Colorado’s ‘Coach Prime Experiment’ is headed toward an ugly ending

News & Politics

The coaching experiment the University of Colorado is conducting with Hall of Fame football player Deion Sanders will likely end with a lawsuit.

Someone — a player, an assistant coach, the athletic director, a fan, a cheerleader — is going to sue Sanders for coaching malpractice. The complainant will use Saturday’s Colorado-UCLA game as exhibit A in the suit. Deion’s postgame press conference will serve as the closing argument.

Following the Buffs’ 28-16 loss, Coach Prime unleashed a level of self-serving narcissism, ego, and incompetence that is uncommon outside Pop Warner. Sanders’ frustration was justified. It’s nearly impossible to lose a football game — let alone by double digits — when you win the turnover battle 4-0, which Colorado did.

The Bruins’ turnovers all came in the first half. Despite this, they led 7-6 at halftime. Colorado squandered a game its opponents tried to gift-wrap.

When it was over, Sanders attacked his offensive line, questioning their “killer instinct, want, desire, will, and athleticism” after allowing his quarterback son, Shedeur, to suffer seven sacks and a dozen other hits. Sanders sounded like a Pee Wee coach.

The Coach Prime Experiment is a disaster. Deion better lawyer up. This type of coaching malpractice should be illegal.

“The hardest thing to acquire is linemen, so when people have a good one, you rarely see linemen jump and go to different schools. I think we have some guys that it’s gonna be good with a little seasoning,” he said. “But overall, we just don’t have the fight or the passion to do what we wanna do. I’m a little biased because I’m his father, but I think we have the best quarterback in the country. I don’t think any other quarterback could put up with, stand and deliver like ours do, week in and week out, and taking the beating that he’s taking.”

That’s not coach talk. That’s how fans talk. That’s how Little League coaches talk. That’s how daddies talk.

At the collegiate level, offensive linemen are developed. They’re rarely acquired. Many of them are not top-flight high school players. They’re tall kids who are too heavy to play basketball. Or they’re defensive linemen lacking the athleticism to play on that side of the ball at the Power 5 level.

Deion doesn’t understand this because he spent his football career playing on an island at cornerback. In his previous coaching stints, he always had more talent than his competition. The details have never really mattered to Deion as a player or a coach. Talent trumped everything. He still believes that. That’s why he’s perfectly comfortable, with four games left in the season, publicly announcing he wants to replace his offensive linemen with new players.

“The big picture is you go get new linemen,” he said. “That’s the picture, and I’m gonna paint it perfectly.”

Deion is playing fantasy, transfer-portal football. The sports fans who love fantasy and video-game football think Deion is right. The jock-sniffing ex-jocks who talk about football on social media and on ESPN and Fox Sports think Deion is right.

Coaches are laughing at Deion. They can see what any objective, informed football person can see. Deion’s approach creates a toxic culture that will undermine the intangibles that lead to consistent winning.

Six weeks ago, after Oregon thumped Colorado, I posted that the locker-room dynamics within Deion’s program would get very interesting:

The Colorado locker room is about to get real over the next few weeks. You have a weak offensive line protecting the coach’s kid at quarterback. The coach and the QB have large, unchecked egos. The media has already started the process of singling out the offensive line. No one questioning scheme or all-pass, showcase-Shedeur-for-Heisman-NFL approach. Media will ignore, but the locker-room dynamics will be very interesting in Boulder.

Colorado can’t run the football because Deion has never invested in the team’s running game. Deion loves to see the ball in his son’s hands. He’s a dad coaching a Pee Wee team. Colorado’s refusal to run the ball is the primary reason Shedeur is the most sacked quarterback in college football. The offensive line talent isn’t great. The all-pass strategy is a big part of the reason the offensive line looks weak.

“Well, it’s a struggle to run the ball,” Sanders said Saturday after his team rushed for just 25 yards. “It’s a struggle to run the ball. And we gotta figure that out, because now you’re one-dimensional, and it’s easy to stop a team when they’re one-dimensional. And that’s who we are at this point in time.”

“I think we committed to it on first down and it was 2nd and 15,” he added. “Those are the type of things you don’t want to do and get behind the eight ball. First downs are so vital. First downs are everything.”

Here are the facts: Colorado opened the game with a 13-play drive that led to a successful 31-yard field goal. They ran the ball one time. On second down, Dylan Edwards rushed for three yards. Every other play was a designed pass for Shedeur. The drive stalled at the UCLA 13 when Shedeur threw three straight incompletions.

Colorado’s second drive, after a UCLA interception, was seven plays and ended with a successful 39-yard field goal. The Buffs ran the ball one time. Edwards rushed for nine yards. The drive stalled on three straight Shedeur pass attempts, one short completion, and two incompletions.

Colorado’s third drive consisted of five plays and a punt. One of those five plays was a Shedeur scramble for seven yards. The other four plays were Shedeur passing attempts.

On Colorado’s fourth drive, the Buffs opened with an Anthony Hankerson running play that resulted in a loss of five yards.

That single play justified Sanders abandoning the running game. At halftime of a one-point game, Colorado running backs Dylan Edwards and Anthony Hankerson had carried the ball a combined seven times.

It’s a ridiculous, childlike strategy. It’s the kind of offensive scheme only a father would cook up for his son. Everything Colorado is doing is based on Deion getting his son in the Heisman race and drafted in the first round of the NFL.

What’s sad is the motivation isn’t about empowering Shedeur Sanders. The motivation is pleasuring Deion’s ego. Shedeur is a tool to serve Deion.

Why do I say that?

I say it because with six minutes left in the game, the Buffaloes trailed 28-9 and Sanders left his hobbled son in the game. Shedeur limped around the field most of the second half. After the game, Deion admitted that doctors injected Shedeur with a painkiller at halftime.

“Our quarterback is taking a beating,” Sanders said. “He got an injection at halftime. I probably shouldn’t tell you that, but you know I’m 100. Just to block the pain. So I’ll give him the next few days off so he can at least be mobile, because I know when that block is off, he’s gonna feel it.”

The game was over. Deion left his hobbled son on the field for two meaningless drives. It’s stat-padding. It’s a foolish Heisman push.

“I don’t know who else that they have in these Heisman balloting and running that takes the abuse that he takes and gets back up,” Sanders said. “I don’t know if any of these guys can stand and deliver every week like he does with the same stress that he delivers from. So I’m proud of him, not just as a father but as a coach. I’m proud of his strides and what’s he’s doing and what he’s seeing.”

This is coaching malpractice. In this era of safety-first football, there’s no other coach who could get away with treating a college quarterback the way Deion is treating his own son. The worship of Deion justifies and allows Deion to abuse his own son in pursuit of some false narrative that Deion is a great coach.

Deion is not a great coach. He’s a character Fox Sports and ESPN are using to draw television ratings. He’s another golden calf.

No great coach would subject his quarterback to the type of on-field abuse Shedeur is enduring. No great coach would utilize an all-pass offense against a team with UCLA’s pass-rushers. No great head coach would escort his quarterback and star defensive player to an NBA game during a week of game preparation. No great coach would be happy with a star quarterback who refuses to shake hands with his opponents after a game. You certainly wouldn’t call that kid the leader of your team.

The Coach Prime Experiment is a disaster. Deion better lawyer up. This type of coaching malpractice should be illegal.

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