Deion Sanders’ stature transcends sports,” CU chancellor Phil DiStefano said via a university release, “and his hiring elevates not only the football program but the university as a whole.”
Coach Prime’s playing exploits are the stuff of legend. One of the best athletes of his generation, the former Florida State star managed to thrive in both the NFL and MLB simultaneously. He’s the only man in history to have played in both a World Series and a Super Bowl and the only man to hit a home run in an MLB game and score a touchdown in an NFL game during the same week.