No team was as active in the transfer portal as Colorado this past offseason. 57 players left the Buffaloes when Deion Sanders arrived in Boulder, and 49 players arrived with his hiring.
That drastic use of the portal rocked the college football world, but Sanders explained that the reason was simple. If a team goes 1-11, there are more problems on the roster than just the coaches.
“You take a team that’s won one game, and you fired a whole coaching staff. So who did the coaching staff recruit? The kids. So the kids are just as much to blame as the coaching staff,” Sanders said on CBS’ “60 Minutes” on Sunday. “I came to the conclusion that a multitude of them couldn’t help us get to where we wanted to go.”
Sanders had made it clear when he was hired that he wanted to be aggressive, even telling the players in the first introduction that he was going to be making some changes. Jon Wertheim asked him about his decision to tell players who stuck around that he might force them out. Sanders said that challenge was a test for the players.
“If you went for that, if you were able to let words run you off, you ain’t for us because we’re an old school staff. We coach hard, we coach tough, we’re disciplinarians,” Sanders said. “If you’re allowing verbiage to run you off because you don’t feel secure with your ability, you ain’t for us.”
If a player chose to stay, Sanders said he welcomed them to stay and to prove that they belonged on the new-look roster. He said he believed that a policy of “truth,” telling players when they are welcome and when the team is looking for change, is the best way to go.
“I think truth is good for kids. We’re so busy lying, we don’t even recognize the truth no more in society. We want everybody to feel good. That’s not the way life is,” Sanders said. “Now it is my job to make sure I have what we need to win. That makes a lot of people feel good. Winning does.”
Among the transfers Sanders brought in were his two sons, quarterback Shedeur and safety Shilo Sanders. The two have been immensely impactful, with Shedeur emerging as a Heisman Trophy contender and Shilo anchoring the secondary, including returning a pick-six on Saturday in the win against Colorado State.
But, what would happen if a coach told Sanders his kids should transfer, the same way Sanders has told other kids they need to transfer?
“I say, ‘Son, you must not be doing well. You must not be doing well because you should be an asset and not a liability,'” Sanders said. “I’m honest with my kids.”
Sanders’ aggressive use of the transfer portal has rocked the college football world. There are many who question whether it’s good for the sport to have a system for student-athletes that is akin to free agency, where players can leave a program at will.
Like it or not, it’s been the way of the future for college football. Colorado, seemingly overnight, went from 1-11 in 2022 to 3-0 to start 2023, ranked No. 19 and the talk of the sports world. Among the other teams that have benefitted most from the transfer portal have been No. 5 Florida State, No. 12 LSU and No. 15 Ole Miss.
The combination of the roster building and the rapid turnaround of the program has vaulted Sanders into the conversation among the best coaches in the sport. He says he’s already at the top. When asked about who the best coach in college football is, he requested a mirror so he could look at him.
Still, he said there was one other coach that ranks up there for him.
“I tell you this, I love and I adore and I respect and every time I do a commercial with [Alabama coach Nick] Saban, it’s a gift. Just sitting in his presence and hearing him and throwing something else out there so I could hear his viewpoint on it because he’s forgotten more things than I may ever accomplish,” Sanders said. “I’m a student looking up to this wonderful teacher saying just throw me a crumb of what you know.”
When Sanders arrived, many wondered whether his success at Jackson State would translate to a Power Five team. It was assumed that while Sanders might eventually make a positive impact, it would take some time.
Sanders said that doubt wasn’t underestimation.
“That’s fear,” Sanders said. “That’s like, hey man, shoot we don’t want to let that engine that could get going because if that engine that could get going, he going to start saying, I think I can, I think I can and sooner or later, he gone start saying I know I can, I know I can. Then sooner or later, he gonna start saying I did that.”