BOULDER — As Deion Sanders held court on a stage, because Coach Prime is always center stage, CU Buffs 1990 national champ Charles Johnson stood in the back of the room, having flashbacks.
C.J., I asked, does Coach Prime remind you of anyone? Say, the man himself, Bill McCartney?
“God and gangsta,” C.J. told me. “It’s almost eerie, because they’re packaged so differently.”
Forgive Buffs fans if the Prime Show reminds of the great Coach Mac: Part God, part gangsta.
“I’m at the introductory press conference when he (Sanders) was brought on. My mouth was (on the floor), just like, ‘I am looking at the Black Bill McCartney,’” Johnson said Wednesday.
Yes, the two men could not be packaged more differently — Coach Mac a white man from Michigan, Coach Prime a black man from Florida. Look closer, and Mac and Prime are “The Office” meme: They’re the same picture.
How Sanders flipped the CU program in two months is a screenplay for a “30 for 30” documentary on ESPN. (Yep, Coach Mac had that, too.) And it has Buffs Country reminiscing about the good ol’ days. Coach Prime rode his bicycle into a press conference Wednesday to explain a recruiting class that’s done more than put Utah and Oregon State on notice.
Prime’s out here flipping recruits from Notre Dame (running back Dylan Edwards) and nabbing transfers from Alabama (linebacker Demouy Kennedy). The nation’s No. 1 recruit in 2022 is coming, Travis Hunter. The nation’s No. 1 cornerback is coming, Lakeland (Fla.) star Cormani McClain, who signed with Colorado on Wednesday.
“We’re not done,” Coach Prime said. “This is just a pause. This is just a comma.”
How’s he doing it? Well, how did Coach Mac do it?
Johnson was a Michigan kid committed to Eastern Michigan. Never been west of Chicago, he said. One April day, Coach Mac strolled into a clinic for Michigan high school coaches and said all of his Buffs quarterbacks were injured. CU needed a quarterback.
C.J.’s Mom sent him to Boulder with a message: Go to Colorado. You can always come home.
“It’s even more logical with Prime,” Johnson said. “Listen, the majority of the living rooms he will walk into, quite frankly, will be African-American parents. The brilliance of Bill McCartney was he was able to, 40 years ago, dissolve that divide and become my Mom’s friend. I’m trying to figure that one out still.”
Johnson added: “I think with Coach Prime a lot of parents are looking out the window, waiting for him to pull up. That’s the difference.”
Here, you tell me if these comments from Coach Prime remind you of someone else. Say, Coach Mac.
“I absolutely love Boulder, Colorado,” Prime said.
And this: “We’re not just connecting about football (with recruits). We’re connecting about life.”
And this: “You look out the darn windows and see those mountains, it’s a wrap.”
Coach Prime likes to say, “We’re coming.”
He’s right. The Buffs are coming … back.
Prime’s first recruiting class shows a pair of five-star recruits, doubling the number of five-stars at CU over the past 25 years. (“I don’t give a darn about a star,” Prime said.) The transfer class ranks fourth in the nation, according to 247Sports, tops in program history. Eighteen states and countries are represented, including two Brits, four players from Georgia and seven players from Florida.
“Once they realize it ain’t that cold, it’s going to be all good for my Florida boys,” Sanders said.
Prime apologized for not knowing all the recruits’ names.
“We’ll get them nicknames when it’s appropriate,” he said.
Don’t apologize. Buffs football matters again.
“Deion is pitching the idea you can go to Colorado and play for him and you can have that NFL platform. You don’t have to go to one of these elite, blue-blood programs to accomplish that goal,” said Blair Angulo, a recruiting guru at 247Sports. “I think it’s a perfect storm of his personality and the recruiting landscape. It’s the right place at the right time with the right guy.”
There are no guarantees in life, and there is no guarantee of success with Prime at CU. Former Buffs advise guardrails in Boulder. Johnson recalled a night in 1988 when Coach Mac shuttled 10 Buffs players to a city council meeting. McCartney’s message: “You all treat these guys like they’re criminals. If you can’t put your arm around them, the problem is you.”
McCartney wore his Christian faith on his sleeve as the founder of the “Promise Keepers” men’s ministry. And when did Sanders know it was time to make the leap from Jackson State to CU-Boulder and the Pac-12? He was seated in a restaurant booth in Mississippi.
“God said: ‘Now,’” Prime recalled.
“Don’t you ever tell me what God can’t do. Don’t you ever tell me his limits. Out of all the persons in the world, God chose me. For that I thank him. For that I love him. For that I praise him. For that I owe him each and every day. I’m trying to please him,” Sanders said.
Hmmm. Sounds familiar.
As Johnson said, “Any examination with the history of the world informs us that faith and belief are far more powerful than science and evidence. It’s amazing what people do. Belief doesn’t require proof. It’s what’s in your gut. That’s the magic of ‘Prime’ from Day 1.”
Remind you of anyone?
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