Will He Stay or Will He Go?

It’s been on the minds of Buff fans since Coach Prime signed on to become the head coach at the University of Colorado:

How long will he stay? 

Hell, it was on the minds of Buff fans well before Coach Prime signed on to coach the Buffs, as in:

Why would Deion Sanders want to come here in the first place?

The hiring of Coach Prime was a huge coup for CU and athletic director Rick George. The negotiations were kept under wraps until the deal was all but done. When the news broke, the Buff Nation, in the throes of the worst month of the worst year of the worst decade in program history, found it hard to believe it was actually happening.

Almost before the ink was dry on the five-year contract, though, speculation began that Coach Prime was only using CU as a stepping stone to the SEC or the NFL. His resume, the argument went, consisted of only three years of collegiate head coaching, and that was at Jackson State. A year or two at Colorado, and, if at all successful, Prime Time would be leaving Boulder for the Prime Time of the FBS … the SEC, or perhaps the right fit in the ACC. And besides, why would a coach who played in Florida and lived in Texas ever want to plant his flag in the cold of Colorado … and at the dead end job that was coaching CU?

It didn’t matter that CU’s head coach would tell anyone who would listen that he loved Boulder, that he loved CU, and had no interest in leaving.  Coach Prime went on national television on several occasions this fall (The Rich Eisen Show; the Fox Big Noon Saturday Kickoff Show) to let everyone know he had no interest in coaching in the NFL, because he didn’t believe he could motivate highly-paid pro players, and preferred to mold young men. Coach Prime also deflected any mention of him leaving for warmer climates, or for a better funded FBS program.

When CU started the 2023 season 3-0, the talk of Coach Prime leaving only ramped up. CU was the most-watched program in the country, and by a wide margin. ESPN GameDay and the Big Noon Kickoff shows fell all over themselves promoting Colorado. Coach Prime was on 60 Minutes and on the cover of Time. Speculation of his moving up the collegiate ladder only intensified.

And yet Coach Prime continued to tell anyone who would listen that he was happy in Boulder, and had no interest in coaching anywhere else.

For the Buff Nation, it was easy to believe that Coach Prime would stay in Boulder for at least two seasons. His son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders, was proving that he could perform well at the FBS level, but with so many quality quarterbacks heading into the 2024 NFL Draft, and with Shedeur absorbing so much punishment behind an inferior offensive line, it made sense for him to return for his senior year. Plus, Coach Prime’s all-but-adopted fourth son, Travis Hunter, wouldn’t be draft eligible until after the 2024 season. It never seemed logical that Coach Prime would dump CU after one year, asking his two star players to transfer yet again for their final season in college football.

But after the 2024 season … Who knows?

This past week, Coach Prime gave his latest, and most definitive statement on the topic, to the Frenzy Folsom Podcast. Asked about his future, Sanders had this to say:

“I love Boulder, Colorado, and Colorado. I’m not chasing finances. I’m not chasing the bag. I’m not chasing notoriety. I’m not chasing hype. I love what I do, and I do what I love, and I love Boulder, Colorado. I don’t plan on being anywhere else in my coaching career. It is my desire to one day to retire, and just walk off … not walk off, I want to ride off on a white horse with a black hat in the sunset in Boulder, Colorado, winning a championship. That’s what I want to do – championships, plural. That’s what I want to do”.

It all makes sense … to us.

Buff fans love CU, and love Boulder. We’ve wondered for decades why Colorado, with all CU and Boulder has to offer, hasn’t found a way to sustain success.

But we’re biased.

The rest of the college football world, especially after what CU has produced on the field the past two decades, has forgotten about Colorado. The Buffs just completed a miserable run in the Pac-12, winning only about a quarter of its conference games over the past 13 seasons.

CU is still widely considered to be a dead end job, and a program which will sink back into the mire as soon as the Prime Show leaves Boulder.

So it shouldn’t have come as much of surprise that soon after Coach Prime made his latest definitive statement that he wasn’t leaving, that rumors began that he would. A story came out that Sanders was offered a lifetime contract, but that he declined to sign it. Proof, said the naysayers and handwringers, that Coach Prime isn’t long for the Champions Center.

So … Will he stay or will he go?

Reasons for leaving … 

— Competitive disadvantages 

Don’t look now, but the canyon between the have’s and the have nots is only getting wider. Not only in the television contract money, which is separating the Big Ten and SEC from the rest of the country, but losses in the courtroom by the NCAA are making it more and more difficult for mid-level Power Five schools to compete.

Just this week, a temporary injunction was issued by a West Virginia court, allowing players to transfer a second time without penalty (currently players, unless their coach leaves or they obtain a waiver from the NCAA, must sit out a year if they transfer a second time). If the injunction becomes the new reality, there will be a fresh bidding war for talent every off-season, and only the schools with the deepest pockets will survive. Colorado may not make the cut under those circumstances, forcing Coach Prime’s hand, and leading him to greener pastures.

— Grass is always greener

It’s not like we haven’t seen this happen before … a coach leaving for what they perceive to be a better gig – and a bigger paycheck. Rick Neuheisel, handed the keys to the best running machine in school history, nonetheless left for Washington after four years as Bill McCartney’s successor. Mel Tucker, energizing a moribund program after a decade of lethargy, left for more money and a higher profile job at Michigan State after only one year in Boulder.

— Top-Heavy roster

The Colorado roster is hovering right around the 80 mark right now, with 85 being the magic number of scholarship players CU has to be at come August 1st. At present, the lineup is very top heavy with upper-classmen. At present, there are only nine true freshmen coming in from the Recruiting Class of 2024, and only 20 red-shirt freshmen and sophomores. The 2024 senior class, and the junior class of 2025, both have over two dozen members.

We all know that Coach Prime is about winning now, and we have all heard his philosophy about having only about 20 percent of his roster being freshmen. And yes, it is also true that in the brave new world of the Transfer Portal, a roster can be supplemented by experienced players every off-season. Still if you are looking at the CU roster from the perspective of when Coach Prime might want to leave, it’s not an untrue statement that this is not a roster being developed for success in 2025 and 2026 …

— Health 

To me, this is the most frightening – and most logical – reason for Coach Prime leaving the sidelines of Folsom Field. While still a fairly young head football coach (Prime turned 56 in August), his physical issues have been well documented.  In 2021, Sanders underwent several foot surgeries and had two toes on his left foot amputated as a result of blood clots. This past fall, Sanders again underwent a similar surgery to his left leg.

Coach Prime is a competitor, and won’t want to leave the field except under his own terms. That being said, Coach Prime has nothing left to prove. A collegiate and NFL Hall-of-Famer, his legacy in the sporting world is assured. A winning season or two at the FBS level, and Coach Prime could retire and take care of his health, while jetting around the country to watch Shedeur and Travis (and perhaps Shilo) play on Sundays.

Reasons for staying … 

— Coach Prime’s a winner

Coach Prime has won wherever he has gone. The only athlete in history to play in both a Super Bowl and a World Series, Sanders has a Thorpe Award (for the nation’s best defensive back), two Super Bowl rings, and a gold jacket from Canton. Sanders went 27-6 in his three years at Jackson State, and there is little reason to believe that he would walk away from Colorado until he turns his 4-8 record around. He’s too proud to have an unsuccessful stint at CU be his lasting legacy.

— CU’s move back to the Big 12 is happening at just the right time …

Colorado played six teams which were ranked when they played them last season, with eight of Colorado’s 12 opponents being ranked during the season (Utah didn’t fall out of the polls until the week the Utes played CU).

That’s not going to be the case next fall.

At the end of the regular season, there were only three teams out of the 16-team 2024 Big 12 who were ranked – No. 14 Arizona; No. 20 Oklahoma State; and No. 25 Kansas State (with the Cowboys and Wildcats likely to fall out of the polls if they don’t win their bowl games).

There will be plenty of rearranging in the power structure between now and next August, but there won’t be as much heavy lifting for the Buffs as they rejoin their old conference.

Next fall and beyond will be a Prime opportunity for Coach Prime to make his mark in the new Big 12.

— Coach Prime will want to prove he can win without No. 2 and No. 12

This is more for this time next year.

Even if he is successful, there will be those who said he can’t win without Shedeur and Travis Hunter. Barring injury or other unforeseen circumstances, Shedeur Sanders and Travis Hunter are likely first round NFL Draft picks at the 2025 NFL draft.

If the Buffs have a successful season next fall (and you heard it here first – next year a winning season and a bowl bid should be CU’s floor, not its ceiling), the haters will say that Coach Prime won with No. 2 and No. 12, but he couldn’t be successful without them (conveniently forgetting stories like that of the 2023 USC Trojans, who had a roster full of four-star players and the reigning Heisman trophy winner … and still finished 7-5).

Such talk may not be fair … but it also might raise up the hackles of Coach Prime, and make him want to stick around Boulder and prove he can win without Shedeur and Travis.

— He’s honest 

Coach Prime has been in the media spotlight for going on 40 years. He has had a video entourage following his every move for the past two seasons.

He is media savvy. He is smart. He is calculating.

He is not going to make statements about wanting to retire in Boulder, not knowing such comments would be played back over and over again if he leaves CU after two or three seasons.

And coach Prime has always been honest, sometimes brutally honest. If he says something, he’s going to back it up.

That may be the best reason for CU fans to remain optimistic about Coach Prime staying in Boulder long enough to rebuild the program to its former glory.

For now, though, just enjoy the ride. Enjoy the national attention. Enjoy the four-star recruits committing to play at Colorado. Enjoy having a second straight off-season of optimism after so many off-seasons of despair.

Coach Prime may not stay forever … but he’s here now.

And that’s worth celebrating …


12 Replies to “Will He Stay or Will He Go?”

  1. Maybe he stays or maybe he leaves …I’m not going to worry about something that may or may not happen. I’m just going to enjoy the moment and the ride.


  2. It’s Sunday, and we haven’t heard much, if anything of value, about the Recruiting the Defensive line….. am I missing something? Isn’t the “Portal “ closing this week? I’m confused… and want to believe it’s all going to be ok as Santa Sanders fills my stocking w half dozen defensive 300+ ‘ers !@

    1. Yo Loon,
      The transfer portal is open until January 2, for players to put their names in. Once they are in, they’re available to transfer. This week is when high school recruits can sign their letters of intent during the early signing period.

  3. I know we’re biased, but as a proud alumni and employee of CU for more than 25 years, I have definitely seen more than my fair share of people suddenly and unexpectedly fall in love with Boulder. I lost track of how many times I talked to students who just came to Boulder with their friend for freshman orientation (fully intending to go somewhere else), and got gobsmacked by how great the campus was and ended up coming to CU. Why couldn’t this happen to Sanders? It’s an amazing community that has embraced him with nothing but love, and seems very open to his unique message and persona. No doubt that Boulder is a much better place when you have money, but that’s no problem for Prime. He can indulge in all the benefits with very little of the downside. If he were thinking about moving to a different job, or even retiring and leaving Colorado, the thought of the Flatirons, the great restaurants and the generally overall good vibe of Boulder might make him think twice. It certainly got to me.

    1. True story.

      I think ep is right. He probably doesn’t have higher coaching aspirations. But at some point he won’t be coaching CU, whether that’s to go back to tv, mayor of Boulder, AD, who knows?

      But I believe the dude is smitten with the area. I was. Still am. And I don’t make the jack Deion does.

      Go Buffs

  4. I concur, health will be the reason he retires. If his feet and legs don’t getter better soon I could see him hang it up after Shedeur, Shilo and Hunter leave. After his latest interview though I don’t see him taking a new coaching job.

  5. Stuart, I agree with all of your reasons Prime would stay, Prime has been the big fish in big ponds and small ones, but Boulder is a unique and wonderful place that’s a small college town, but with Denver down the road, it’s not too small.

    Prime loves the outdoors, who knew? And the Rockies are right there… Along with the best view of any coaches’ office in the country. Rick George is letting Prime be… Well… Prime, and after seeing RG’s success with Prime many other ADs may want to do the same, but how many were willing to before RG did?

    “He is not going to make statements about wanting to retire in Boulder, not knowing such comments would be played back over and over again if he leaves CU after two or three seasons.

    And coach Prime has always been honest, sometimes brutally honest. If he says something, he’s going to back it up.”

    Completely agree.

    The Man not only wants to win and have a winning record, he wants championships and he’ll make it happen. Period, when was the last time he failed to deliver on a goal he has set?

    Prime can be the biggest fish in the beautiful and unique pond that Boulder is, the Superstar of the town and he’ll build a champion… And he love where he lives and works, why do they all think he’ll leave every chance that comes up?

    Some are jealous, some want the Prime Effect… And think their money can buy his happiness or should I say, THEIR happiness.

    The upperclassmen heavy roster is the new way with the portal, get those really good HS players, the 20% Prime has stated, to get the blue chip players like Hunters, Seaton, while grabbing experienced upperclassmen that need a place with a plan. And, Prime always has a plan, even when things change, he’s fluid in the moment and executes his plan.

    In the future I see Prime setting on his deck enjoying his beautiful view of the Rookies from his home in Boulder (Have you seen his home?) where he retires, after he accomplishes his goals. He’ll travel to watch his sons play football and make appearances on sports shows, but he’s “doesn’t have to chase a bag of money”.

  6. Stuart, I understand the desire to write columns like this. Everyone does it and at least you bring the perspective of a long time, long-suffering CU fan and alum. I’m in the same boat as you. Graduated in 1983, but being a Colorado native, my love for CU football goes back to the 1970’s and the early glory days of Eddie Crowder and Bill Mallory. We have seen highs, lows, and everything in between. But to be honest, I find this kind of speculation to be boring and not very compelling. No one writing these columns knows anything about it, and those that do aren’t talking. Prime is here now and he says he’ll be here “forever”, that is good enough for me. When he leaves after championships have been accumulated, we can speculate on the next coach and bask in the glory of what Prime brought to dear old CU.

  7. So far, the person reflecting intent through action has been CP. Despite nay sayers, haters and so called ‘experts’ in the media, only Deion Sanders has been forthright…imho. This being said by a cup-is-always-at-least-half-full homer, alum, and full on biased hard core Buff fan since childhood…so there’s that.

  8. call me cynical but the thing that stood out to me was his qualification of “coaching career.”
    I have been in the same business for 47 years and the familiarity has bred contempt. Coaching a top level football team is a full time grind even if it is a job you love to do. Add to that its obvious that Sanders likes to make the other appearance rounds like other events and endorsements etc.
    What if his “coaching career” turns out to be a dalliance……adding other complications like the health factor.
    I wouldn’t consider CU a dead end job right now. I’m still amazed at the attention Colorado gets even after a 4-8 season. The players keep coming in. If CU can have 9-3 season and be ranked at the end of it we might get lucky again and get another coach that could take the momentum and rum with it.
    Right now the only fly in the ointment I see is the retention of Shurmur.

    1. I think Coach Prime (and Rick George) envision the role continuing to evolve into a CEO Coach which would allow Deion to do his thing while still ‘coaching’ the team… just requires an excellent group of assistant coaches, GA, ‘quality control analysts’, etc.

    2. Prime is following Saban’s playbook in recycling and boosting the career’s or getting them back on track for fallen coaches or guys just in need of a change and some direction. How many coaches who have fallen far, addiction or bad behavior have Saban hired and brought back?

      The good news is if Prime can do the same and win, he’ll have coaches wanting to come to CU and he’ll be able to pick from a larger pool of candidates then CU has seen in almost 20 years.

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