Deion Sanders to Colorado? Why it makes sense and why it doesn’t

Deion Sanders has a decision to make, if he hasn’t made it already.

After being offered the head football coach’s job at the University of Colorado, the Pro Football Hall of Famer could accept it or reject it.

So what should he do?

There are reasons this could end up as one of the best hires of the century. There also are reasons why it could be a bad marriage for both. Sanders, currently the head coach at Jackson State, has indicated his immediate focus is his team’s game Saturday against Southern, implying he won’t give his answer until afterward. In the meantime, here is why this move makes perfect sense – and also why it might not be the best fit.

Why would Deion Sanders want Colorado job?

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CU once was a national powerhouse but has lost its way with only two winning seasons since 2005. This year, the Buffaloes finished 1-11 after firing their coach in October.

It would take a special kind of person to bring this program back to prominence, and Sanders might want to show the world he can do that, too. After all, this is a guy who’s almost done it all in sports, including winning two Super Bowls and appearing in a World Series as a Major League Baseball player. He’s a College Football Hall of Famer, a Pro Football Hall of Famer and now a successful coach at Jackson State, where his record in three seasons in 26-5.

If he took the Colorado job, he might be able to add another feather to his cap – as a borderline miracle worker on a larger stage in a Power 5 Conference, with better resources for him and his staff.

He told “60 Minutes” recently that he is “not one bit” interested in coaching in the NFL but would listen to offers from major college teams.

“I’m going to have to entertain it,” he said then. “Straight up. I would be a fool not to.”

Sanders, 55, also knows what CU football can be. He arrived on the national stage as a player in the late 1980s and 1990s, the same time the Buffaloes were nationally relevant under head coach Bill McCartney. They won a share of the national title in January 1991, a Heisman Trophy in 1994 and once were a football factory, stocking NFL rosters with former players Sanders knew well.

The bigger question might be whether he wants to hold out for a better job in the South, Texas or Florida, where his roots are. He has indicated there is other interest in him besides Colorado. But Colorado offers him an opportunity to work magic in a place where he would be starting from scratch. He also might appreciate how CU is showing him love more than others.

Why would Colorado want him?

To succeed in football at CU, the Buffs need a coach who can draw recruits from all over. There isn’t enough talent in the state to make it work otherwise. McCartney showed how to do it when he reeled in future NFL draft picks from Southern California (Rashaan Salaam, Eric Bieniemy), Louisiana (Kordell Stewart), Texas (Alfred Williams, Chris Hudson) and Michigan (Michael Westbrook).

Sanders is a national brand, a national recruiter and a celebrity pitchman. He is, in certain ways, the ideal coach for this new age of college football, where players can change teams through the transfer portal without sitting out a year like they once were required to do. Sanders also would instantly raise the national profile of CU football and its players, giving them better opportunities to earn money from their names, images and likenesses, which was allowed for the first time last year.

At Jackson State, Sanders has won with a roster of players from Chicago, Texas, Florida, California and beyond. He once said “we live in the (transfer) portal” and has showed it by attracting transfers from across the country as well. Conversely, CU has been damaged by having so many top players leaving through the transfer portal, including wide receiver Brenden Rice and cornerback Mekhi Blackmon to Southern California.

Why it might not work 

CU has had trouble bringing in certain incoming transfer players and would need to ease academic restrictions to accommodate an influx of transfer players who might want to join Sanders in Boulder.

The cultural fit is another matter.

Boulder is a largely white and progressive city, quite unlike parts of the Southeast, where he’s from and works now. Football is not sacrosanct at CU like it is in Texas and the South. Two members of CU’s board of regents even voted against approving the contracts of the last two CU football coaches – a decision that is often unanimous almost everywhere else.

Sanders also is openly religious and has expressed views about gay people that would raise eyebrows at CU. He told interviewer Larry King in 2014 that being gay “could be” a choice and that “the God I know don’t make mistakes.” He later appeared to back off of those comments. 

Similarly, McCartney was openly religious and was criticized for his own remarks about gay people as CU’s coach in 1992, when he called homosexuality “an abomination against almighty God.” He then apologized for it in 2010 when he was making a bid to return to his old job at CU.

Other issues in Sanders’ past might be old news but still could strike some as red flags at a state university. The Prime Prep Academy that he co-founded in Texas went bust in 2015 amid a mess of financial, legal and academic issues.  At one point, the school’s chief financial officer accused Sanders of choking him at a meeting in 2013 after a confrontation about financial problems. Sanders ended up pleading no contest to a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from the incident and paid $765.70 in fines and court costs.

But CU leaders presumably have considered these matters already and still offered him the job. CU has declined comment on coaching candidates in the meantime.

It’s a moonshot for them in many ways, much like it was in 1982, when the Buffs had just gone 7-26 in three previous seasons under head coach Chuck Fairbanks. To save the program then, they replaced Fairbanks with McCartney, a self-described God-fearing man who sold faith and football to top-flight recruits outside state borders and pulled off one of the best rebuilding jobs of all time.

Now it’s up to Sanders to decide if he wants to try to pull off something similar in the same place.

Follow reporter Brent Schrotenboer @Schrotenboer. E-mail: bschrotenb@usatoday.com

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