Calm down; the purge at CU was a necessary step by Coach Prime
Apr 24, 2023, 3:29 PM | Updated: 4:36 pm
(Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
Dan Hawkins didn’t get much right during his nearly five-year tenure at the University of Colorado. But the former head coach’s most-(in)famous soundbite was spot on.
“It’s division I football,” he screamed into a microphone at a booster event. “This ain’t intramurals, brother.”
Hawkins was talking about the fact that some players on the team, as well as their parents, had complained about the football team’s schedule impacting vacation plans. His frustration with the lack of understanding as to what it takes in order to win at the highest level of college football was palpable.
There’s nothing wrong with wanting to go home for Thanksgiving, spending a week in the mountains for Christmas or heading to Cabo on spring break. Those are normal activities for a college student. But if a program is trying to compete with Oregon, UCLA, Utah, USC and Washington on a weekly basis in the fall, those desires have to be put on the backburner.
Winning is an all-in endeavor. There’s no way to reach the greatest heights without being completely dedicated to the task at hand.
Hawkins couldn’t get enough people to get on board. That’s one of the reasons why he finished just 19-39 as the Buffs head coach.
Thirteen years later, there’s a new sheriff in town. After the two coaches who followed Hawkins also failed to win at CU, Rick George rolled the dice with his latest hire. The athletic director knew he had to take a risk in order to resurrect a football team that had hit rock bottom.
The Buffaloes were 1-11 last season. Their only win came in overtime. At times during the season, national publications listed Colorado as the worst football team in the country.
It was evident that something drastic had to occur. The program needed paddles applied to its chest in a desperate attempt to shock it back into rhythm.
Enter Deion Sanders.
It’s hard to argue with the results. On Saturday, CU had 47,000-plus in attendance for their spring game. On a snowy day, the Buffs sold out an event that used to draw flies in past years.
Crazy how much can change in a year! Spring game in 2022 ➡️ spring game in 2023 pic.twitter.com/P7SSJa3WDG
— Nikki Edwards (@nikkiedwardsss) April 22, 2023
The sight was remarkable. It was just the latest example of how Coach Prime has already had a huge impact in Boulder.
Colorado announced last week that season tickets for this year are sold out. That hasn’t happened since XXX. It’s never happened in April.
This is all a result of Sanders being hired. It’s hard to imagine another coach, even Nick Saban, who could’ve had this kind of immediate impact.
Prime has brought a swagger back to a once-proud program. Fans have been clamoring for the good-old days. They see the Hall of Fame cornerback who enjoyed great success at Jackson State as their best chance. They envision a similar turnaround at CU.
Will it happen? Maybe. Maybe not. But it’s worth the gamble. The Buffaloes had nothing to lose.
In order to make things work, Sanders was going to have to change nearly everything. The coaches. The players. The entire culture.
That seems obvious. But the process is proving too painful for some people.
On his first day in Boulder, Prime rubbed people the wrong way when he told his team that some of them wouldn’t be there long. Telling the current players that he was bringing his own luggage was seen as too harsh for some people.
Last week, the head coach added fuel to the fire. As spring practice was coming to a close, he bluntly told the media that the roster overhaul wasn’t complete. In fact, he let it be known that more turnover was on the horizon.
That purge has started. Not long after Saturday’s glorious spring game came to an end, players started heading toward the transfer portal. It appeared to be a bit of a mass exodus.
In December, Deion Sanders told me how much change was coming. “I had 70 new guys my first year at Jackson,” he said. I was skeptical he could change it that quickly at Colorado. At this point, at least 62 scholarship players next season will be first-year Buffs. Wow! #cubuffs
— Brian Howell (@BrianHowell33) April 24, 2023
This caused a lot of hand wringing. Was something wrong? Did Prime do something that ticked people off? Is he pushing away too many former players?
Calm down. This is all part of the process.
Sanders inherited a terrible football team. If he wanted to completely clear the decks of everyone involved, that wouldn’t have been a bad decision. A clean sweep was in order.
Will some talented players, coaches and other staff members get caught up in the wash? Probably. But the casualties are a necessary evil of the process.
Change isn’t easy. Building a winner isn’t painless. Creating a culture doesn’t come without ruffling a few feathers.
Prime is doing the hard work. He’s making the tough decisions. He’s revamping a program.
That’s not going to go over well with everyone. Those people should remember the immortal words on Dan Hawkins.
“It’s division I football. This ain’t intramurals, brother.”