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Wasserman: Deion Sanders, blind faith and the coach’s confusing first decision

The world of college football seen ColoradoThe decision to hire Deion Sanders represents a major risk. Athletic director Rick George was smart enough to understand the reasons for his hesitation. There was certainly an element of blind faith that had to exist, but George knew that Sanders was the lightning rod needed to jump-start a resuscitation program. Guess what? It worked. And this, in a few months.

Sanders has so many qualities that cannot be matched. His star power cannot be replicated. His vision of promoting his program on YouTube is something that would make other coaches cringe. And he speaks about everything with conviction. The best part? Sanders follows through on what he says. He is a man of action. He said he was bringing his Louis Vuitton luggage to Boulder, then proceeded to engineer the biggest roster flip the sport has ever seen. Colorado went from a one-win team in 2022 to a four-win team (and counting?) fighting for bowl eligibility.

There is, however, one quality that Sanders lacks.


That must be why Colorado’s head coach made the impulsive decision last week to take primary playmaking duties away from offensive coordinator Sean Lewis and give them to former NFL coach Pat Shurmur. Lewis was perhaps Sanders’ most important coach during the offseason, and he was widely credited with being the reason the Buffaloes put up so many points early in the season despite an obvious deficiency on the offensive line. Lewis left his head coaching job at Kent State to call plays at Colorado and seemed destined to be an attractive candidate for a Power 5 job this offseason.

CU averaged 32.1 points and 408.7 yards in eight games with Sean Lewis as the primary play-caller. Last year, the Buffs averaged 15.4 points and 281.3 yards per game. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

Then Sanders took the play sheet out of Lewis’ hands and replaced him with a coach who hadn’t been an assistant at the college level in 25 years. Shurmur, who was on Sanders’ staff as an analyst, is not a genius player who can solve all of Colorado’s problems in a week. Let’s be honest: Cleveland Browns and New York Giants fans could give a detailed PowerPoint presentation of everything that went wrong when he was head coach of those franchises.

The results of this change were exactly what you expected. Colorado lost to Oregon State Saturday evening from 10 p.m. to 7 p.m. The offense managed just 238 total yards, much of which came late in the game when the Buffaloes were trying to erase a two-point deficit and were facing a limp Beavers defense.

Strategist Shedeur Sanders I was still beaten. And Colorado’s offense rushed for minus-7 yards.

How did we get here? How did Sanders feel strong enough to fix the one thing that, frankly, wasn’t broken?

“We’re not going to demean Sean Lewis, we’re not going to take that tone,” Sanders said. “Sean is a good man. I think he’s a good player. We just needed a change at that time, we just needed to try something else at that time and that’s what we did. I don’t think about it again, I don’t question it at all. Because there’s more to it than what you know, so let’s just trust the process. Let’s just trust the process.

Was there more going on behind the scenes? Lewis and Sanders must have had a fundamental disagreement over the extent to which Colorado was trying to run the football. Maybe it had something to do with how the quarterback — Sanders’ son — was protected.

Sanders didn’t give much insight into how he arrived at this decision, but he acknowledged that we may not understand it.

“I’m not going to reveal all my thoughts,” Sanders said. “My thoughts are my thoughts. I will not disclose when I make a decision. Just know that when I make a decision to do something, I don’t stumble, I don’t stutter, or I don’t look back. That’s what it is and that’s what it’s going to be. … I made the decision to help this team win. You don’t know all the intangibles just by looking inside the crib. I have tinted windows and you can’t even see into the house, but you draw conclusions about what I should and shouldn’t do.

Maybe Sanders’ house has tinted windows, but there has been no other football program with more public exposure than Colorado. Much of Colorado’s daily football news is posted on YouTube. This is part of Sanders’ genius in promoting the brand and the players who wear the Colorado uniform.

But it’s problematic.

From the outside, it looks like Sanders made a rash decision. The move hasn’t led to an offensive renaissance, and it certainly feels like Lewis will be unique in Boulder.

It’s the kind of move a desperate coach would make. But what was the reason for Colorado’s despair? There are still three games left in the regular season and Colorado has already (easily) surpassed last year’s win total. Clearly, Colorado has been a smash hit this year, largely because it’s been so entertaining to watch Shedeur Sanders, Travis HunterJimmy Horn and Dylan Edwards cook… on attack.

Sanders appears concerned about how people perceive his decision to “demote” Lewis. He doesn’t want anyone to look down on Lewis’ abilities or “put down” anything Lewis accomplished.

“You have to understand that there are only so many coaches in college football, so when you make a move like we did, that means someone has to do it…I don’t call it a demotion, I say move,” Sanders said. “I think everyone makes the same amount of money. When you get demoted, it’s a hit on your check. It’s a movement that had to be made.”

Should? Perhaps we will have to blindly trust Sanders on this. He will repeatedly tell you to trust the process. And admittedly, the process resulted in more improvements in a short time than most people expected.

But this decision is worrying. Sanders, more than anyone, has had to understand that Colorado is dealing with personnel issues on the offensive line that coaching can’t fix. He literally talked about it last week and indicated that improving the talent level up front is the main task of the offseason. Heck, Colorado even hosted five-star offensive lineman Jordan Seaton for an official visit for the Oregon State game.

Sanders has given us very little reason to doubt him and his build in his first year as Colorado’s coach. Even losses were expected. But for a new Power 5 head coach, this move makes you scratch your head.

One wonders if these are the types of decisions that could derail such a promising start to a program that might have been hopeless for any other coach.

(Top photo: Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

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