ESPN commentator slams Deion Sanders as Hollywood celebrity acting as coach

Coach Prime didn't receive any roses for pulling Colorado from the basement
Sep 16, 2023; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders on the set of ESPN College GameDay prior to the game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Colorado State Rams at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 16, 2023; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders on the set of ESPN College GameDay prior to the game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the Colorado State Rams at Folsom Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports / Andrew Wevers-USA TODAY Sports
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Deion Sanders' name has been synonymous with football excellence and charisma but now he's the face of college football. As he approaches his second year as coach of the Buffaloes, Sanders’ transition from an illustrious Hall of Fame playing career to a coaching role has been under intense scrutiny. Coach Prime has brought significant attention to Colorado's program, even if his coaching credentials are still a topic of debate among analysts and fans alike.

One of those who has been highly critical is Paul Finebaum. The ESPN commentator joined ‘McElroy and Cubelic in the Morning’ and discussed the "Prime Effect" in Boulder. He touched on why the honeymoon phase might be over.

“First of all, he is a celebrity but he’s not a celebrity as a coach. To me, Deion, it’s all about what he did previously and I think that’s why I give him a lot of credit for calling himself Coach Prime. Because that puts the emphasis on being a coach,” Finebaum said about Sanders’ nickname. “But listen, he is an industry-created coaching celebrity. What happened last year was generational, but it was mostly forced and created, and it was really in many ways illegitimate.”

Sanders’ first season with the Buffs was marked by substantial changes, both on and off the field. The team recovered from a dismal one-win season in 2022, and improved to a 4-8 record. This wasn't groundbreaking in terms of wins and losses, but showcased his ability to revamp the team through a highly-active transfer portal strategy similar to the NFL free agency. Colorado's significant roster changes included 42 players transferring out and 41 new players coming to Boulder, which reflects Sanders' aggressive approach to building a competitive team quickly.

“He really never beat anyone of consequence, but that didn’t stop us from talking about it," Finebaum said. "By the way, I’m guilty. I was on those shows as you were. But it felt surreal and I’ll never forget being asked, I think Steven A. Smith asked me in the second week of the season "hey, do you think they’re a playoff team?" I had a hard time answering with a straight face, because I think he had just been out there and he believed in it. But that was never real.”

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The arrival of Sanders in Colorado brought a media frenzy, drawing unprecedented attention to the program. The Buffaloes brought record-breaking television viewership and attendance to the market, demonstrating Sanders' magnetic presence and ability to draw the national spotlight. Despite these achievements, Sanders' effectiveness as a coach has been questioned, with some viewing his rise more as a media phenomenon than a reflection of coaching prowess.

The challenge for Sanders now extends beyond just improving the team's record. As Colorado prepares to join the Big 12 Conference, the competition will be stiffer, and the expectations higher. This transition will test Sanders' ability to leverage his fame into tangible success on the field. His second consecutive offseason overhaul indicates a continued strategy of rapid roster turnover to build a competitive team.

Despite the skepticism, Sanders' influence in college football is undeniable. His presence has transformed the Buffaloes into a nationally relevant program, bringing in top talent and making Colorado a frequent topic of discussion in the college football community. This attention, while sometimes seen as superficial, can have lasting benefits in recruiting and program visibility.

“It’s just a matter of being honest, I don’t consider him a great coach at all. He’s a Hollywood created celebrity primarily because of what he did in other walks of life, namely playing football. But I mean he disappeared for a long time. We didn’t really know what he was up to and quite frankly, his performance as a coach has been less than spectacular,” Finebaum said.

The upcoming season will be crucial in determining whether Sanders can convert his star power into sustained coaching success. The evolving landscape of college football presents both opportunities and challenges for Coach Prime. His journey will undoubtedly be one of the most watched narratives in college football.


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Josh Tolle

JOSH TOLLE