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If they’re shooting at you, you must be doing something right

Is it just me, or has the criticism of Coach Prime and the University of Colorado been amplified this spring?

The haters have always been there, and were in full voice as the Buffs squandered a 3-0 start to the 2023 season, losing eight of their last nine games to finish 4-8. The “I told you so” pundits used CU’s final record as proof positive that Coach Prime’s overhaul of the roster last spring was a dismal failure.

Despite the poor finish to last season, though, Coach Prime isn’t backing down from his plans to rebuild the CU program.

“I would like to become the first Black coach to win a national championship in major college football,” Sanders wrote on page 197 of his new book, “Elevate and Dominate“, which was released this spring. “We’re GONNA get that done at Colorado.”

While Buff fans have gotten used to Coach Prime and his always being in the spotlight, the rest of the nation still finds him fascinating …

Whether it’s Coach Prime going on promotional trips for his book … or not going on trips to visit recruits … he makes headlines.

Whether he is seeing players leave through the Transfer Portal … or bringing in controversial new coaches (like Warren Sapp) … he makes headlines.

And, when it’s what is perceived as bad news for the program, it becomes national news.

A few examples … 

— “Only” 28,00o show up in a driving rainstorm for the CU Spring game … Translation: A clear sign that the bloom is off the rose for Coach Prime at Colorado (headline: “Colorado spring game attendance plummets amid questions about Deion Sanders’ future“);

— Cormani McClain and Dylan Edwards jump into the Transfer Portal … Translation: The Buff coaching staff can’t hang onto potential stars (ESPN and The Coloradoan both have banner headlines dedicated to tracking the list of CU’s transfers);

— CU has to completely rebuild its offensive line – again … Translation: The Coach Prime experiment is a failure, and the departures are a sign that Deion Sanders and his staff can’t build a program or develop players (headline: “Colorado offensive line questions hang over program”

Despite his continuous statements about staying in Boulder after his sons graduate to the NFL (“I lead my sons. I don’t follow them”), and his love for all things CU and Boulder: “I love everything about this part of the country and the fan base that we have here. I just want to really bless you with a tremendously successful team. I really do. That’s my heart” … there is the constant drumbeat that the 2024 season – successful or not – will be Coach Prime’s last at the University of Colorado.

Colorado against the world.

The number of CU fans grew exponentially last fall (see: TV ratings; sold out stadiums; merchandise sales, CU freshman applications). Along with “The Rise”, though, came a rise of those who hate all things Colorado, a group which can’t wait for CU to fail (ignoring the fact that CU has been an abject failure at the sport for the better part of 20 years).

I guess it’s like the old saying: “If they are shooting at you, you must be doing something right”.

The latest salvos came from an article this past week in The Athletic. “What happened to Deion Sanders’ Colorado castoffs? Revisiting a record-setting exodus” not only struck a chord because of its topic, but the way it was presented by The Athletic.

The X (tweet) from The Athletic …


The headline and promotion would lead the reader to believe that the overhaul of the Colorado roster last year was not only unnecessary, but handled with brutality and an unfeeling lack of class.

The numbers presented in article, though, tend to show that the efforts to rebuild the program by Coach Prime and his staff were the only way to bring Colorado within shouting distance of respectability in 2023.

According to The Athletic article (written by a … wait for it … Nebraska alum), Colorado’s extreme roster makeover, unprecedented in modern college football history, yielded 87 newcomers and far more fascination about what Sanders could bring to Boulder.

Colorado’s 53 castoffs went off on new journeys across college football.

  • Fifteen matriculated to Power 5 programs;
  • Twenty-two ended up on Group of 5 rosters;
  • 11 went FCS or Division II;
  • Two attended junior colleges; and
  • Three ex-Buffs went unsigned out of the portal and haven’t played since.

Here’s the list …

So, in trying to portray Coach Prime as a heartless coach who wasn’t acting in the best interests of the program, The Athletic made the case for him doing exactly what he did:

53 transfers out. Only 15 (28% of the total) signed on with Power Five conference teams. Figuring that the players who graduated after the 2023 season were mostly of the same ilk as those who were still in Boulder when Coach Prime got to town (which isn’t a stretch, considering none of them were drafted into the NFL), were talking about 24 players out of the 85-man 2023 CU roster were of Power Five talent.

In essence, that’s one Power Five talent level player for each position on the team being of Power Five talent.

And even that statement, as it turns out, is generous.

Among the 37 transfers who departed after Sanders was hired and landed at FBS schools – including the 22 who transferred to Group of Five conference schools – only 14 started at least one game last season.

So … Fourteen players … out of 53 who transferred out last spring … were deemed good enough to start a game at the FBS level. Not starters for Georgia and Ohio State, mind you, but starters at placing like East Carolina and Utah State.

There were a handful of decent players who moved on to at least contribute at Power Five schools:

  • Kicker Cole Becker was the starter at Utah;
  • Offensive lineman Casey Roddick played in all 14 games for Florida State, with 13 starts;
  • Wide receiver Montana Lemonious-Craig had 28 catches for Arizona (but didn’t start in any games);
  • Defensive back Kaylin Moore played in five games for Cal last season, with three starts;
  • Defensive back Nikko Reed had 25 tackles for Oregon, with two starts;
  • Running back Deion Smith had 64 yards rushing and a touchdown in limited action at BYU;
  • Defensive lineman Jalen Sami had 15 tackles over the course of the season at Michigan State; and
  • Offensive lineman Jake Wiley, perhaps the most talented of the bunch, played in four games at UCLA, then transferred to Houston.

Would it have been nice to have some of the above players on the roster last fall? Sure.

But this is hardly a list which would have formed the corps of a team which would have been competitive in CU’s final season in the Pac-12.

What the haters seem to have trouble remembering … These players were part of a roster in 2022 which went 1-11, and looked terrible in doing so. Ranked in the Bottom Ten nationally in almost every offensive and defensive statistical category, the Buffs were outscored by an average tally of 44-15. In most of those games, the issue was decided well before halftime.

The cupboard left behind by Karl Dorrell and his staff was not only bare, it was cleaned out and all but devoid of returning talent.

Coach Prime and his staff have been condemned for its handling of the roster they inherited.

Could the methodology of the release of players been handled differently? Perhaps. Coach Prime is a lightning rod, and his actions could have been tempered to generate less criticism.

Would it have been preferable for Coach Prime to hang onto more of its players from last season’s team – and hopefully develop a long-term base of players? Most definitely. It’s one thing to show the 2022 team the door, but the number of players leaving the 2023 team has been too high to feel comfortable that the 2024 team is not another rebuild.

But to villainize Coach Prime for showing the 2022 roster the door?

As the numbers bear out, it would have been a huge mistake to keep those players in Boulder.

Now, Coach Prime just has to show his method can work, starting August 29th against North Dakota State.


16 Replies to “If they’re shooting at you …”

  1. I think many came to start, and now they realize they are not going to start and so they move on. The issue I have with so many departures is the lack of depth. If no one is willing to be a backup and wait for their turn you really struggle when injuries occur. I really hope we are better this year but we have lost quality depth this year….

    1. I agree with you Rob. Too many players come in thinking they are starters and are unwilling to “ride the pine,” put in the work, and wait their turn. They believe all the hype from wherever they came and think they have what it take to start. Until we (CU) can recruit kid that understand the need to grow, learn and EARN a starting position, the roster will continue to be a revolving door – and depth will suffer for it.

  2. Been wondering for a while why so many hate Coach Prime. There’s the obvious, of course—he’s Black and he’s brash (I remember all the vitriol directed at Muhammed Ali back in the day)—but it seems like there’s something else at work, too.

    Maybe they see Prime as the face of how College Football is changing, even though he didn’t have anything to do with that. They don’t like that his approach and personality are what’s going to be required, moving forward. That they either need to come around to his methods or leave the game (as some already have).

    The fact that he didn’t win at this level in his first year has brought even more haters out of the woodwork (got to stamp this thing out before it takes hold!), but if he sticks with his plan the wins will come.

    I’m not saying I’m happy with the direction CFB has taken, but it has. And the changes are going to keep coming. Things will be different year-to-year for a while, but wherever we end up won’t be anything like where we were before NIL and the portal.

    What I *am* happy about is that Coach Prime chose us and we’re at the forefront now. I’ll take the bad of that along with the good. Because if he hadn’t come here I think we’d probably be in the same sinking ship as the Cougars and Beavers.

    1. Per ESPN: “ Georgia’s Kirby Smart has received a new 10-year, $130 million deal that was approved by university officials Thursday in its annual athletics board of directors meeting. The deal makes Smart the highest-paid college football coach in the country and its first $13 million coach”

      If Coach Prime wins a natty at some point, this is the kinda $$$ someone (CU, perhaps?) may need to shell out

    2. Eyes Wide Buff!!!

      Your writing above is one of the MOST concise I’ve seen, not just about the subject. but about college football in general. Nice.

      I’d write more with more praise, but that wouldn’t be the point. 😉

      1. I’m with Marcus on this Stuart. You do such an outstanding job of analysis and presenting the facts in a cogent manner. It’s no wonder you’re a graduate of the Law School and I’m . . . not.
        Keep up the great work!

  3. Boy oh boy…cannot wait for Buffs and coach Prime to not only prove the haters wrong, but to rub it into their faces…indirectly of course, in classy ways, like winning.

  4. “It’s one thing to show the 2022 team the door, but the number of players leaving the 2023 team has been too high to feel comfortable that the 2024 team is not another rebuild.”

    The higher up the depth chart the more the chance that the player decided to leave to chase playing time/NIL elsewhere. In the case of Edwards where was he going to land on the depths chart with the new RBs coming in?

    It seems that if the staff has to come with plays to get you the ball because of your size or… That you may not be the starter or the one with the most carries… The kind of RB who can put the team on his back and grinds out yards and first downs and run out the clock.

    Looking at where the players landed and the fact that you had to field a complete team, it makes sense that of the players you were first able to attract; most were not the “win a championship” type of starters that a top program would attract. But, year two with some progress comes some better players than who were available, read who would come to the Buffs in year one of the rebuild.

    The lines are looking better and were truly the weak points, especially the offensive line. The Buffs lost to Stanford, a game they were way ahead in and came back from way behind to make it a one score loss to USC. All but two of the losses were a one score loss too, better lines can close that gap.

    We all know that improvement is needed and the new players are either an improvement or replacing someone who chose to leave because new players were coming in; either way the team as a whole seems to be better. At least on paper, we’ll know when we see the product on the field.

    Statistically, if the Buffs offense and their new line can hold the ball longer and get another score, not too much to ask, that would help the defense, being on the field less and improved too could be what takes a team to go from 4 wins to a bowl game and maybe a few more wins. If Prime gets the wins this year, there will be another 25 kids transferring out with 40 (counting matriculation) coming in, but the haters while say it’s too many; but that’s program building in the portal/NIL times we are in.

    1. The exposure alone has been incredibly valuable for CU as a whole and worth hiring Coach Prime. If not for this hire, the program would continue to decline into further obscurity +++

      1. Jason, I 100% agree.

        I remembering seeing Prime on 60 minutes at JSU and what he was doing there with absolutely nothing!!! And telling my girl, “We need a coach like Prime, we need Prime!”.

        All through the interview, I was thinking & saying, how we needed Prime, but wouldn’t get him… After all. It’s been the curse of the Buffs since the fall started during Ricky’s tenure.

        While it may have come to light after Gary’s tenured, I think we can agree that it was was more about slick rick’s actions that started the fall along with admins actions… Or in-actions at the time that caused the fall of CU Football.

        Then at the end of the interview, when the interviewer asked, if Prime would leave JSU for bigger pastures, I thought “no Way Would CU luck Out AND Get That HIRE”!!!

        He Said: “Yea for the right program.”

        I said to my girl: “Too bad CU isn’t in that conversation”.

        NOT, “too bad CU couldn’t get Prime! BUT TOO BAD CU CAN’T GET Prime.”

        Damn was I wrong!

        He’s here and saying I love it and THANK YOU!!! I LOVE IT!

        Like the rest of us that love Boulder!

        So why is it so hard to believe Prime will still be here after his sons leave?

        1. His pride won’t allow him to leave Colorado until accomplishing something meaningful and substantive… might not be a NC, but at least a conference title and trip to the playoff. I’d be cool with that.
          All the haters just fuel the fire +++

          1. He is also accomplishing one of his other objectives. Improving diversity within the student body and community as a whole. People can gripe, but I think he is just ahead of the curve using transfers. Even when there are the inevitable contracts for players that some will want imposed to rein in unlimited transfers.

            Go Buffs

  5. I could be wrong but seems like the ones that are leaving are afraid of competition at their positions.




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