Deion Sanders Unveils Bold New Recruiting Tactic: Publicly Talking Shit About Former Players

Deion Sanders is ushering in a new era of Colorado football. Maybe you’ve heard about it. A lot of that work has involved getting anyone that Sanders doesn’t think will live up to his standards the hell out of the program. Sanders made a big, public show of his desire to turnover CU’s roster when he first arrived, and he hasn’t given any indication that he wants to slow things down this offseason.

Last week, The Athletic worked to define the full extent of Sanders’s efforts by publishing a big report on the 53 players who were essentially kicked off the team after Sanders’s arrival. The story contains a graphic mapping out where each of these 53 players ended up, and points out that while it’s typical for new coaches to cut underperforming players when beginning a new regime, Sanders took the practice to the extreme. For example, he cut 20 players on one day following last year’s spring game. The idea Sanders was trying to drive home is that these players—and only these players, apparently—were responsible for Colorado’s losing, and he had to get that loser energy out of the place.

The Athletic piece is full of rough and revealing quotes that paint Sanders’s first year at the helm as a “reality show”—cameras from Amazon and his son’s YouTube channel were regularly on campus—during which he tried to create an “us vs. them” atmosphere once his 21 transfers, including his son Shedeur at QB and two-way player Travis Hunter, arrived on campus. The story features a lot of devastating testimonials from castoff players, but Xavier Smith’s stands out:

Smith assumed Sanders would dump older players and embrace the young talent he inherited. During the team meeting, he told himself: He’s not talking about me. I ain’t leaving.

During the spring, Smith felt more like an extra in the background of the reality show. He tried to make the most of second-team reps and made plays in the spring game but struggled to get Sanders’ attention. So as he sat on that couch and listened to [DC Charles Kelly] encourage him to leave, sure, there was frustration.

“He was destroying guys’ confidence and belief in themselves,” Smith said. “The way he did it, it could’ve been done with a little more compassion.”

The Athletic

Smith was a talented redshirt freshman safety at the time, and was eager to play after finally recovering from an injury. But Sanders forced him out, and without much game tape with which to pitch himself, his prospects in the transfer portal were lower. Smith would end up playing at the FCS level for Austin Peay, where he got All-America recognition.

This sort of treatment may already be backfiring. After a 4-8 season, CU’s recruiting ranking is in the toilet due to several high-profile recruits jumping ship. None of this stopped Shedeur Sanders from responding to the quotes Smith gave to The Athletic by saying, “Ion even remember him tbh. Bro had to be very mid at best.”

Following up a 4-8 season by talking shit about former teammates is certainly one way to build a football culture. Though it may initially scan as unbecoming for Shedeur—the quarterback and ostensible leader of the team, and someone who hopes to be picked in the first round of next year’s NFL draft—to say stuff like this, it’s nothing his coach wouldn’t want him doing. Deion also spent a portion of his Wednesday shitting on Smith and anyone else who presented themselves as a hater.

But hey, maybe I’m just piling on Deion Sanders because the 2023 Colorado season ended in embarrassment. Maybe I am no better than the rest of the haters and losers in sports media who still refuse to “believe” in what he is building. Perhaps the key to building a stable, winning program is, at every opportunity, demonstrating to past, present, and future players how little you actually value them. I guess we’ll see!

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