There are few more enigmatic characters in the world of college sport than Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders. As a College Football Hall of Fame player at FSU, a Pro Football Hall of Famer, a sports analyst, and as a college head coach, he has been—and continues to be—must-watch entertainment.
His metamorphosis into one of the hottest properties in college football coaching spawned the nickname “Coach Prime,” but where does the distinctive and apt moniker for one of the leading lights of the sport originate from?
Why is Deion Sanders Called Coach Prime?
Sanders—or “Prime Time” as he’d been known throughout his football journey—made waves late in 2020 when he was officially made the head coach of the HBCU program Jackson State.
In a social media post confirming his appointment, the former Florida State legend swaggered towards the camera and with a beaming smile, told everyone listening to “start calling me Coach Prime from now on because I’m not going to answer to anything else.”
In that moment, the legend of Coach Prime was born. He’d held coaching roles before at the high school level, but now he was in the college football coaching spotlight and ready to shine a light on an HBCU level that has been overshadowed by the money-rich world of the now-133 FBS programs.
Over the following two years, Coach Prime delivered on his promise to elevate the profile of HBCU football and the Jackson State program. Two consecutive SWAC titles, a 2021 FCS Head Coach of the Year, and an unprecedented undefeated regular season for the Tigers spoke to his ability to thrive in the spotlight.
The dictionary defines “primetime” as the time at which an audience level is expected to be at its highest. With his appointment as the head coach at Jackson State, Coach Prime ensured that all eyes were on the program at all times.
That unprecedented level of attention followed him to Boulder when he became the head coach of the Colorado football program ahead of the 2023 college football season. His no-nonsense swagger, uptempo energy, and a maverick approach to the traditional norms of college football have made the Buffaloes a must-watch at every single turn.
College football primetime doesn’t get much bigger than Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff,” and for the first FBS game of the Coach Prime era, television cameras rolled into Fort Worth to capture the air of excitement around the Buffaloes’ trip to national champion-runner up TCU.
The atmosphere was electric, and the excitement palpable in homes around the country, nay, the world. In that moment, on one of the biggest stages of his coaching career so far, Sanders delivered one of the most exciting games that we’ll see in the 2023 college football season.
It was the very epitome of primetime college football from the man whose nickname originated from his ability to perform on the biggest stage. For while “Coach Prime” may have begun with his appointment as the Jackson State head coach in 2020, the genesis of the nickname began far before then.
“I’d already earned Prime Time in high school,” Sanders explained the origins of his nickname during a February 2022 appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. While he’s known as a football legend who also played baseball and ran track, he added basketball to his résumé in high school.
“I dropped, like, 37 that night, had two dunks back-to-back, curl was wet, looked dry. We were on our way home on the bus, and my Homie says, ‘You know what, man? You’re Prime Time.'”
Sanders would be called many things during his career, garnering other nicknames such as Neon Deion and adopting the persona of Leon Sandcastle in the early 2010s. Yet to the North Fort Myers native, the Prime Time moniker was more than just a nickname. It was an apt summation of his sporting prowess.
“I’m from the inner city,” Sanders explained during his Tonight Show appearance. “You can’t just give us a nickname, you’ve got to earn that thing, and I earned it. Prime Time.”
After a show-stopping performance to open the 2023 college football season under the lights of one of the sport’s biggest national broadcasts, it’s fair to say that Sanders—or Coach Prime—continues to earn that nickname many years later.