Canzano: Deion Sanders to Colorado is win for Pac-12
Buffaloes swing for the fences with hire.
The Pac-12 Conference landed a new headline act on Saturday night. The University of Colorado hired Deion Sanders to coach its football team. He’ll be introduced at a formal news conference Sunday in Boulder.
“Coach Prime” in the Pac-12??!
It’s like being on the sofa in your living room and hearing Jerry Seinfeld is hosting a pop-up comedy event in your town. Or getting a call from a friend who says Adele showed up to open-mic night down the street. It makes no sense and total sense at the same time.
Also, how soon can you be ready to go?
Sanders, 55, spent 14 seasons in the NFL. He was one of the best pass defenders to ever play. Also, he won a couple of Super Bowls and played nine seasons of Major League Baseball. But it’s the last three years of Sanders’ career that got the attention of Colorado athletic director Rick George.
The Buffaloes were void of energy under coach Karl Dorrell. They found themselves in a nose dive, unable to recruit talent and win games. I spoke with the Colorado athletic director prior to this football season.
George told me: “We need to change some things around. We need to get some new identity. We need to focus on the recruiting aspect.”
Dorrell was coming off a stretch in 2021 where he’d lost eight of the last 11 games. After a slow start in 2022, George issued a written statement to angry and frustrated Colorado fans.
“I want you to know that I hear you,” the AD wrote.
Two weeks later, staring at an 0-5 record, George fired his football coach.
The SEC and Big Ten Conference happened to be holding their championship football games on Saturday. While that was going on, Colorado’s AD climbed to the top level of the college football high dive and performed a cannon ball.
Sanders-to-Colorado is splashy.
It’s also a win for the Pac-12.
Sanders went 27-5 at Jackson State and won the Southwestern Athletic Conference in back-to-back seasons. He’ll face new challenges in the Pac-12, tougher competition, more scrutiny, and have to work within stricter academic guidelines. But it was a no-brainer hire by Colorado.
The coach previously known as “Prime Time” is highly marketable, engaging and entertaining. Pac-12 executives working the Utah-USC football game on Friday, for example, were buzzing about how entertaining next season’s Media Day would be with Sanders around.
He isn’t just a Pro Football Hall of Fame member and college coach — “Coach Prime” is an entertainment-industry renaissance man. He’s been a musician, author, television analyst and Saturday Night Live host. He’s been a pitchman for Nike, Pepsi, Pizza Hut and American Express and starred in a reality television show.
Again, I don’t know if “Coach Prime” will win games or get swallowed up like a few of his predecessors. I don’t know if he’ll be able to out-coach a soul. But I like that Colorado swung for the fences.
The Pac-12 is engaged in an ongoing media rights negotiation. It’s been a slow process. Industry insiders tell me the conference must be partnering with new entities — perhaps, Amazon. I wondered as the Colorado news broke whether Sanders might have been lured to Boulder with a windfall contract offer.
Colorado paid Dorrell $3.6 million this season. It ranked him No. 9 among the conference’s 12 coaches. The three head coaches slotted below him in pay are all on their first head-coaching contracts with their respective schools.
Meanwhile, Utah paid Kyle Whittingham $6 million, Chip Kelly got $5.6 million from UCLA and USC coach Lincoln Riley collected $10 million this season.
Conference Commissioner George Kliavkoff has talked often in the last year about the “investment” needed by Pac-12 members in football. As the news of the hire broke on Saturday, I wondered if Colorado’s management team — Chancellor Philip DiStefano and his AD — know they’re going to enjoy better-than-expected media rights payouts.
Sunday afternoon, Colorado will announce its new football coach at Folsom Field’s “Arrow Touchdown Club.” It will be streamed on YouTube and Facebook. Two parking lots have been dedicated for media covering the event. Colorado has offered a nearby parking garage as an “overflow lot.”
David Plati, the Buffaloes’ legendary director of sports information, is organizing the event. He’s worked at Colorado for four decades. Plati sent out the advisory for the news conference, apologizing to local media for the overlap with the Denver Broncos NFL game the same day.
The Broncos (3-8) will be finishing up a road game in Baltimore when “Coach Prime” is introduced to the media.
I know which event will get the eyeballs.
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