Published: July 10, 2023 By
Coach Prime in a custom CU sweatsuitThe Coloradan sat down with Deion Sanders on the eve of the spring game to discuss leadership, coaching and Buffs football. 

What drew you to coaching? 

What drew me to coaching was fulfilling a need. I was watching my youngest two sons at football practice, and it was horrible. I mean, the coaches didn’t know what they were doing, and they had these kids colliding and hitting each other. So I went out there and tried to teach them the proper protocol for doing what they needed to do. And I sat back down like a real parent. Then I saw something else and I couldn’t take it. So I went out there and helped them. 

By the second or third time, I was running the whole practice. I said to myself, ‘If you’re gonna do this, you’re not going to do it with nobody else. Do it your own way.’                           

How did you know you were meant to be at CU? 

Well, God places you where you’re not necessarily wanted, but you’re necessarily needed. That is not just a need at CU for the football department. There’s a need in this whole city and state for equality and to improve the equilibrium in race. I think we are at 3% Black students on this campus — if that. So God takes me to these types of places so I could bring something to the table that hasn’t been fathomed. 

And I’ve always been in those situations — going to play football in Atlanta, going to the Atlanta Braves or Cincinnati … Everywhere I go, I’ve got to be a product of change. I never go anywhere where everything is good, everything is glowing, everything is wonderful, everything is kind, everything is generous. It’s always a situation that needs to be fixed or needs to be improved.

Coach Prime at a press conferenceIs there an aspect of Boulder that has surprised you? 

The beauty, the serenity, the calmness, the willingness to understand. I love that. There’s so many more, but those are the top ones that get me to the place I want to be.

What is your vision for CU Boulder football and the Forever Buffs community?

It’s hard to just say what the vision is. Let’s talk about the goals. The goals are to win. Winning is not just what is placed on the scoreboard. Because I could win out there every game, but if we failed in graduation rate, we didn’t win. I could win out there every game and we could get all these kids graduated, but if several of them are having a kid out of wedlock and not being a father of their own children, we did not win. 

If we’re not maturing these young men to be leaders who understand life and are willing to embrace and love and understand and help and assist, we didn’t win. It’s an enormous challenge. If you sent me your son at 18 and I sent him back at 21 and he hadn’t changed, we lost.

What does leadership mean to you? 

Leadership means you’re much more than just the person in the front. You’re much more than the person who may get the first or last word. You’re much more than the person who’s the most visible. A leader doesn’t have to walk in the front. A leader doesn’t have to speak the loudest. A leader does not have to command the most finances in the building. A leader is a leader, and no one can teach you how to lead. That’s in you. 

Coach Prime with PeggyAre there one or two characteristics that define your leadership? 

I can’t define my leadership. Someone else would have to define it. Because I walk ... I move different than most. And my music don’t play on the same beat that yours may play. And I’m not looking for your approval. I’m not looking for a check by my Instagram or Twitter. I don’t need validation from others, not whatsoever. Because I have a higher calling, and I could hear [God’s] voice in the midst of boos or cheers. I could hear his voice and know where to go.

Who have been your mentors and inspirational leaders? 

My mother is not a mentor — she’s my mama. But she’s always been the one. I had some wonderful men in my life, many of whom have passed away, but they left their imprint on my heart. My youth coach, Dave Capel, who took me from the inner city to the other side of town and opened my windows of life to let me see some things I would’ve never seen. 

My high school coach, Ron Hoover, we had a rule: If you get suspended, you get kicked off the football team. And he kicked me off the football team when I got suspended junior year — even though the suspension wasn’t my fault. I was trying to break up something in the library. And my coach was mad and upset, but he kept his word. And that changed my life because now I understood discipline and true leadership. 

Mickey Andrews and Bobby Bowden when I went on to college and the other different coaches that I had in my life — it was a plethora of coaches, teachers, people and positions that God took me through on my journeys that I had to pass by and pass through. But I took something from them and kept them sacredly.

Coach Prime in a cowboy hatHow do you motivate players? 

You don’t try to motivate players. You are who you are. Every player is not the same, but that [relationship] comes from sitting on that couch with the mother or father or uncle or friend or aunt or coach — someone in his life who has been a value. You’ve got to know those things. 

So I may whisper to a kid, ‘Mama have to work today.’ That may not mean nothing to you, but a mama told me she was driving an hour and a half to work every day to support his little butt. Now he’s coming to college trying to make it happen. He’s forgetting that Mama’s still driving to work every day while he’s out there loafing. But he made Mama promise that one day he was going to take care of her. So all I have to do is say, ‘Mama have to work today.’ And he reflects on that moment.

It is an open relationship because I want them to understand my ‘why.’ I can’t just tell these guys, ‘Hey man, I don’t want you laying down on the field.’ That’s one thing to say that but it’s another thing to say, ‘You know what? I played the game 14 years. No one ever had to get me off a field.’

One time I fell and cracked my eye socket. I remember the guy who played cornerback on the opposing team played with me a year prior. I heard his voice and I said, ‘Push me the way my sideline is.’ And he pushed me that way and I ran off the field. Next thing I know, I’m in the ambulance and I had surgery like two days later there, but never did they have to get me off the field. But if the kids don’t understand that story, they don’t understand my why.

What do you want your legacy to be? 

That I’m the best father that ever lived. That’s it. 

Coach Prime with his iconic gold whistleNow that you have the tools of social media, what is the story you’re trying to share with the world? 

Hope, man. I instill hope. We’ve got another hour. We may have another day. Even if we don’t, what are you going to do with your now? We’ve got so many people in life upset with yesterday and so afraid of tomorrow that they’re missing their now. I dominate my now, every darn moment God gives me, even this moment right now, I’m going to dominate it because this is my now.

I’m going to win today, which is going to prepare tomorrow. And I forgot about yesterday. I ain’t got time for it. 

What’s important to you that you want readers — CU Boulder alumni, fans and supporters — to know? 

As much as they think they need me, I need them just as much because of what we’re trying to accomplish. I need them to see what can possibly be and what’s going to be. And I need them to forget about what was. I need them to be all in. I need them to get in the game. 

It’s one thing to be in the stadium, but it’s another thing to be in the game. One thing to be in the crowd, but it’s another thing to be in the game. It’s one thing to be over there cheerleading with pom-poms, but it’s another thing to be in the game. It’s one thing to have an instrument, blowing the tuba or whatever they’re playing in the band, but it’s another thing to be in the game. 

I need everybody in that stadium to be in the game because this is the genesis of what’s coming, and that starts tomorrow.

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Photos courtesy CU Athletics