The college football world considered Colorado’s decision to take Deion Sanders a huge risk. Athletic director Rick George was smart enough to see the reasons for the reluctance. There was an element of blind faith that had to exist, sure, but George knew that Sanders was the lightning rod needed to revive a life support program. Guess what? It worked. And within a few months.
Sanders has many qualities that cannot be matched. His star power cannot be duplicated. His vision to promote his program on YouTube is something that would make other coaches cringe. And he speaks with conviction about everything. The best part? Sanders followed through on his word. He is a maker. 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.
However, there is one quality that Sanders lacks.
That’s why Colorado’s head coach made the knee-jerk decision last week to take key playmaking duties from offensive coordinator Sean Lewis and hand them over to former NFL coach Pat Shurmur. Lewis was perhaps Sanders’ most important coaching addition of the offseason, and he was largely credited with being the reason the Buffaloes put up so many points early in the season despite having an obvious deficiency on the offensive line. Lewis left a head coaching job at Kent State to call plays at Colorado and seems destined to be an attractive candidate for a Power 5 job in the offseason.
Sanders then 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 is on Sanders’ staff as an analyst, is not a genius play caller who can solve all of Colorado’s problems in a week. Let’s be honest: Fans of the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants could give a detailed PowerPoint presentation of all the things that went wrong when he was the head coach of those franchises.
The results of this change are exactly what you would expect. Colorado lost to Oregon State on Saturday night 26-19. The offense managed just 238 total yards, part of which came late in the game when the Buffaloes were trying to erase a two-point deficit and faced a soft Beavers defense.
Quarterback Shedeur Sanders is still bruised. And Colorado’s offense rushed for minus-7 yards.
How did we get here? How did Sanders feel about fixing something that, frankly, wasn’t broken?
“We’re not going to let Sean Lewis down, we’re not going to take that tone,” Sanders said. “Sean is a good man. I think he is a good play caller. We just needed a change at the time, we just needed to try something different at the time and that’s what we did. I no longer look at it, I no longer think of myself. Because there is more than what you can possibly know, so let’s just trust the process. Let’s just trust the process.”
Did a lot happen behind the scenes? Lewis and Sanders must have had a fundamental disagreement about how much Colorado was trying to run the football. Maybe it has something to do with how well the quarterback — Sanders’ son — is protected.
Sanders didn’t offer much insight about how he came to the decision, but he admitted that we might not understand it.
“I’m not going to reveal all my thoughts,” Sanders said. “My thoughts are my thoughts. I don’t reveal when I make a decision. I just know when I decide to do something, I don’t stumble or falter and I don’t look back. It is what it is, and that’s what going to happen. … I made a decision to help this team win. You don’t know all the intangibles just outside the crib looking. My windows are tinted and you can’t even see into the house, but you’re doing conclusions about what I should and shouldn’t do.”
Maybe Sanders’ house has tinted windows, but no other football program is more exposed to public viewing than Colorado. A large portion of daily Colorado football is posted on YouTube. That’s part of Sanders’ genius in promoting the brand and the players who wear the Colorado uniform.
But this is problematic.
From the outside looking in, it looks like Sanders made a rash decision. That decision didn’t lead to some offensive renaissance, and it most definitely felt like Lewis was one-and-done in Boulder.
This is the kind of move a desperate coach would make. But what is the reason for Colorado’s desperation? There are three games left in the regular season and Colorado has (easily) surpassed last year’s win total. By all accounts, Colorado has been a resounding success this year, in large part because it’s been entertaining to watch Shedeur Sanders, Travis Hunter, Jimmy Horn and Dylan Edwards cook … on offense.
Sanders seemed worried about how people would view his decision to “demote” Lewis. He doesn’t want anyone to diminish Lewis’s abilities or “demean” anything Lewis has accomplished.
“You have to understand, you only get so many coaches in college football, so when you make a move like we did, that means somebody has to … I don’t call it a demotion, I say move,” Sanders said. “I think everyone earns the same amount. When you get demoted, that’s right on your check. This is a movement we need to make.”
Need? Maybe we have to blindly trust Sanders on this one. He will repeatedly tell you to trust the process. And to his credit, the process yielded more improvement in a short period of time than most people expected.
But the move is troubling. Sanders, more than anyone, needs 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 was the main task in 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 development in his first year as Colorado’s coach. Even losses are expected. But for a first-time Power 5 head coach, this step leaves you scratching your head.
It makes you wonder if these are the kinds of decisions that could derail a good start to a developing program that might be hopeless for any other coach.
(Top photo: Sean M. Haffey / Getty Images)