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Coach Prime's Review: Assessing Deion Sanders' 1st year at CU

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

So Deion Sanders was the talk of college football this year as his Colorado Buffaloes started the season 3-0.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DEION SANDERS: Oh, no. Oh, no. Do you believe in that?

UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Who said I didn't believe before?

SANDERS: Oh, no, no, no.

CHANG: But Coach Prime's Colorado Buffaloes were soon humbled, ending the season losing six games in a row.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SANDERS: One thing that I could say honestly and candidly - you better get me right now. This is the worst we're going to be.

CHANG: Despite the losing record, some are actually calling the season a success. Others say it was a complete failure. Well, Clinton Yates took some time to review Deion Sanders' first year. He's a columnist with ESPN's Andscape, formerly known as The Undefeated. Welcome.

CLINTON YATES: How are we doing today?

CHANG: Pretty good. So let me ask you, how would you assess Deion Sanders' first year in Boulder? Like, give me a letter grade and tell me why.

YATES: The reason why I'd give it an A-minus is as much...

CHANG: Oh.

YATES: ...About the geography and the experience as it is about the football. Most people who don't care about, like, the history of the game, or aren't otherwise attracted to the Flatiron mountains are not going to Boulder, Colo., for any reason whatsoever...

CHANG: Oh (laughter).

YATES: ...Throughout the course of the year.

CHANG: Ouch.

YATES: And, you know, I mean, sounds funny, but the truth is, is that when it comes to a sport like college football that gets so many eyeballs on it, the simple act of getting people to show up at all is the hardest part.

CHANG: I mean, but let's bear in mind that there were some Colorado legends who have given Coach Sanders a B-minus for this season. I mean, the team only won four games. So to the extent that there was success this season, how much of that perception has to do with just the amount of money or hype brought to the city of Boulder versus actual performance on the field?

YATES: I would say a lot, and I don't think that there's anything wrong with that. When we're talking about institutions of higher learning, what's the real goal here? Sure, Heisman trophies are nice. Sure, Pac-12 - rest in peace - titles would be nice. But in reality, I mean, the whole purpose of an academic institution, at least in my understanding, is to ameliorate the society around you in the community that you're within. I'm at one couple that literally went on their first anniversary to visit Boulder...

CHANG: Wow.

YATES: ...To watch a football game, 'cause they were Deion Sanders fans, and they wanted to see the kids.

CHANG: Well, with respect to the people who were on the field, I know that Colorado was able to land a number of notable college players through the transfer portal. Deion Sanders was in the news earlier in the week for flipping more recruits. And I'm just curious, like, how have changes in the recruitment process helped Sanders, you think?

YATES: They've helped him a lot in that, these days, you can make a team good immediately, as in, you can pluck guys from other teams who are not happy with their situations if they're not getting enough playing time, or somebody who, for whatever reason, it didn't work out at one school. But I do think that if this were, say, 10 years ago, it would have been absurd to look at Deion and say that this was anything of a disappointment, because it takes so long, typically, in a traditional fashion, to build a culture, build a roster...

CHANG: Yeah.

YATES: ...And build a competitive team.

CHANG: OK, you gave him an A-minus. How do we get this team to an A, in your view? Like, what are the biggest areas for improvement looking at next year?

YATES: Well, I think a couple of things are different. It's an A-minus based on what the goals of this year were, which were to get people talking about Colorado. If they go out and win four more games next year, that's an F.

CHANG: (Laughter).

YATES: I think that the standards have changed drastically on this team. So winning games, absolutely important. Number two is yeah, making sure that people still care. I don't think that the attention is ever going to go away from Deion Sanders simply because of who he is. But once his son, Shedeur, ends up going to the pros and some of the other names, like Travis Hunter, that we've understood and known ever since they were back at Jackson State, the HBCU. Once they go away, it's going to be a different look. And I think that we've still got one more season of the Prime we know versus what we're going to see down the line.

CHANG: That is Clinton Yates, columnist for ESPN's Andscape and host of the podcast "ESPN Daily." You are so fun. Thank you so much.

YATES: No problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMMON SONG, "THEY SAY FEAT. KANYE WEST AND JOHN LEGEND") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Jason Fuller
Tinbete Ermyas
Ailsa Chang is an award-winning journalist who hosts All Things Considered along with Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish, and Mary Louise Kelly. She landed in public radio after practicing law for a few years.
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