Deion Sanders stood in front of his Colorado football team for the first time on Sunday and delivered a 7-minute sermon in a way that only he can, a speech that referenced Louis Vuitton luggage, his prominence on ESPN and a theme he repeated over and over again: “I’m comin’.”
Because it’s Coach Prime, and because it was videotaped and Tweeted out for all the world to see, it has drawn a spectrum of praise and criticism for how directly he told a room full of young men that many of them would not be there next year.
“I’m coming to restore, to replace and reenergize,” Sanders said in his speech. “Some of y’all are salvageable. I’m not going to lie, everybody that sit their butt in a seat ain’t gonna have a seat when we get back. But I'm coming. I started and we gonna go dominate and we're going to work."
The messenger might have been atypical, but the message isn’t much different than what most new coaches deliver when they take over 1-11 teams, much less at a program that has posted 15 losing records in the past 17 seasons.
Prime wasn’t hired for a slow and steady rebuild; he wants to win now. Welcome to college football in 2022.
For all the unique aspects Sanders brings to the job, his riff on players entering the transfer portal if they weren’t good enough to make the cut was perhaps the most he’s ever sounded like every other college football coach.
Whatever coaching or chemistry issues caused Colorado to win just one game this season, Sanders knows why he was hired: To bring in a lot of talent to a program that didn’t have much of it. There’s nothing wrong with the players knowing it, too.
Is it one of the more unsavory aspects of college sports? Perhaps.
Does it comport with the idealized academic mission college presidents and administrators like to brag about when they tout the virtues of amateur athletics? Absolutely not.
But is it the reality of trying to turn around a perennial loser? You bet.
“We’ve got a few positions already taken care of because I’m bringing my luggage with me and it’s Louis (Vuitton),” Sanders told the players. "I’m coming. It ain’t gonna be no more of the mess that these wonderful fans, the student body and some of your parents have put up with for probably two decades now. I’m coming. And when I get here, it’s going to change. So I want you all to get ready. Go ahead and jump in that portal and do whatever you're going to do, because the more of you jump in, the more room you make.”
Not only was it a message to the players currently at Colorado, it was an invitation to the hundreds of players all over the country who entered the transfer portal Monday.
The Buffaloes are now open for business, and aside from a few positions where he's already got big-time players coming with him from Jackson State, like his son Shedeur Sanders and cornerback Travis Hunter (i.e., the Louis Vuitton luggage), dozens of roster spots are up for grabs. If there’s not room, Colorado will make room — if you’re a difference-maker.
It may be jarring for people to hear a coach so blatantly tell a group of college athletes that they should probably start looking at their options, but that’s how college sports has worked for a long, long time. For decades, new coaches have come into losing situations and tried to determine who can play and who can’t, who are the malcontents and who are good teammates, who can help you win and who should never have been there in the first place.
That’s what coaches mean when they talk about “changing the culture.” The difference now is that can happen almost overnight.
Buffaloes better brace themselves
Used to be that turning over a roster of players took years of recruiting and slowly building up a talent base that would start to bear fruit by the time they were juniors and seniors. Bringing in transfers could help, but coaches couldn't rely on them too heavily because they had to sit out for a year under the old NCAA rules. And because of certain standards like the Academic Progress Rate, you could risk future scholarship losses or even postseason bans if you pushed too many players out the door.
But since the COVID-19 pandemic, pretty much everything has changed in college sports. Players can jump from one school to another without much friction. The potential for players to earn money through name, image and likeness deals means the non-traditional schools at least have a chance to compete for talent with the bluebloods. And because the transfer portal works both ways, coaches won't be criticized nearly as much for encouraging players to find another home.
Whether you like this new world or not, that’s the game these days. And Coach Prime is more than equipped to play it.
Though it would be far too ambitious to predict that Colorado will go from laughingstock to contender in just one year, odds are that Sanders will be able to do enough work on the roster to at least make the Buffaloes competitive right away. And yes, part of that will be telling some players who simply aren’t Pac-12 level athletes that they’d be better off at a lower level.
“I love everything about this institution — the academic prevalence, no crime, beautiful city, beautiful state,” Sanders told the team. “We’ve never had nothing (like this facility) to work out in. Our (Jackson State) kids would go absolute crazy to be in the situation you are in. But you don’t respect it. I’m coming. You don't want it. I’m coming. Some of y’all don’t even think you deserve it. I’m coming. And usually when God sends me to a place, he sends me to be a conduit of change.”
Indeed, he’s coming. And Colorado is in for a big, big change. The way he’ll do it may be uncomfortable for some to hear, but Sanders will rarely be more honest and direct than he was in that meeting.
A whole lot of players who wore Colorado uniforms last season will be elsewhere next fall; their scholarships filled by people who are bigger and faster and more talented. But that doesn’t make Sanders a bad guy. It just makes him a college football coach in 2022.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Deion Sanders tells the truth in his first Colorado team meeting