Op-Ed: For Deion Sanders and Colorado, the message has to match the momentum

Coach Prime needs to refocus and move forward with the task at hand this year
Mar 3, 2024; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes student fan holds a photo cut out of football head coach Deion Sanders during the second half against the Stanford Cardinal at the CU Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 3, 2024; Boulder, Colorado, USA; Colorado Buffaloes student fan holds a photo cut out of football head coach Deion Sanders during the second half against the Stanford Cardinal at the CU Events Center. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports / Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Coach Prime built a significant army of fans long before becoming the head man in Boulder. A big piece of that pie is carryovers from his playing days. Some love “Prime Time,” the persona Deion Sanders created to reach higher levels, but they are two very different people. Then some have come on after the fact, clinging on to the messages delivered via the Coach Prime media machine. Either way, most Sanders fans became that way based on something they saw or an idea that was conveyed that they felt good about. All of which makes perfect sense. Unless the message and the execution don’t match.

Coach Prime has said many times they do things differently and that makes people uncomfortable. And it’s mostly how Prime recruits. Those concerns are more than well founded. Even in the current era of college athletics, no coach would be effective long term if they simply punted on recruiting high school kids or treated the transfer portal like NFL free agency. It’s not sustainable. That’s not a Coach Prime specific notion. College football just doesn’t work that way. Never has, likely never will. That is unless the goal is for immediate success with zero consideration beyond the current season.
College football is closer to major league baseball in this regard than any other sport. The whole model works when there are layers of talent. The team you have today might be nice, but if there aren’t waves of talent ready to step in, that program is destined to struggle beyond the ‘present situation’. Even if Shedeur Sanders, Shilo Sanders, Travis Hunter, and the rest of Coach Prime’s favored few don’t have a "hardware" season, the roster they have now might not be destined for great things in 2024. If that is true, just how bad will 2025 be? The reason for the question is there isn’t much on the books for next year. According to 247Sports, the Colorado Buffaloes have three class of 2025 recruits. Which is a curious detail all by itself. 

You don’t have to be a football analyst to get the sense the Buffaloes are all in for this year. Which again, is rather curious on what’s going on. Consider the following list of players: Shedeur Sanders, Travis Jay, Omarion Miller, Jimmy Horn Jr, Cam’ron Silmon-Craig, LaJohntay Wester, Travis Hunter, Shilo Sanders, Jeremiah Brown, Trevor Woods, Charlie Offerdahl, Arden Walker, Chidozie “Block Bully” Nwankwo, Shane Cokes and the entire offensive line minus Jordan Seaton. That list includes the vast majority of players Coach Prime speaks about most affectionately. What is the first thing that the entire list of players seem to have in common? It is very unlikely any of those players listed will be in Boulder for the 2025 football season. Who is stepping up when those key players leave? What is the personnel contingency plan? Not to mention, what if one of them gets injured?   

Coach Prime might be the biggest fan of the transfer portal, as evident from his first two waves. So far this year, CU is seventh overall in the nation, but leads all schools with 41 new transfers. Nine more than the No. 2 teams. It’s easy to see this as an unconditional positive considering the landscape. After all, Coach Prime isn’t doing anything wrong when it pertains to the transfer portal. Let’s not forget, on a one-win team with 85 scholarship players, Coach Prime brought in 53 transfers and a total of 86 new players. All of them didn’t run out of eligibility. So, why the need for 41 new transfers after you flipped the roster already? 

If you listen to Coach Prime explain it, those guys weren’t good. They didn’t measure up to the standard. Yet, we have documented instances where Prime has stated, those guys didn’t meet the standard. Or those guys weren’t dawgs. All of them? Seriously? You had to replace 41 guys because you found out after the fact that they weren’t the dawgs you thought they were? That doesn’t add up. 
Looking at the names that have left just since the conclusion of the 2023 season, you should start to see some red flags. The biggest recruiting story of last year was how Coach Prime flipped top cornerback Cormani McClain in no time flat. That story turned quickly when the five-star recruit wasn’t getting anywhere near the same treatment as other highly-touted players. Those notable players that most everyone close to the situation would describe as Deion’s kids or close to it.  
Did Cormani struggle with adjusting to altitude? Yes. Did Cormani struggle with being on time, attending meetings, watching films, or holding his own in practice? Well, that’s what we’ve been told by the media machine. Have we heard from Cormani or anyone close to him?  Nope, but 18 years covering sports tells me Cormani just not being good enough was not the answer

Prior to the arrival of Jordan Seaton, the best offensive lineman on the roster pre transfers was Savion Washington. The Kent State transfer played the latter end of the 2023 season injured. He played the best he could and was still the best lineman on that unit. A group that was almost the laughingstock of college football. You bring in the No. 1 OT recruit and almost an entire new offensive line, but keep Washington. There were even some images seen of Washington seemingly working well with Seaton. So, why did Washington jump in the portal recently? Not in December or February, but April. In case the timing is lost on you, April is the Spring Game. The timing of that departure is also curious to the masses.  

Coach Prime being active in the transfer portal was never all that concerning. As long as one of Prime’s favored few wasn’t included in players entering the portal. Well, at that moment, “it was all good just a week ago” comes to mind. Let’s backtrack. Dylan Edwards was a Notre Dame recruit who tweeted out “Got room for me Unc?'' The moment Sanders was announced as the coach at Colorado. We learned that Edwards played for Coach Prime back in Texas as early as the age of nine. In the season opener against TCU, Edwards went off with four touchdowns. Sanders shot off like a rocket in the press conference talking about Edwards as if he was the fourth Sanders brother. He spoke to the media during Spring ball this year, and while his words said he was excited to play more wide receiver and do some different things in the run game, his body language and tone would suggest something else entirely. Then the ground shaking news hits. Edwards, one of Prime’s favored few, had entered the transfer portal. That one moved the needle of concern and  threw up massive red flags. The only thing more shocking would be hearing Travis, Shilo or Shedeur enter the portal. But Prime wished him well and nothing else was really said publicly. 

No one who has been following this situation in Boulder closely knows. Prime has been in all three seats. No one has any doubt that if Prime walks into a recruit’s home, based on the timeline in place, he would most likely get that kid to commit. He’s Deion freaking Sanders. But he also doesn’t do in-home recruiting, claiming that going to some recruits' houses would rival the Pope coming to town. Well, even if that is the case, why do all the players he’s pulling seem to be upgrades, but also players the big dawgs in college football weren’t even looking at? Most of the transfers who came over from big Power 5 programs have jumped back into the portal? 

Every player who has left the program after being recruited by Coach Prime gets almost the same treatment. If you go quietly, there’s no issue. If they say anything at all on the way out, someone from CU has to get the last word. The only problem with that is it’s not necessary. Maybe if each story was different, but they aren’t and that’s exactly the point. Any time a player has left the program and had anything to say on their way out, or after they’ve left, they have been met with hostility. As if they are the lone voice of opposition in this football utopia. Here’s the kicker though, every player who has said anything after leaving, has the same exact story. If you can’t help them win immediately and you don’t matter. Stories of guys told they’d be a big part of what they’re doing, only to arrive and be treated like strangers. Players are told they aren’t good enough and will never play. Stories of favoritism and glass ceilings they will never get through. So, we come full circle to the operating model. 

Even guys perceived to be some of Prime’s favorite guys are in the portal. Myles Slusher, Tar’varish Dawson (from Ft. Myers, the same as Deion), Demouy Kennedy (LB from Alabama) back in the portal. Eric Brantley Jr (DE from Georgia Tech enrolls at CU on January 8th of 2024, enters the portal on April 19th. The Spring Game was April 26th. Committed to FAU mere days ago. Not to throw shade on another program but going from CU for 10-11 practices then leaves for Florida Atlantic? 

That is curious at the very least. Has it reached a point though, where we have to ask ourselves, is Coach Prime not great at recruiting even though he has the gravitas to be elite at it? Yes, he’s pulled some significant talent at the top, but where are the “meat and potatoes” players that ensure program stability? Where are the CU's new DBU secondary players not named Shilo and Travis? Any of the Iowa and Wisconsin level lineman? Where are the Ohio State and Alabama level pass rushers? The honeymoon of Deion, an elite recruiter, might have ended already. 

Everything we’ve looked at thus far is all player personnel stuff. While there is plenty there to be concerned with. It casts a shadow over what 2025 and beyond will look like. Plenty for sports pundits to digest and discuss. If those were the only concerns, maybe it’s nothing to worry about. However, it’s not just curious personnel moves that come off as concerning. 

Let’s address the elephant in the room. Shilo Sanders is injured and that is not up for debate. No matter how hard anyone wants to push back on that. Notice that everyone saying he’s not injured is saying that without Shilo in the shot on camera.  While we’re going down the “curious” rabbit hole. Sanders just had his big acting debut on BMF where he got to channel his father’s persona. The episode aired with many reviews. So, where is Shilo? Why isn’t he on a media tour touting his latest foray into acting? The short answer is, if he did that we would see that he was in fact injured. The timeline is also curious. Shilo goes snowboarding often and it’s something that would not be advised for any football player with aspirations of an NFL career. He appears in the  Spring Game fully dressed with curiously enough a sturdy full shoulder brace that would make Barry Bonds jealous painted the exact shade of black. Then there’s spring break for two weeks. Followed by non-activity until summer camp starts. Sounds like a good time for Shilo to rehab after surgery. Yet, multiple coaches and highly suspicious friends of the program who provide no value to the program but are permitted access everywhere are pushing back like they have money riding on it.  

Shilo Sanders files for bankruptcy to absolve $11.8 million judgement tied to assault

In the 2023 season finale, despite wanting to play, Shedeur Sanders had to be held out of that game because as he put it, “I broke my back”. That game was only the second game of the season where Colorado was run off the field, competitively. It’s a point Prime likes to bring up often. They might have gone 4-8 but they were in all but two games. The second-to-last game against Washington State was one of those two. And yet, less than 3 months later, Sanders can be seen in Miami jumping off a yacht into the ocean. 

Another curious situation, there were national stories about Shedeur and others complaining about the parking situation in Boulder, which is objectively a nightmare. However, in the story run everywhere about Sanders’ Maybach getting booted, their primary gripe was this should not happen to them. Here’s the rub on that. CU football practice takes place in one of three different practice fields. All three are centrally located around the “Champions Center”. The second floor of the building is a medical facility. The parking lot closest to that entrance has signs clearly stating, “this lot is for medical patients only, parking will be validated when you check in for your appointment”.
If Shedeur parks there to attend practice, he’s parked illegally, his parking won’t get validated because he does not have a medical appointment and stands completely in the wrong every which way you slice it. 

To make matters worse, CU officials have confirmed the football players can purchase a parking pass good in most parking areas for the massive, unthinkable, disrespectful cost of $130 per year. So, we have an NFL great legacy, who has an NIL valuation nearing $10 Million dollars and a father worth over four times that much. Not to mention, the 22-year-old Buffs QB reportedly has six cars, all of which are more expensive than the two best cars any of us have ever owned combined. This is the guy complaining about parking even though he has the means to avoid tickets, chooses not to, and simply wants to park wherever because he feels he needs to. To make matters worse, Well Off Media put out a video boasting that Shedeur was the first person of any kind in the state of Colorado with a Cyberbeast. The flaunting arrogance will in time change people’s sense of empathy in any such situation. 

Coach Prime says Shedeur Sanders and Travis Hunter will holdout for certain teams in 2025 NFL Draft

It’s nice to have a behind-the-scenes look of the program, but some stuff shouldn’t make the final cut. We’ve seen The volume of shots, content, and imagery that has no business is staggering. Twice there were videos while driving over the speed limit, one in particular where the driver is doing over double the posted speed limit on a major highway. The speedometer was clearly flirting with triple digits. Bucky and Coach Prime had a great idea of utilizing a GoPro camera so fans could see what he sees in practice. In the press conference he is still wearing it and revealed the active depth chart. If that’s the intention of showing everything with a raw view, so be it. But other programs are watching to gain an advantage. 

This program has established itself and seems to live and die by the transfer portal. We’ve already established that isn’t a problem but it also isn’t sustainable either. However, if that is going to be the model, the program, the coaches, the recruiting people and darn sure the players, should not be addressing it publicly. Coaches taking shots at former players is bush league. Admins are putting out decrees on social channels all but promising retribution for any transferring players saying anything about the program that might not be favorable. You want to talk trash in your group chat, that’s fine. But why are you posting them for the world to see? That’s a bad look all the way around. 

However, don’t expect the media to say much. In almost every press conference, you can pick up on a number of biases. Half of the room is treated as neutral. They cover the team, they don’t say anything scathing and do an objectively decent job. Treated neutrally. There are 2-3 reporters everyone in the room knows are out to drag Coach Prime and his program whenever possible. They are for the most part, treated as such. One of them has even been referred to as ‘The Devil’ in real time by Coach Prime.  Then there are a few that Coach Prime or other coaches seem to be a tad more pleasant with and get preferential treatment.  

Some media have been allowed to watch practice, which brings into question why? There was even a moment early last season where Coach Prime told a reporter, “you’re only saying that because you weren’t at practice.” Then even though it wasn’t her question, Arielle Orsuto of 9News shouts out, “Will you give us access to practice?” To which Prime responded quickly, “Well that’s not happening.” No one in the media pool gets to watch practice, except one. And they’ve been allowed to bend the rules with weird access and nobody has questioned them. Is it because their content is so great, a game recognizes game situations? No. Not even remotely close. So, what is the benefit to Coach Prime? Why would he give preferential treatment to a media group that seems very new at this? What do they provide the program? I’m not talking about Well Off Media. Bucky and his team do a great job storytelling. Also, If Peter King or Rich Eisen walks in the room that’s a different story. They are not even in the same hemisphere as names like that. Let that marinate for a minute. 

CU is going to live and die by the transfer portal. Coach Prime doesn’t recruit high school and he doesn’t go into kid’s homes to save CU money. They bring in transfers and that means you have 120 guys coming and going over the course of a near calendar year. Some of which feel less than great about their time there. Did they think all of these guys would walk off into the sunset and not have anything to say? It's easy for coaches and their associates to paint a picture of players who didn’t meet the standard, but when all of them have exactly the same story, eventually people will stop buying the “they weren’t dawgs, they didn’t meet the standard'' and start wondering, what’s really going on in Boulder? Prime example with no pun intended, Dylan Edwards is literally the last guy you have to worry about wanting to work. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. But that particular one is a case of a good dude left for his own reasons, and they seemed to turn on him. He’s a guy Coach Prime loves and, or so we’ve been led to believe. And the hype man is trashing one of ‘your kids’ for nothing more than a cheap shot on his character. 

Eventually, people are going to start believing what’s put in front of them, regardless of how you try to spin it. The bottom line problems that are fostered with the culture of programs don’t happen overnight. It’s time to tighten it up. Stop caring if leaving players have something to say. Focus on going out and being the best. Be focused. Listen to your own lessons. They are printed on almost every wall in that part of the building. Exemplify Fast, Tough, Discipline, with Character. Stop trying to control the narrative and just win. It will solve many problems and silence the haters.

Published |Modified
Jason Jones