Lured by TV money, there are about to be eighteen teams in the Big 10 Conference, while both Stanford and the University of California are likely headed to the Atlantic Coast Conference. College players can suddenly earn more than their pro counterparts, thanks to NIL deals. Coaches could always carpetbag, but now players, too, can enter the transfer portal and instantly avail themselves to the highest bidder. College football is changing fast and becoming evermore transactional.
And now, here comes Deion Sanders—the ultimate disrupter, the ultimate chaos merchant—to hack and crack the system.
Who knows what to make of Sanders? He’s a 56-year-old man who calls himself Prime, and swaddles himself in jewelry. But, he is sufficiently old-school that he doesn’t curse. He will go down as one of the towering athletes in sports history. But now, on account of various surgeries and amputations, he is mostly immobile, consigned to a souped-up golf cart. His level of ego is such that he tells off reporters for “not believing” in his ways, and he chases off college kids he doubts can help him win. At the same time, his acts of charity and small touches of thoughtfulness (often performed when cameras aren’t rolling) are too numerous to name. O.K., here’s one: He refrains from using the designation of team “captain” because it cheapens a term used in the military and on police forces.
Last offseason, Sanders came to Colorado, tasked with using his singular style to awaken a moribund, irrelevant program coming off of a 1–11 season. The Buffaloes are now the toast and the talk of college football. Yes, the roster was (at Sanders’s prodding/demanding) completely overhauled, so much so that only nine scholarship players from last season returned. And yes, the team has two of the best players in the country, do-everything sophomore Travis Hunter, and Sanders’s son Shedeur, the team’s quarterback. But, mostly this is the Deion Show, his force of personality dominating the conversation, much the way the Rockies dominate the Boulder landscape.
Colorado is now 3–0, drawing a bigger viewership and a bigger betting handle than most NFL games. And in this, their last season in the Pac-12, they have not just returned to relevance but have become a, well, prime destination for five-star recruits and transfers. Less than a month into the season, there are already collectives at Colorado hoping to lock up Sanders for the long term.
Last week, 60 Minutes ventured to Boulder to spend a few days with Sanders, and get a sense, in his sanitized words, of what the durn-heck is going on. Here are some outtakes from the rollicking interview, edited lightly for brevity and clarity.
Jon Wertheim: So a year ago, you told me God called you collect.
Deion Sanders: Yeah.
JW: Said, “Get to Jackson State.”
JW: Who called you to come here?
DS: The same God. The same God. I could hear His voice. I’m sure people would doubt. But you can’t tell me what my God says to me, like I can’t tell you what your God says to you—
JW: So, what’d He say to you?
DS: “It’s time to move. It’s time to go. Because I got something so big and so broad for you. And I need you to go there and provoke, but a whole different type of change.”
And that’s what we're doing. You think I'm doin’ this by myself? You think I have the capacity to do this all by myself? You think I’m intelligent enough to do this all by myself? Ain’t no way in the world.
JW: That was God’s message to you. What was Rick George’s message, the athletic director—
DS: I’m thankful for Rick for the opportunity. If it wasn’t for the opportunity, none of this would be possible. But for Rick just believin’ in me and identifying that I’m his guy, and he’s gonna make sure I get to Boulder. I never even thought about Boulder, man.
JW: What was your impression of this place before?
DS: As a coach, you don’t get a recruitin’ trip. You don’t get to go check it out. This ain't no fittin’ room. You don’t come here and try on everything, then walk out and say, “Ah, I don't want the-—” you don’t get that opportunity. You gotta be led by faith. And you gotta believe before you even get here.
JW: Whoa, whoa, wait. So you took this job without a visit—
DS: That’s the way the game is played. So, I’m just gonna come here, and amidst everything goin’ on in Jackson. I’m gonna be seen? And what I’m gonna take? What kinda plane I'm gonna fly in here that—when there’s land, the whole country’s not gonna know? No, you gotta have faith and trust God holistically, like this is the place.
JW: Did you have a sense there were other coaches out there, “Here comes this old celebrity NFL player. And he’s masquerading as a big-time college coach—”
DS: Oh, I don't know about the masqueradin'. They know better than that. I know too much football. I played football for 14 years, man, professionally. I played at a high level in college for four years. Then I went and did the television thing for 17 to 20 years.
I think I’m well qualified for this position and this title. I think—matter of fact, I think I’m over-qualified because I know—just understand the field stuff. I understand the business stuff, the television stuff, the social stuff, the personal stuff with these young men.
And last time I checked their locker room at Power 5 is about 70% African American. I think I have relatability to these young men. And I know their stories because I lived their stories. I told you, I sat in three seats. The kid, the coach and the parent.
JW: You ever think how you would’ve fared in the NIL game?
DS: I’d have been like Shedeur. This kid is driving a darn Maybach. Who does that? These kids have luxury cars in college. Man, where do you go from there?
JW: Who's got the bigger tax bill at the end of the year? You or Shedeur?
DS: I taught my kids so they have LLCs and they’re businessmen as well. They run companies.
JW: Your job title’s head coach.
JW: Your business card says “head coach.”
JW: What does that mean in 2023?
DS: I have a multitude of, not duties, I have a multitude of tasks. The main task at hand is the leader of this wonderful institution when it comes to football and so many other facets of football. Anything that has to do anything with football is gonna have my signature on it, from what we wear on the field, to what we wear in practice, to how practice is run, to everything that’s structured in this game at this school.
JW: So when you took this job, what were you looking for in players?
DS: The same thing I was looking for at Jackson, same thing I was looking for in high school: smart, tough, fast, disciplined, with character, leaders and dogs.
JW: You said dogs last time.
DS: Leaders and dogs. Every dog ain’t a leader and every leader ain’t a dog. That's what’s on our shirts. You know, they have the L and they have the D if they earned that. Yeah, most people call ‘em captains. I don’t believe in that. That’s a military term. Leaders and go-getters.
JW: You just said—this is probably even low—85% of these players, not gonna get to the NFL.
JW: Do you tell them that? Have you conveyed that?
DS: Yes. I don’t lie to kids. I tell kids the naked truth. Yes. And the thing about it, it’s my responsibility, along with this staff, to set them up in the future. … Everybody’s trying to get a NIL or a collective. Man, I’d rather partner with you and help prepare these kids for their next life. Because they’re gonna be lost in a couple years if we don’t. … They’re smart, tough, fast, disciplined, fast, not foot speed, but fast meaning retaining things fast, and learning fast, and doing things quickly. So we could get ‘em a tremendous opportunity, a six-figure job coming right out of college. That’s awesome.
JW: You use this phrase, “chasing the bag. Everyone’s chasin’ money.”
DS: Yeah, they are.
JW: Does it bother you that whether it’s the players, the coaches, the schools switching conferences, it’s so nakedly out in the open, “Get me the best deal”?
DS: Isn’t that the way life is? So why wouldn’t sports resemble life?
JW: This wasn’t the landscape when you played.
DS: Time has evolved. And we must evolve with time. So, I’m not upset that these young men are gettin’ compensated for what they bring to the table. But I don’t want them to put the table before they bring somethin’.
JW: How do you balance that during the game, your son’s a terrific player—
DS: I love that question. A great question. This is not new to us. I’ve always been his coach, so it’s no balance. Like, I’ve been his coach. He does not know any other coach. He’s never played for anybody else in his life. Shiloh has only played for one other coach, ‘cause he went to South Carolina. But my—I’ve coached all my kids and my daughters all their life. Yeah.
JW: But, what I mean is, you’re the dad. It’s gotta be cool. That’s your son, the quarterback. How do you divorce those feelings of pride a parent has?—
DS: I’ve been divorced. I’ve been divorced twice. It’s not a divorce. I know what a divorce is. That’s not a divorce or a separation.
JW: How do you differentiate?
DS: There you go … I’m a football player, man. I’m an athlete. I’ve done that. I understand all sides of this. So it’s no preferential treatment. It’s truth and honestly. Matter of fact, I may be harder on mine than I am on the rest of ‘em. And if you come out there and watch me coach, you shouldn’t be able to tell which one is mine, ever since they were young ones. If you could tell which one is mine, I’m not doing my job.
JW: Let’s talk about tomorrow. Same question I asked you last year [at Jackson State]. A year from now, you at the same place?
DS: I better be. I absolutely love it, adore it. Have you looked out there, man? [Points to Rockies.] This fan base, the opportunity that Rick George afforded me, I absolutely love it, man. I couldn’t fathom that.
JW: Big Power 5 school—
DS: I’m in a big Power 5—
JW: “I’m gonna double your salary”—
DS: If another school can double my salary, why can’t this one? I think we’re doing some tremendous business here.
JW: So let me ask you this. You’re—
DS: Let me dial you back for a minute. Money’s not the cause why I’m here, opportunity and the challenge was the cause. I ain’t been broke since ‘89. I’m good. All right? So this is just about how cushioned my landing is. If I stop right now, I’m straight. Now, if I wanna cushion my landing a little more, I understand what you’re saying. But money has never been the thing that provoked me to go left or right. It never has.
JW: What’s the role of that [points to Folsom Field scoreboard] in your life?
DS: The scoreboard just tells you what’s the score. It really don’t tell you who’s winning.
JW: How do you know?
DS: You gotta know if you’re winning or not. And they don’t even know if you’re winning.
JW: You winning?
DS: I’m dominating. There’s a difference … Oh, that’s good.