BOULDER, Colo. – The cameras started flashing frantically before he even walked into his first press conference Sunday as the new head coach of the University of Colorado.
Then the room erupted in cheers.
And there he was – Deion Sanders, grinning from ear to ear and describing his arrival on the scene here as a calling from God, with him cast in the role of savior of one of the worst college football teams of 2022.
“It is my job and my occupation and my business, and my dream, to bring you back to where you know you should belong,” Sanders told the crowd of CU boosters, alumni and leaders. “We’re going to have one of the best coaching staffs assembled, some of the best scouts, some of the best kids that we’re recruiting, (with) commitments already coming on the way as I speak. And now that I’ve gotten here and I see it, and I understand it … and I can grasp it and I can touch and I can feel it and I can taste it, I truly understand what you want. All you want is an opportunity to win, to compete, to dominate, to be amongst the elite, to be amongst the best. And darn it, I’m going to give you that.”
SPORTS NEWSLETTER: Sign up now for daily updates sent to your inbox
He even made a guarantee of sorts: “We’re going to be good,” he said. “We’re really going to be good.”
Thus began the Prime Time era of CU football, a former college football powerhouse that just experienced its most electric moment since 2001, when the Buffaloes pummeled rival Nebraska at home 62-36 on the way to winning the Big 12 Conference championship. The Buffs have been mostly irrelevant since then, with only two winning seasons in the past 17 years, punctuated by a 1-11 record in 2022.
But check them out now. According to composite recruiting rankings by 247 Sports, Colorado already ranks first nationally for the 2025 recruiting class. Granted, that’s based on just one player’s commitment to Sanders – five-star wide receiver Winston Watkins in Florida.
It’s still a huge change for CU. And it came on Day One, a crisp, sunny Sunday afternoon in the Rocky Mountains.
“It’s a new day,” CU Athletic Director Rick George said after pumping his fist at the press conference Sunday.
Sanders flew to Colorado late Saturday, after leading his team, Jackson State in Mississippi, to a 12-0 season this year and a 27-5 record in three years. The flamboyant Pro Football Hall of Famer and celebrity pitchman toured CU’s facilities late at night, then heard CU’s Golden Buffalo Marching Band serenade him at about 7:30 a.m. Sunday at Folsom Field. Ralphie was there, too – CU’s famed bison mascot.
So was Sanders’ family, including his son Shedeur, his sophomore quarterback at Jackson State – and soon the quarterback at CU, according to Sanders.
“This is your quarterback,” Sanders told the crowd, as he looked toward his son.
Then he issued a caveat – He’s going to have to “earn it.”
It was one of many examples of how everything at CU suddenly changed overnight – and will continue to change: the roster, the recruiting strategy, the national relevance of the program and the nearly constant presence of cameras, including those filming documentaries of his program.
Academic restrictions are changing, too.
One of the biggest cheers of the afternoon came when CU Boulder Chancellor Phil DiStefano announced a pilot program for transfer credit review that “facilitates the expedited review of the academic credits from other institutions in order to assess their acceptability at CU Boulder as electives.”
The translation of that is CU is making it easier for players at other four-year colleges to transfer into the university – a way to compete better in the transfer portal after so many of its top players from last year’s team rode the transfer portal out of town, including top cornerbacks Christian Gonzalez (Oregon) and Mekhi Blackmon (Southern California).
“It had to be a redo from top to bottom,” George said. “That’s why I’m going to give Coach Prime the latitude to do what he needs to do. We’ve talked about resources and what he needs. … He’s going to shoot for the sky just like we did in this hire. We shot for the highest point we could and I think we got what we shot for.”
They did, but it still seems like an odd fit. Sanders’ roots are in Florida, Texas and the Southeast, a whole different region, culture and climate than Boulder, a white progressive city with a distinguished public research university.
Sanders described it as destiny and said “my calling is not built on a location. It’s built on a destination.”
“The Bible says God uses the foolish things to confound the wise, and he’s always taken me to unlikely places,” Sanders said. “You know usually when you’re great, I mean great at something, I mean really great at something – I was really great. I’m joking. You don’t understand my sense of humor. I kind of wasn’t joking, though. I really was.”
This brought laughter from the crowd, which included former CU quarterbacks Darian Hagan and Charles S. Johnson, who both led CU to a share of the national title in the 1990 season.
Sanders then pointed out he played for five NFL teams and four teams in Major League Baseball.
“God took me from place to place … to bring unity, to bring solvency, to bring peace, to bring joy, to bring happiness, to bring love to others,” Sanders said. “And that’s the same darn reason I’m here now, because he always use an unlikely person to do an unlikely thing, so I’m ready for the task.”
Sanders is set to make $5.9 million per year on average for five years, more than CU has ever paid a football coach but still less than what some coaches make in the Big Ten and Southeastern Conferences.
When asked how they came up with enough money to lure Sanders, George said CU is still pulling it together.
"Well look, we don't have the money yet, but I know we’ll have it," he said. "So I’m not worried about that piece – the support we got from our regents, our president and chancellor to be able to pay what we think we needed to pay him and his assistants ... This is the time for us to put all the chips in the center, and it’s time for us to make a significant commitment to athletics and this football program."
Sanders has said it wasn’t about the money, however.
Instead, he said he also was touched by the love and interest shown to him by CU, especially George as he recruited Sanders to Boulder. He mentioned the fans showing up at the airport to greet him late Saturday. Then when he watched his family on the field and in the facilities at CU after that, he said it brought tears to his eyes.
“You need to give yourselves a darn hand because this is beautiful,” Sanders said. “This is beautiful. And we need to stay together. We need to stay united. We need to continue to lead … It may not happen as quick as you may desire it to, but it’s gonna happen We’re gonna win. It’s gonna happen. I’m not going to put a timetable on it, but it’s gonna happen.”
Sanders was scheduled to leave Boulder shortly after the press conference and indicated he would coach Jackson State in one last game – the Celebration Bowl in Atlanta on Dec. 17. He will resume building the Buffs after that.
"This is a dream," he said. "This is a blessing, and we’ve only just begun. God bless."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deion Sanders introduced at Colorado: 'We're really going to be good'