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Deion Sanders and Colorado's list of possible candidates for defensive coordinator

There's no shortage of qualified coaches ready to join Coach Prime's staff in 2024

Some big name candidates are beginning to emerge for what will be a highly sought after defensive coordinator position with the Colorado Buffaloes. While Deion Sanders has not said definitively that Pat Shurmur will lead the offense, he is expected to be the full-time replacement for Sean Lewis.

As for the defense, Charles Kelly recently left for Auburn after a year in Boulder. The long-time assistant returns to his home state for a stint at his alma mater. There are many directions Sanders can go in replacing Kelly. It’s was reported by 247Sports' Carl Reed that whoever he chooses will have significant NFL experience. Whether that means coaching, playing, or a combination of both, hasn't been determined. 

Let’s separate some of the true contenders from those who have been randmly speculated about on social media.

The Favorites

Mike Zimmer

As BuffsBeat reported several weeks ago, Mike Zimmer wants to return to coaching. Now, what exactly that means is very much to be determined. He would likely have head coaching opportunities at the college level, and at the very least, coordinator offers in the NFL. Zimmer, who turns 68 in June, said he has a great relationship with Coach Prime. He would be one of the most experienced candidates on the list. 

Ed Reed

Reed joining the staff makes too much sense. The Hall-of-Famer hasn't taken on a new opportunity since leaving Bethune-Cookman last year. He also held a senior management role for three years at Miami prior to becoming a head coach. Reed told the “Pivot Podcast” how Prime tried to recruit him to take over at Jackson State. He has also stated publicly his appreciation for Coach Prime during his very short tenure in Daytona Beach. 

Rex Ryan

While this may seem like a long shot, if you have seen the video of Rex Ryan visiting Jackson State in 2021, it’s pretty obvious there’s mutual admiration. 

The current ESPN analyst just turned 61 last month, and surprisingly, has been out of coaching since 2016. While I’m sure he’s enjoying the spotlight and paycheck that comes with his big network appearances, this is the kind of move that fits his personality. His defensive schemes would cause all kinds of havoc in the Big 12. It would be a dream scenario. 

Brandon Staley 

This would also make a ton of sense for Staley to be on Prime's staff. His name and reputation has been tarnished some during a rather tumultuous stint as head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers. But he could rebuild for the better at CU. 

Personality wise, Staley is the opposite of “Prime Time.” Maybe it was the obnoxious bright blue backdrop, but It was painful watching him squirm during some of the most uncomfortable press conferences we have seen in recent memory. 

I think making Staley co-defensive coordinator alongside a former player, like Reed, could be a winning formula for success in Boulder. 

Other notable names

Tony Dungy

You want to make a splash hire? Why not go for a hall of famer? 

He’s nearly the same age as Zimmer at 68 and hasn’t coached in 15 years. But this would be the kind of hire that would send a few shockwaves across the college football landscape. To be the best, you're going to need the best. 

Ken Norton Jr.

Prime's former teammate from San Francisco continues to climb the coaching ranks at UCLA. Norton is well-liked and has been successful in a number of different capacities both in college and the NFL. He also has three years experience as a defensive coordinator under Pete Carroll in Seattle.

Mike Caldwell

We will have to see if any changes are coming for the Jacksonville Jaguars coaching staff. After an 8-3 start to the season, and ultimately missing the playoffs, a shake-up may be inevitable. This could lead to the current Jags DC becoming available. I don’t think fans would mind seeing him bring “Sacksonville” to Boulder this year. 

Lovie Smith

Like Dungy, a former head coach of the year in the NFL. He would bring credibility but there are questions on how much of an impact he would make with recruits. He was just 17-39 leading Illinois over the course of five seasons. However, Sanders has a better structure in place in Boulder than what Smith was given to work with in Champaign. 

Ron Rivera

With Rivera's time now up in Washington, maybe Colorado presents a unique challenge that could be appealing to the veteran coach. Considering his “Riverboat Ron” moniker, perhaps him taking one more gamble on himself could lead a most satisfying conclusion in a distinguished coaching career.

Vance Joseph

Joseph is already in a bit of a weird situation as defensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, who fired him as head coach a few years ago. The Buffs alum decided to return to the Mile High City under Sean Payton. While Payton will likely survive any in-house turmoil, the future is unclear for Joseph. Whether he’s fired or resigns, an opportunity like CU, might be very attractive.