College football’s disruptor officially arrived over the weekend.
It occurred sometime between telling his Jackson State team — filmed and then released on social media, of course — that he was leaving for Colorado and telling his Colorado team — filmed and then released on social media, of course — that they might want to transfer because each guy who leaves means “the more room you make.”
Deion Sanders has never been one to mince words or be shy about what he believes. The quiet parts aren’t just said out loud; they're said with a preacher's flair and blasted out for everyone to hear.
As a sport tries to come to grips with unprecedented freedom for players to move via the open transfer portal, a man with zero FBS victories as a head coach is already seen as its most honest ambassador.
Plenty of coaches are complaining about the portal, which some 2,500 players are expected to enter to at least seek supposed greener pastures. Other coaches are trying to make the most of it, willingly leaving room in recruiting classes to plug holes and turn over rosters.
Then there is Coach Prime, who is unapologetic about it all. At Jackson State, he once declared, “We live in the portal. We got an apartment in the portal.” Now that he is in the Pac-12, it’s more of the same. Get with the program or get out, the way he told his new team, which just finished a 1-11 season.
“I'm not going to lie: Some of you who are sitting in these seats aren’t going to have a seat,” Sanders said. “... So I want you all to get ready, to go jump in that portal and do what you are going to get.
“... Those of you we don’t run off, we’re going to try to make you quit … I want the ones who don’t want to quit, that want to be here, that want to work, that want to win, that are appreciative of everything they get here.
“... We got a few positions already taken care of,” he told his new guys, “because I’m bringing my luggage with me, and it’s Louis [Vuitton].”
You’ll find no Vuittons on the CU roster next year, when Sanders begins his first season as a Pac-12 head coach, but you will find Prime’s own son, Shedeur, who will likely be the starting quarterback, and probably two-way sensation Travis Hunter Jr., the former No. 1 overall recruit, and a few other standouts who will follow from Jackson State.
You might also find 15-20 talented high school recruits who longtime recruiting expert Mike Farrell predicts will immediately vault the Buffs into a top-25 class. After that, it could be half a team of transfers, with literally 40-50 guys coming in from all over.
The Colorado roster is going to get flipped, and while what Sanders said isn’t necessarily groundbreaking — this is how all new coaches change things — it has never been said in such a bold and public way.
Coach Prime is 55 but no less confident than when he was starring in the NFL and MLB … at the very same time. In 2020, he took over at Jackson State because it was the only place willing to hire him as a head coach without any experience — the way fellow former NFLer Jim Harbaugh had to start at non-scholarship San Diego.
Sanders went 27-5, including 12-0 this season, and now he’s at Colorado, the worst Power 5 team in America this year but one Sanders sees as heaven. He pointed to the great academics, the beautiful city and the big stadium.
Where others might say CU has outdated facilities compared to the palaces around the country, Prime scoffed and accused his current team of not being appreciative.
“We’ve never had nothing of [the] sort to work out in, to train in,” he said of his situation at Jackson State. “Our kids [at JSU] would go absolutely crazy to be in the situation you are in, but you don’t respect it.”
Some bristled at Sanders’ talk. Others were taken aback that he was pumping videos out into the world for all to see or cutting additional ones imploring potential transfers and recruits to reach out.
The thing is, he found his audience. Sources say more than 200 potential transfers have already made contact, a number growing by the hour. A top-20 prospect from the Class of 2025 has already verbally committed, despite offers from Alabama, Georgia and others.
One Pac-12 assistant, watching the excitement from afar at a long moribund program, surmised that “half our roster would probably leave if Deion reached out to them."
It’s clear players love him, are drawn to him and want to be around him.
It’s not just these videos and these messages they’ve seen. It’s the others, including Hunter hugging and weeping in the arms of his coach before his first game. Or the time Hunter, a teammate and Sanders discussed Hunter’s apparent strong loyalty to his girlfriend, with Prime jokingly accusing his freshman of secretly getting married and offering to write the prenup.
“He just connects with kids in a way that other coaches simply can’t,” said Adam Gorney, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.
This is a coach unlike any other, who communicates in a way like no other. His immediate challenge will be not attracting talent but sorting through the growing mountain of it and picking the right ones.
The way the sport is run is rapidly changing. How many games Sanders wins at Colorado remains to be seen, especially in 2023. The Buffaloes have posted one winning season (outside of the 2020 COVID-19-shortened schedule) since 2005. No one should expect a miracle.
Yet Sanders already won a major recruiting victory when he got 36-year-old Sean Lewis to quit as head coach of Kent State to become the offensive coordinator at CU. That means an up-tempo, high-octane offense is coming.
It has been two days, but something new is happening here. A change agent, a disrupter, a coach positioned to take advantage of a new era is in place.
Deion Sanders will tell you he didn't come to Colorado to just “show up but to show out.” That begins in the fall, but at the moment, the rest of the sport is looking on in awe.
It’s Prime Time in Colorado, where suddenly everything is different, and anything seems possible.