Will Deion Sanders be a target in the next NFL coaching search? League executives say ‘definitely’ | ET REALITY


Deion Sanders is emerging as a top target for NFL teams in need of a head coach.

Sanders hasn’t just captivated the college football world with his early success as Colorado’s boss. He also quickly garnered interest from NFL decision makers who are curious to see if his unique coaching style can translate to the professional level.

The Athletic surveyed 10 high-ranking team decision makers to gauge the league’s opinion of Sanders, and seven of them predicted Sanders would receive interview requests for the offseason head coaching hiring cycle. The other three did not rule it out but felt it was too early to make a prediction.

“I would definitely like to bring him in to hear what he has to say,” one executive said. “He is a smart guy and a good coach who has had a lot of success from the beginning. You would want to pick his brain to see if it can be translated. He knows how to motivate his players. He has crushed the transfer portal, and maybe that would carry over to team building through free agency.”

The Pro Football Hall of Famer became a head coach for the first time in 2020 for Jackson State and led the program to a 27-6 record over three seasons, but he really made a splash when he upset top-rated recruit Travis Hunter from Florida State. legitimizing Sanders’ position as prime minister despite a relative lack of resources for the program.

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Colorado then hired Sanders in December, and went into overdrive recruiting in the transfer portal. He brought his son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders, Hunter and many other highly regarded recruits to the Buffaloes.

They are off to a 3-0 start and are ranked 19th in the country, which is already an impressive feat considering Colorado went 1-11 last season and was outscored, 534-185. It had been their sixth consecutive season without reaching four victories.

“He clearly has a plan to develop young men,” one executive said. “It has worked up to this point. He has no problem putting people in a position to do what they do best, he doesn’t seem to micromanage and he knows their strengths.”

Sanders has an obvious ability to relate to his players, and there is a belief that his success in the transfer portal would carry over into NFL free agency. He’s also shown that he can generate attention that his players appreciate, and Sanders has done an interesting job of manifesting motivation through different types of adversity, whether of his own making or not.

Several of the executives characterized Sanders as a CEO-type head coach who can oversee the operation on a larger scale, which is an important trait for a head coach. He has also hired highly regarded assistants, offensive coordinator Sean Lewis and defensive coordinator Charles Kelly, and Sanders delegates responsibilities to his assistants to take advantage of his experience.

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And while there have been some prolific college coaches who have failed spectacularly at the NFL level, executives believed Sanders should not be included in that group. This is because Sanders has played in the NFL at the highest level and he must understand how to get the most out of players because he will understand what they need to be at their best. Generally speaking, past failures between college and the NFL occurred because those coaches believed they could work with professionals identically to how they worked with student-athletes, and that has been a disastrous recipe.

The desire for NFL teams to interview Sanders would be to evaluate his plan for running a locker room, developing players, building a staff, working with the front office to build the roster and maintaining that success year after year.

“I love the energy he creates and his players respond to it,” one general manager said. “I think you have to at least sit down and talk to him. He is a leader, intelligent, a great marketer and he has (credibility) as a player and now he adds it as a coach.”

But there are two important questions. First and foremost, would Sanders even want to jump to the NFL? With the new name, image and likeness rules and the transfer portal, Sanders essentially has untapped resources to build his roster instead of having to deal with the salary cap and a draft system designed to maintain parity. Some of the executives believed Sanders wouldn’t want to leave the college game, although that wouldn’t stop them from trying to bring him in for an interview.

And if Sanders maintains this success, it’s only a matter of time before higher-profile programs and even bigger budgets emerge. The Alabama job could be the most coveted in the nation when Nick Saban retires, and there is a belief in league circles that the time is not far away.

There is no shortage of big-money programs that would surely be attracted to Sanders’ success and marketability if his current coach stumbles.

“I think he’ll get (NFL head coaching interview) offers this year,” one evaluator said. “But I think he’s better in college, where he can tip the scales and dominate the talent pool with his recruiting ability. I think he would have success in the NFL as well, but he could really create a long-term powerhouse in college.”

A CEO agreed.

“I just think Deion can dominate for a long time in college,” the general manager said. He will have to deal with parity in the NFL. He may not have the same impact (in the NFL as) that he has in college because he will be limited as to the number of guys he can bring in and attract because of the salary cap and the draft.”

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The second key question concerns the rest of the season. Although Colorado has edged out national runner-up TCU, Nebraska and Colorado State, the schedule will get much tougher over the next two months.

It visits No. 10 Oregon on Saturday, hosts No. 5 USC a week later and has four more currently ranked opponents in its last five games. How will Colorado respond if it loses a couple of games in a row or gets eliminated on national television?

“They beat the teams they were supposed to beat,” said one general manager. “I’m interested to see how his offense adjusts when the elements change in Colorado.”

There are many variables at play in the coming months, but the NFL has been captivated by Sanders’ performance in Colorado. There is plenty of reason to believe his system would translate to the professional level, just as there is reason to worry about Sanders’ relative lack of head coaching experience.

But if there is any belief that Sanders can coach (and that obviously is the case), organizations owe it to themselves to invite him for an interview.

After all, the most important factor is usually the most obvious.

“He’s been successful in everything he’s done,” one general manager said, “on and off the field.”

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; photo: Maddie Mayer/Getty Images)

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