Colorado

A spectacular move, for better or for worse

For the vast majority of the past 20 years, Colorado has languished on the fringes of the college football solar system, like one of those asteroids drifting through the Kuiper Belt behind Pluto.

That all changed on Saturday night when the Buffaloes hired Deion Luwynn Sanders Sr. and instantly transformed into one of the brightest objects in the night sky — one guaranteed to captivate the sport.

“Coach Prime,” as Sanders is known, has taken over a program desperate for prime time.

And that makes perfect sense, because at the heart of this fascinating, unconventional, amazing employment lies desperation.

The Buffaloes have been bowl-eligible twice in the past decade.

They were the worst team in the Power Five this season.

They’ve struggled through head coaches like no other in the Pac-12, leaving behind a demoralized fan base, a sparse roster and a tortured administration.

It all led to Sanders, 55, playing football at the highest level — he’s arguably the greatest cornerback in history — but coaching a total of 32 games, all of them in FCS with Jackson State.

It’s a spectacular appointment by any measure, folks: the Coach Prime experiment may flourish or it may flop, but it will be absolutely captivating to watch.

After so many years in the wild, the buffalo are now the object of our gaze.

Thoughts on renting…

– It’s an overwhelming victory for the Pac-12 overall, which immediately raises the profile of a struggling program and makes the conference 37 times more interesting.

Sanders is a sports celebrity and sporting icon who happens to be an inexperienced but promising football coach.

Everything he does and says will be a story that creates light where a black hole existed.

Recall that last spring ESPN decided to only broadcast one spring game live, the USC scrimmage in late April, because of the hype surrounding the arrival of coach Lincoln Riley and quarterback Caleb Williams.

Don’t be surprised if something similar happens in Boulder in a few months. And if not the spring game itself, other CU football events will draw immeasurably more interest than they’ve had in eons.

Any time a low-level program becomes a source of national interest, the collectives benefit.

That it’s happening at this moment, with USC and UCLA poised to depart and the Pac-12 staring into an uncertain future, only bodes well for the conference.

And if Sanders does win at a high level in the next few years… oh dear.

Conclusion: There has never been such a Pac-12.

– Responsibility for bringing Sanders on board for better or for worse rests solely with Colorado athletic director Rick George, who has also hired Mel Tucker and Karl Dorrell in recent years.

(The former moved in the right direction before Tucker abruptly departed for Michigan State; the latter started out positive but then dissipated completely.)

George met Sanders years ago when they were both living in Dallas – George as an executive with Rangers, Sanders after his playing career.

In many ways, Sanders seems a bad fit for Colorado, for Boulder, and even for the Pac-12, which generally tends towards dull, low-key attitudes.

But the power of Sanders’ fame and personality — and the way he connects with players — is light years misplaced.

Colorado Chancellor Phil DiStefano and University System President Todd Saliman did not approve the move without understanding the contortions required to make it work.

Everything has changed for Colorado—the football program, the athletic department, and the university.

— A crucial element is the transfer portal.

As both Arizona and USC have shown, the portal can speed up recovery to varying degrees. A process that once took new coaches three or four years now takes a year or two with the right influx of talent.

Sanders didn’t take the job, expecting to work for several seasons. He expects to use the transfer portal to turn things around immediately.

And yet this plan seemingly clashes with Colorado’s institutional approach of transferring credits from other schools, which has limited the football program’s ability to search the portal for help.

However, DiStefano announced Saturday that the school is adjusting its policy on credit hours with a “pilot program.”

If things work out the way Sanders expects, check the portal over the next few weeks to see if the Buffaloes will do well.

When there are obstacles, internal frustration and friction can arise.

– Sanders will update the squad immediately – we have no doubt about that.

His success at Jackson State (27-5 over three years), his notoriety and connections throughout the Southeast quadrant of the country will result in immediate recruiting wins.

But what about the actual, um, coaching?

Will Sanders hire coordinators or assistants with Power Five experience?

Will the Buffaloes play with one identity offensively and defensively, or will they change month-to-month based on the talent available?

It’s impossible to know how Sanders’ success at Jackson State will translate to the Pac-12.

— Another area of ​​interest: NCAA compliance.

We suspect that Sanders and his staff pay little heed to many of the mysterious, outdated, and nonsensical rules that govern the sport.

After all, Sanders himself was playing for Florida State — or “Free Shoes U,” as Steve Spurrier once joked — at a time when NCAA hypocrisy was first gaining traction.

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