BOULDER, Colo. — In his playing days, Neon Deion lit up the field.
Now on the sidelines, Coach Prime — as Deion Sanders, new football head coach at CU Boulder, likes to be called — is just as electrifying as he was as a player in the 1990s.
Sanders led Jackson State to its first undefeated regular season in school history and two bowl games in just two seasons.
That’s when the mighty Buffaloes came calling, offering Sanders the head coaching job for CU.
“As someone who was in the building for the CU v. CSU basketball game last month, where Coach Prime was introduced, I have never been in a louder environment that wasn’t a game-winning shot,” said Zach Bye, sports radio host for 104.3 The Fan.
“He’s just a larger-than-life guy,” said CU alum and Buffs fan Greg Giuffra. “He’s one-of-one.”
We’re taking the arrival of Coach Prime 360 by looking at the excitement of new recruits, ticket and merchandise sales, national exposure for CU, why it’s a big deal not only for the football program, but the university and community as a whole, and, of course, the outlook for Buffs football with some asking, is it a Russell Wilson-Nathaniel Hackett-type bust or a return to the glory days of the 1990s?
“The only coach that was going to be an add-water-and-stir-for-excitement was Deion Sanders,” Bye said.
“My dad was most excited,” said Giuffra’s 9-year-old son, Michael.
Let’s start with the excitement, which you can already measure in the number of recruits and current collegiate athletes committing to and transferring to CU.
“Every player in the transfer portal called CU Boulder and said, ‘Hey, what’s going on there?’” said former NFL standout and football commentator Ryan Harris.
Analysts like Harris and Bye say Sanders is already a bonanza for the Buffs.
“The transfer portal really has become the most important avenue to acquire talent,” Bye said. “And a lot of recruiting websites right now have Colorado as No. 1 in the country in that category.”
“Now you can transfer without any penalty,” said Chad Brown, sports radio host and former standout for the Buffs. “In college football it is all about recruiting and how many great players can you get on-campus.”
The players are already here. Within five minutes of our Denver7 crew arriving at the Champions Center on the CU Boulder campus, we ran into three new transfers and recruits, including Jaden Milliner-Jones who already had a relationship with Sanders and just moved here from Texas.
“He used to coach me,” Milliner-Jones said. “I understand what Coach Prime is trying to do here. He’s trying to get to the point where we can beat anybody. A new program, new everything. It’s exciting.”
CU’s popularity is skyrocketing. Its Instagram account has seen a 300% increase, while merchandise sales on www.Fanatics.com are bonkers.
“Just the month of December alone, year over year is up 560%,” said Alexis Williams, senior associate athletic director for external operations for CU Boulder. “Immediately, we saw an effect on everything that we touch from social media to ticket sales.”
Williams said season ticket inquiries are through the roof.
“We have over 11,000 interest forms — that’s people interested in season tickets,” she said.
“CU is selling shirts that don’t say CU or Buffaloes or Colorado on the front. They say Prime,” Brown said.
“This is the multi-level thinking that you want your son to be around if you’re a parent,” Harris said.
“Coach Prime is more than a football coach. He’s a walking, talking brand,” Bye said.
It's a brand that longtime fans and alums like Giuffra were starved for.
“The program sadly has been at such a low, and it’s been neglected, frankly,” Giuffra said. “There is fan support; there’s money.”
“This year they could go to the Rose Bowl,” Michael Giuffra said.
“It does feel like the sky is the limit,” said Greg Giuffra. “Right off the bat the expectations change because he’s the head coach. It’s unbelievable.”
“The Buffs are now part of the national conversation,” Brown said.
Just look at the BSC National Championship game a week ago — Sanders on the set with Alabama coach Nick Saban.
“The media is all over it,” Giuffra said. “The guy’s electric.”
“I have probably done more media hits in the past month about the Buffaloes than I have in the past 10 years,” Brown said. “Coach Prime questions have replaced Nathaniel Hackett-Russell Wilson questions by about five to one.”
Of course, for Brown and fans alike, there’s a cautious optimism to this much-hyped arrival in Colorado, given what happened with the Broncos this season.
“I think this thing at CU with Coach Prime is more than hype because they’re acquiring too much talent in too much of a hurry,” Bye said.
“Perhaps there’s a failure, but that will not be the end of the story with Coach Prime and the young players at CU,” Harris said. “Champions understand that failure is not fatal.”
"The talent pool will be better; the players will be better,” Brown said. “The results will be better, but will they meet the incredible expectations? That remains to be seen.”
What is seen is that he’s already a part of the community — like popping in for a bite at a local breakfast spot and razzing the staff for not having grits on the menu.
“Here’s this coach from Florida who’s coming to Boulder and Boulder deciding, ‘Hey, we should serve grits in breakfast restaurants.’ Is there anything more community than that?” Brown said.
“I relate to the grits thing,” Williams said. “I’m from the south.”
“The attention, the potential business from it, the restaurants – I mean these videos are hilarious,” Giuffra said. “He’s just an authentic guy. People like him.”
“You love that someone comes in and says, ‘Show me where to go? Tell me what to do?’” Harris said.
One thing is certain, a guy like Sanders transcends football.
“Football is the front porch of this thing,” Bye said. “They build buildings on campuses because of football.”
“Once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Williams said.
“This is phenomenal for CU’s academic prowess,” Giuffra said.
“It’s like Paul McCartney landing in America with the rest of the Beatles,” Bye said. “It’s that level of hysteria.”
“We’ve been begging for something like this to happen,” Brown said.
Editor's Note: Denver7 360 | In-Depth explores multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 In-Depth stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com or use this form. See more 360 | In-Depth stories here.