Before the 2023 season started, ESPN’s Tom Luginbill said that Colorado might have the worst roster in college football. By the end of the 2023 regular season, Deion Sanders was strictly focused on the future, given that he had failed at the present.
“We getting ready to start cooking,” he said recently. “We getting ready to start go pick up that grocery and make sure we do it right. You know what we need. Everybody know what we need. You know darn well what we need, so we gonna get it.”
These are the words of a spin master trying to get people to forget what they witnessed all season. When you go 1-8 after winning your first three games, misdirection is your only option. But instead of taking his lumps and dialing it back some, “Coach Prime” is dead set on selling college football fans another dream.
Tom Luginbill was a prophet. Deion Sanders is the Pied Piper.
From the exciting and stunning upset over TCU to the wins that could have easily been losses, to the close games and blowouts that followed, this past season was a case study of how people love to blindly throw their support behind things, or people they admire. It’s the only explanation to understand the hype around a man whose fifth-best win as a college football head coach is against Southern University — and that’s no disrespect to the Jaguars out of the SWAC.
One of the ongoing issues that Deion Sanders will face as a head coach is that he’s Deion Sanders. When he was a player, he had a chance to affect the outcome of the final score on every snap. But in his new role, he doesn’t. It’s why the all-time greats rarely find success as coaches. They see and can do things that most can’t. It’s like watching Superman get frustrated with humans for not being able to fly. And since Sanders has never shown us any signs of growth in that area, his mouth is destined to keep writing checks that his teams won’t be able to cash.
“It’s a whole different level of expectation around here, and you got to be able to play the game,” Sanders told ESPN in February.
“We will not settle for mediocrity. It is what it is.”
Sanders wasn’t the only coach who took over a bad team this season; Colorado went 1-11 before he showed up. Stanford, Arizona State, Wisconsin, Nebraska, Georgia Tech, and Auburn were all led by men in their first year on the job. Some of them improved. Some of them held steady. But none of them tried to cheat the system by cutting corners like Sanders did. Colorado had 19 new starters, 68 new scholarship players, and 58 incoming transfers on their roster to start the season.
Everyone outside of Sanders and his disciples knew that this wasn’t the way to build and instantly turn around a program. But he wouldn’t be deterred. So, for all the people who feel like the goalposts were moved as Colorado went from being a 1-11 program in 2022 to one that finished 4-8 in 2023, Sanders is the one who’s solely responsible for making it impossible to label Colorado’s improvement as a success.
“I don’t think like that,” Sanders said when asked by FOX Sports’ Joel Klatt if he viewed 4-5 wins as a drastic improvement for the program before the season started. “I don’t want a sip. I want it all. And I want it now. And I feel like we’re assembling the type of young men and the staff to have it all.”
Before Sanders can look too far into the future, he has to deal with things that are carrying over from this past season. He demoted his offensive coordinator. His tight-end coach just quit. And Sanders has announced that NFL legend Warren Sapp will be joining the staff. Let’s see if Sapp can pass the background check.
But most importantly, top recruits are jumping ship. And it might be because of Sanders’ mouth.
“We’re not an ATM. That’s not going to happen here. If you come to Colorado to play football for me and the Colorado Buffaloes, it’s because you really want to play football and receive a wonderful education and all the business stuff will be handled on the back end if that’s the case,” he recently said. But we are not an ATM. You’re not coming here to get rich unless you’re really coming here with a plan to go to the NFL and get your degree.”
In the NIL era, and at a moment during the season when recruits are zeroing in on decisions and transfers are trying to figure out their next destination, Sanders — of all people — isn’t making player compensation a priority.
“We want players who want us,” he continued. “Trying to convince somebody and doing that and being held hostage financially … we ain’t with that. We want players who want to be a Colorado Buffalo.”
As usual, there are more questions than answers.
It’s another reason why the assertion that Colorado — a campus that’s less than three percent Black — had become “Black America’s team” was one of the dumbest narratives ever created. It got so bad that comedians who graduated from Historically Black Colleges and Universities were joking and insinuating that Sanders had turned Colorado into an HBCU. Not only was the idea a slap in the face to HBCUs and their alums. It was a disrespectful stance from Black people that showed how low they actually thought of other Black people by believing that a predominantly Black team at a white school in a white conference should be the team that Black people should rally around all because the head coach was Black.
If that was the case, then where was the same support for Dino Babers at Syracuse or Marcus Freeman at Notre Dame?
It’s why those same “fans” that were so loud and setting TV viewership records when Colorado was beating TCU, Colorado, and Colorado State disappeared when the losses piled up. The school learned a lesson. These people weren’t fans of Colorado. They were fans of Deion Sanders, at Colorado.
But, the heart of the matter was that so many Black people thought Sanders could be the one to kick the door down for other Black coaches with thin resumes to get hired on the FBS level like their white counterparts. However, that ideology is flawed because it’s solely based on hope, not fact, as Sanders has never given us any indication that he cares about anything that doesn’t promote or help Deion Sanders. If Sanders was in this to uplift other Black coaches, then his offensive and defensive coordinators would have been Black. He hired two white guys.
Next season, Colorado is scheduled to open its season against North Dakota State before the Buffaloes embark on a new journey as members of the Big 12. North Dakota State is currently in the middle of the FCS playoffs, as the program has won the national championship nine times since 2011. They will not be a cakewalk by any means.
But, given that people in this country, particularly when it comes to sports, hardly ever learn from their mistakes, there will be another media frenzy surrounding the Colorado Buffaloes due to the preseason hype created by Sanders. After Colorado won Game One this season, Deion Sanders made a scene in the postgame press conference by asking longtime ESPN reporter Ed Werder, “Do you believe?” After what we just witnessed from Sanders and the 2023 Colorado Buffaloes, the question should now be, “Was there ever anything to believe in?”