The most interesting people in radio typically have a lot of life experiences. Ian Beckles, an afternoon drive host on WDAE in Tampa, Florida, certainly qualifies as one of these people. The former offensive lineman had a nine-year NFL career — including seven with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He teamed up with Hall of Famers Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks, and John Lynch. A native of Montreal, Beckles made his way from Canada to Bloomington where he graduated with a BS in business while playing his college ball at Indiana University. Beckles also opened Dignitary Cafe, which merges his passion of all things food with his growing knowledge of CBD products.
I feel like I practically need to rob a bank to compete with Ian’s life experiences.
Beckles drops by to discuss a wide range of topics. He touches on the retirement of Ron Diaz last December, his former partner who spent four decades on the Tampa airwaves. Beckles talks about his new on-air partner, Jay Recher, who moved from producer to co-host. The ambassador of all things tasty in Tampa Bay also speaks about fluffy radio, being yourself, Angelo Dundee, what fans know nothing about, and caps it off with an excellent Stevie Wonder comparison. Enjoy.
Brian Noe: How did you get your start in sports radio after your playing days?
Ian Beckles: I never even knew sports radio existed. When I played, and even afterward, I never listened to sports radio, not one time. I was at a gym with a young lady, Jayne Portnoy, who used to work for the Bucs. She said to me you’d be great in sports radio and they’re looking for somebody at 620. Once again I didn’t know what was going on. I went to 620. They had about 10 people in there looking to get a Sunday job for pregame. I won, I guess, because I got the job. I started my Sunday show with Sandy Penner. That one might have been 20 years ago. That turned into a Monday night show on 620, which kind of turned into me filling in for Chris Thomas and ultimately me taking over for Chris Thomas with Ron Diaz.
BN: How do you think your style has changed over the last two decades, if it even did?
IB: I’d like to believe that my style didn’t change, because I think when you’re behind the mic, you’re just doing yourself. That’s what I’m trying to do anyway. If I was to give somebody advice, I would say just be yourself. Some people get behind the mic and they want to change and make it more professional. I just open the mic and just talk like I’d be talking to my buddies and we’re having a cocktail.
I don’t think my style has changed. I really don’t. I’ve learned a lot because we talk about a lot of different sports and one of the things that you learn is that if you don’t know a whole lot about something, you don’t want to elaborate too much on it. If we’re talking about NASCAR, I’ll joke around and say I don’t know much about NASCAR. The worst thing to do is try to be smart when you don’t know anything, so I guess I just learned a lot of little lessons throughout the years.
BN: What did you enjoy most about working with Ron before he retired?
IB: What I enjoy the most working with Ron was what I learned. What’s funny is I think Ron and I survived together because we’re both professionals. A lot of people will say hey man, you and Ron, you guys hang out all the time like you’re best friends. Although Ron and I were friends and we respected each other, we didn’t hang out afterwards. We just respected when that mic came on, we’re going to put on the best product. I think the reason why it succeeded so much is that we were so different. I always tell people if you have a show with Tucker Carlson and Hannity, it might be too much, but you put Tucker Carlson and Anderson Cooper together, it’d be a great show. I think that’s what Ron and I did.
There’s going to be people that don’t like me, and the people that don’t like me, would like Ron. I think vice versa as well. There are certain times when you get into an argument, I know there’s people on the other side of the radio saying, don’t let up Ian, or don’t let up Ron. Sometimes there are no right answers. I thought it worked because we hit the whole spectrum.
For me, working with somebody who’s been in radio that long and was a pioneer, I’m a sponge. I was like that in the locker room as well. When Anthony Muñoz came in the locker room or one of those old-school guys, I listened to everything they said. I understand you got there for a reason. I got a chance to grow up with Brooks and Sapp and those guys, so we all learned together. But I’ve always learned to listen. I watch too. I watched a lot of things Ron did and a lot of things Ron said, and the way he said them. I think I adopted a lot, and hopefully in my older age young, young cats like Jay Recher and some of the other kids coming up can hear it and adopt it and hopefully learn from me. I thought about the other day, I’m becoming one of the elder statesmen because I’ve been on the air for a while now.
BN: What has it been like getting used to Jay who was a producer and now is your co-host?
IB: I didn’t have to. When Ron was out, me and Jay did the show. That happened probably a half-dozen times and every time we did the show, we were like “Oh my God, that was cool. That was relaxing.”
We were chill. Jay and I like each other; we hang out. Jay comes over here to watch sporting events. We hang out more than Ron and I used to. Once again it doesn’t make it a better show. But I never at any time questioned whether Jay and I would have good synergy because like I said we like each other. We challenge each other because the worst crap is fluffy radio. Nobody wants that. I think Jay is so strong-minded that he won’t allow that to happen. When the bosses came to me and they go “Do you want it to be Jay Recher?” I said it has to be Jay Recher. I go it has to be. That was it. I didn’t give them a choice. I think we made the right choice for sure.
BN: As a former player, how often do you hear sports radio hosts that didn’t play professionally, say things that are incorrect?
IB: It happens a lot. I’ll give you an example, throughout the years there’s been a couple football players I’ve been very critical about, and they were Buccaneer players. Way back in the day it was Barrett Ruud. I was like you guys keep telling me this guy is good, but he’s running backwards to make tackles. Barrett Ruud would have 150 tackles in a season but we would be last at stopping the run and you’re a middle linebacker. They don’t go together. People were upset with me; “No, you’re wrong, you’re wrong.” And I go well, you know what, if you remember what I did for a living — do you know how much film I’ve watched? I feel like saying are you going to question Stevie Wonder on music because I don’t know very many people that have better credentials than I do to evaluate a middle linebacker. After that we had Gaines Adams. I go he can’t play. He just can’t play. He’s not strong enough. He’s not mean enough. He’s too nice. He’s just running around the edge and that didn’t work out. When Barrett Ruud left here, he never played good football. With Gaines Adams, may he rest in peace, he didn’t either.
The last one was Gerald McCoy. I go you guys keep on telling me how good this guy is. He doesn’t make any plays. He doesn’t get sacks. Our defense is last always and you guys keep on telling me he’s good. I go the second he leaves, Ndamukong Suh comes in here, I go see what happens. And what happens? Our defense got better immediately.
I don’t think, I know I see football different than everybody else because that’s all I did my whole life. Sometimes I want to stop people — it can sound pretentious at times — but I don’t care. Like I said if Stevie Wonder is going to teach me music, I’m going to listen. There’s times where I feel like saying just listen, because this is my thing. I wasn’t good in school. I wouldn’t cheat off me in school. But if we’re talking about football and inside line play, I’d be the one to cheat off of because I have a world of knowledge.
BN: Does the common fan and most of the media know the least about inside line play, which is your area of expertise?
IB: They know nothing actually. I’m starting to realize this with old age; football is a very complicated game. It’s way complicated because sometimes when I have people over here and we’re watching football — we may have Tony Mayberry here, a former teammate of mine, or Michael Clayton, or Shaun King, and we’re all talking football. I realize I don’t know what they’re talking about. I wasn’t in the wide receiver room. And God forbid I know anything about what a quarterback is doing.
When you hear the commentators speak sometimes, I realize even the commentators are speaking over the normal fans’ heads. Let me give you some common things, they’ll say he’s a 3-technique. I swear to God, ask the average person what a 3-technique is — and I’m talking about football fans — and they won’t know what it is.
They’ll say this is a two-gap defense. If you ask 10 football fans, one of them will know what the hell they’re talking about. But this is something they’ve been talking about forever, and they keep on hearing it, and they think they know what it is, but they have no idea. Football gets way more complicated than that. Inside play is not any more complicated than DB play or tight end play, it’s just different, that’s all. But football in general is very, very complicated.
BN: What’s good and bad about a lack of local competition for your radio station?
IB: Since I’ve been in radio there was another radio station that popped up 98-something The Fan, I believe it was. When they went away everybody was like, I bet you’re happy they went away. I go why would I be happy? Life is better when there’s competition. When people’s contracts are up in radio, your company has the ability to say, well where else are you going to go? There ain’t nowhere else to go. Obviously nobody wants to leave the Tampa Bay area, but everybody wants to get your going rate for what you’re worth. I wanted the other station to work. Listen we’ve crushed a lot of people throughout the time, so I don’t feel bad for everybody. We’ve been king for a while, and hopefully it stays that way.
BN: I love your Twitter profile, ‘Ambassador of all things tasty in Tampa Bay.’ What is it about food that interests you so much?
IB: When I talk about all things food, I mean from the ground up. I love restaurants. I love the experience of restaurants. I love just about every type of food. I love to cook. I love to get the best meats. It’s all important; just like everything else, if you want to be great at something, you’ve got to get great product. I’m cooking it with great pots. I’m searing meats and it’s just a passion of mine. I catch myself when I’m not watching sports, I’m watching YouTube videos of cooking, or grilling meats. Let me say the word foodie gets kicked around a lot. Whatever the hell that means, I’m substantially deeper than that. If some people go to restaurants once a week and they go to Bennigan’s and they say I’m a foodie, well okay, good for you. It’s just like this, the guy that thought he was a good football player until he came and hung out with us, and then you find out that maybe you’re not so good.
BN: How much do you talk about it on your show?
IB: Well, we actually have a segment now that we can do once a month called Flavor of Tampa Bay. This is something that I’ve created a long time ago and I’ve had different shows called Flavor of Tampa Bay. Ray Lampe was one of my co-hosts for a while, Dr. BBQ. We’re going to go out of our way to talk about food because people really enjoy that. If there’s one thing about food it’s, I don’t care where you’re from, if you say I don’t like to eat, or I don’t enjoy food, well then I’m going to move on. I don’t really understand that. I’m sorry to hear that, but when you start talking about great restaurants and great ways to prepare food and stuff like that, their ears perk up because it’s something everybody loves. Not everybody loves sports, but everybody loves to eat good food. We definitely try to implement as much food talk in our show as possible.
BN: What would you say is your highest high in sports radio during your career?
IB: Oh boy, the highest high I would say it happens probably once a year where I’ll come in and they’ll say we’re interviewing whoever it may be. I’ll give you an example; we talk to Phil Esposito every week. I grew up hating Phil Esposito because I was Montreal Canadiens fan, but I also respected the hell out of who Phil Esposito was. Being from Montreal I tell my buddies back home I’m good friends with Phil Esposito; they’re like get outta here.
It’s the exposure. A couple of years ago, we’re interviewing Scotty Bowman or we’re interviewing Jack Nicklaus. And I’m like “Wow! I never thought in my career I’d ever talk to Jack Nicklaus or Scotty Bowman would know who I am.” I ran into Scotty Bowman at a hockey game and I told him who I was, and he said, “Oh I remember that, it was a great interview.” That’s the best. We’re talking about the best of the best.
I got a chance to become friends with Angelo Dundee. His son hit me up one time and he goes hey I’m Angelo Dundee’s son. And I go, the trainer? He goes yeah, he’d like to meet you, he’s a big fan of your show. Oh my — I was like, okay. So he says well meet him at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza tomorrow. So I went to Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza. It’s the first I ever went there. I had a meeting with Angelo for about an hour — maybe the most likeable, personable, easygoing guy I’ve ever met. I came back on air the next day, talked about him, talked about Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza, that became an endorsement for years, which is comical. But I became friends with Angelo Dundee.
Angelo Dundee is at my house on Sunday watching football and telling stories about hanging out with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King and Frank Sinatra. Nobody’s watching football, they’re just listening to Angelo Dundee’s stories. Some of the relationships that I got a chance to develop where you never thought that would happen. To make a long story short Angelo Dundee passed and his son asked Ron and myself to speak at his funeral. Twenty feet in front of me was Muhammad Ali. He’s staring at me as I’m speaking at Angelo Dundee’s funeral. Weird things can come about through sports radio, but weird good things.
BN: Is there anything goals wise that you would like to accomplish over the years coming up?
IB: Goals wise, I think I’ve already exceeded anything I thought was even possible in radio. Really a lot of my goals stem away from radio. I’ve done football, I’ve done radio, television, I have a cafe I just opened here in South Tampa. I want to become a spokesperson and a face for CBD products. I have some different people that I represent in this area, New Balance Tampa, Curaleaf, and Master Purveyors. I’m not a sports radio guy; I’m somebody who’s a marketer. I do a lot of different things; photo shoots and real fun things. I’ve never really worked. I’ve never dreaded going to work. I’ve been very, very blessed. Any more goals, it wouldn’t be straight sports radio; it’d just be in general and just building my brand. My brand is Dignitary and hopefully a year from now you’ll be seeing Dignitary everywhere.
BN: The CBD stuff, as a former player, how much does it work for you?
IB: I literally take CBD every single day in the morning, during the day, and listen, I’m an overweight old offensive lineman, and I pop up in the morning. I feel good. I look around, I see people limping around and I’m blessed. I feel better than 95 percent of them. Do I say it’s because of CBD? I don’t know, but it seems to be working for me.
Whatever equation I’m doing right now works because my body feels good, my mind is good. Listen if my mind goes, everybody is going to know. It’s not like some guys you hear were on the couch for three weeks. I can’t do that. I’ve got to get up in the morning and I go. I’ve got to be on all the time. I’ve got radio shows and I’ve got television appearances. I’ve got interviews like this. I’ve got podcasts, so I’ve got to be on. If it ever hits the fan, everybody’s going to know real, real quick.
CBD has been a blessing for me and there’s a lot of different ways you can take it. I would just suggest it to anybody who has any issues with pain, focus, the whole nine yards. Read up on CBD. People are very ignorant to CBD. They’re still saying does it get me high? No, it doesn’t get you high. The stuff you get at Theraleaf gets you high, not the stuff that you get here at Dignitary Cafe. We sell it in a lot of different forms, so come check it out.
BN: Do people know less about CBD or interior offensive line play?
IB: Ooo, that’s a good question. That’s a toss-up. [Laughs]
Marty Smith Loves The ‘Pinch Me’ Moments
“I don’t look at it as a talent-based platform. I don’t look at it as a results-based platform. I look at it as a platform that was built and sustained through the way I treat other people, through the work ethic that I believe that I have and through the passion that I know I have.”
I tell this story all the time. It is told for laughs, but it is absolutely true. Marty Smith once gave me a giant box of beef jerky.
I was in Charlotte visiting him and Ryan McGee on the set of Marty & McGee as part of a larger feature I was doing on the SEC Network. We spent probably 3 hours together that day. It was a lot of fun. The last thing I watched the duo shoot was a promo for Old Trapper Beef Jerky, the presenting sponsor of their show.
As they finished, I shook their hands and told them I had to get on the road. That is when Smith presented me with a box of twelve bags of Old Trapper and told me, in as sincere a voice as you can imagine, that he wanted me to have it.
“I mean, listen, if you give a man beef jerky, by God, you like him,” Smith said to me when I reminded him of that story earlier this week. “That’s redneck currency right there, bud.”
There just aren’t a lot of people in this business like Marty Smith. ESPN definitely knows it too. That is why the network finds every opportunity it can to use him to tell the stories of the events and people it covers.
Last week, he spent Monday and Tuesday with the Georgia Bulldogs in Athens. He got a day back home in Charlotte before he headed to Atlanta for the SEC Network’s coverage of the SEC Championship Game on Thursday. Saturday, after his duties for SEC Nation and College GameDay were done, he hit the road for Tuscaloosa to interview Nick Saban and be ready for ESPN’s coverage of the reveal of the final College Football Playoff rankings.
As if that isn’t enough, this week he heads to New York. It will be the second time ESPN will use him to conduct interviews and tell stories during the telecast of the Heisman Trophy presentation. It’s an assignment that Marty Smith still cannot believe is his.
“I’ve had a ton of pinch-me moments, but in the last five, six years, seven years, there are two that kind of stand out above the rest. One was when Mike McQuaid asked me to be part of his team to cover The Masters. The other was last year when my dear longtime friend Kate Jackson, who is the coordinating producer over the Heisman broadcast, asked me to be a part of her Heisman broadcast team and interview the coaches, players and families of the finalists,” Smith says. “You know, brother, I’ve been watching the Heisman Trophy my whole life.”
We talk about what the broadcast around the Heisman Trophy presentation is and how it differs from being on the sideline for a game. He is quick to point out that on a game day, the old adage “brevity is king” is a reality. In New York though, he will have more time to work with. He plans not to just fill it, but to use it.
Marty’s interest in his subjects’ backgrounds and their emotions is sincere. It is part of a larger philosophy. He respects that everyone has a story to tell and appreciates the opportunity to be the one that gets to tell it, so he is going to do all he can to make sure the people he is talking to know it and know that they matter to him. That means putting in the time to be respectful of his subject’s time.
“When I’m interviewing these players or coaches before a game, I want to interview them, and I’m saying not on camera, but when I’m doing the record. I want to get as thorough as I can get. Then you take all of that and you try to pare it down into a very small window. It’s not easy. I mean, look, most of the time you come home with reams of notes that never even sniff air.”
Marty Smith has always been a unique presence. As his profile has grown and he shows up on TV more often and in more places, more people question who this guy really is.
That is par for the course though, right? Someone with a unique presence sees their star rise and out come the naysayers ready to question how authentic the new object of our affections really is.
For me, there is a moment that defines Marty Smith, at least in this aspect. I cannot remember the year or the situation, but he was on The Dan Le Batard Show, back when it was on ESPN Radio. Smith was telling Dan about friends of his that are stars in the country music world and Dan asked what it is like when they are hanging out backstage before one of these guys goes out to perform.
I cannot remember Smith’s exact answer, but a word he used stood out to me. He said it was just buddies having a cold beer and “fellowshippin'”.
I told Marty about this memory of him and said that I am not accusing him of being inauthentic or his persona on television being an act, but I was curious if he was concious of the words he chooses. Even if the version we get of Marty Smith on TV is the same one we would get if we were part of the fellowshippin’, does he think about how he wants people to think about him?
He is quick to note that is isn’t an act at all. What you see when you see Marty Smith isn’t a persona he cooked up when he decided he was going into television. That is just his personality.
“It is a lifelong field from where I’m from to where I am,” he says of what we see on TV. “It is relationships made that pinched my clay and remolded who I was to who I am and reshaped me as a person.”
Anyone from The South can tell you that there is no one monolithic “South”. The gregarious, larger-than-life personalities in Louisiana may not always feel real to people from the more reserved and anglo-influenced South Carolina. The Southern accent I got from growing up in Alabama sounds nothing like the Southern accents I live near now in North Carolina.
Marty Smith is from Pearisburg, Virginia just outside of Blacksburg. Surely that informs who he is, but he is also shaped by the wealth of conversations he has had and the characters he has met from his professional life.
“At our company, you have to work really hard to not only make it, but to sustain it. I try hard to do that every day,” he says. “I’m sure I’ve said it before, man. I don’t look at it as a talent-based platform. I don’t look at it as a results-based platform. I look at it as a platform that was built and sustained through the way I treat other people, through the work ethic that I believe that I have and through the passion that I know I have. You piece all of those different things together, and along with opportunity you can do something special, and I’m trying to do that every day.”
The Marty Smith you see on TV is the guy that will hand you a box of beef jerky just because you had a great conversation. He is the guy you see in that viral video from a few years back giving a young reporter advice and encouragement.
You can be confused by Marty Smith. You can have your questions about him and his motivations. They aren’t going to change him though. It took too long for him to become who he is to start second-guessing it now.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.
Another World Cup Run Ends And There’s Still No Soccer Fever In The USA
“We get fired up once every four years, sing the anthem, wear American flag t-shirts, then go back to our daily lives, forgetting about the sport that was attached to the patriotism.”
Soccer fever? Hardly. Not in the United States at least. The US Men’s National Team lost in the round of 16 against the Netherlands 3-1 last Saturday. The ratings are in. And the ratings are revealing.
An average of 12.97 million viewers tuned in to see the Netherlands-United States World Cup match on FOX. Before you say, “Hey, not bad,” consider the fact that the ratings are down from eight years ago when 13.44 million viewers watched the USMNT lose to Belgium in the knockout stage on ESPN.
Even more damning are the ratings of the USMNT’s initial match in the 2022 World Cup against Wales, an unhealthy 8.31 million viewers.
Let me get this straight; fans waited, waited, and waited some more to finally see the USMNT in World Cup action, and the first game in eight years drew 8.31 million viewers? Really?
There were 5.5 million viewers across TV and digital that watched the NFL Network’s telecast of the New York Giants-Green Bay Packers game in London. That was a Week 5 game in the NFL compared to the World freaking Cup. Network television (FOX) compared to cable TV (NFL Network). And the ratings are comparable? Come on, US Soccer. Y’all gotta do better than this.
*Mini rant alert — it drives me crazy when soccer in this country is consistently compared to soccer in this country. The promoters of the sport paint an obnoxiously rosy picture of the growing popularity by comparing US soccer now to US soccer then. It’s a joke.
It would be like comparing Nebraska’s 4-8 record in college football this year, to Nebraska’s 3-9 record last year. “Hey, things are looking up!” Never mind the fact that the Cornhuskers are significantly trailing several teams in its conference and many other teams across the country. That’s US soccer in a nutshell. Don’t compare it to other leagues and sports that are crushing it, just say we’re up 10% from last year. Ridiculous.
*Mini rant continuing alert — the Michigan-Ohio State game drew 17 million viewers last month. The New York Giants-Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving drew 42 million viewers. Those are regular-season matchups compared to the biggest stage soccer has to offer. But go ahead and just compare US soccer to itself.
And no, the edge you might feel in my words isn’t born out of fear that soccer will somehow surpass the popularity of football. That would be like Mike Tyson being scared that the Stanford Tree mascot could beat him up. US soccer isn’t a threat, it’s a light breeze. I just hate a bad argument. And many soccer apologists have been making bad arguments on the behalf of US soccer for years. *Mini rant over
The World Cup didn’t prove that American fans are invested in soccer. It proved that we love a big event. It’s the same recipe every four years with the Olympics.
During the 2016 summer games in Rio, when swimmer Michael Phelps was in the pool for what turned out to be his final outing in an Olympic competition, the ratings peaked at 32.7 million viewers. Phelps helped Team USA win gold in the men’s 100-meter relay and then rode off into the sunset.
We don’t really care about swimming. When’s the last time you asked a friend, “You heading out tonight?” and the response was, “Are you crazy? The Pan Pacific Championships are on.”
Whether it’s the Olympics or World Cup, Americans care about the overall event much more than the individual sport. We get fired up once every four years, sing the anthem, wear American flag t-shirts, then go back to our daily lives, forgetting about the sport that was attached to the patriotism.
Ask yourself this, at the height of US swimming’s popularity, would you have paid $14.99 per month to watch non-Olympic events? Me either. US soccer isn’t exactly on fire following its showing in the 2022 World Cup, so the timing isn’t awesome to introduce a paywall for the sport’s top league in this country.
Apple and Major League Soccer have announced that MLS Season Pass will launch soon. I know you’re excited, but try to stay composed. Yes, MLS Season Pass will launch on February 1, 2023. It’s a 10-year partnership between MLS and Apple that features every live MLS regular-season match, the playoffs, and the League’s Cup.
Have I died and gone to heaven?
It’ll run you $14.99 per month or $99 per season on the Apple TV app. For Apple TV+ subscribers — make sure you’re sitting down for this, you lucky people — it’s $12.99 per month or $79 per season. If you don’t have US soccer fever right now, I doubt you’re running out to throw down cash on a product you aren’t passionate about.
Now if the USMNT won the 2022 World Cup, cha-ching. The popularity of US soccer would definitely grow in a major way. Even if they had a strong showing while reaching the quarterfinals, the momentum would be much greater. But a 3-1 loss to the Netherlands in the group of 16? Nope. This isn’t it. I don’t expect much more than some tumbleweed rolling by instead of cash registers heating up for MLS Season Pass.
Colorado Hiring Deion Sanders Will Be Constant Gift for College Football Media
“If Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers, he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor.”
Deion Sanders quickly made it clear why the University of Colorado chose him to be its next head football coach.
Coming off a weekend in which the four College Football Playoff teams were announced and all of the other bowl-eligible teams accepted their invitations, Colorado — which went 1-11 this past season — made news for hiring Sanders, the former NFL star who was phenomenally successful at Jackson State.
The media that covers college football and sports as a whole should be thrilled that the Buffaloes program decided to take a big leap for attention and notoriety. Sanders is a bold, risky hire. But he’s also been successful in virtually every venture he’s taken. “Primetime” had a Hall of Fame NFL career and also played Major League Baseball. And he’s a master at drawing attention to himself.
During his first meeting with his new team, Sanders made sure to mention that he has Louis Vuitton luggage to make the point that some of his Jackson State players are coming with him to Boulder — including his son, quarterback Shadeur Sanders. Nick Saban and Kirby Smart probably don’t cite luxury fashion when explaining to their players that they’ll have to compete for starting positions.
Coach Prime will not be boring to cover. (That self-appointed “Coach Prime” title, which was on his name plate at his introductory press conference, is a big clue there.) He never has been. This is a man who said during the 1989 NFL Draft, after being selected No. 5 overall by the Atlanta Falcons, that if the Detroit Lions had selected him at No. 3, he “would’ve asked for so much money, they’d have had to put me on layaway.”
Even if he doesn’t win as much as Colorado hopes, Sanders will pursue top talent — players who want to perform on a larger stage than the FCS-level Jackson State allows — and impact athletes will be attracted to him. He got the No. 1 recruit in the nation, cornerback and wide receiver Travis Hunter, to play for him. (Hunter is following his coach to Boulder.) Now that Sanders is at an FBS school in a Power 5 conference, more stars will surely come.
But if Coach Prime achieves the same sort of success that he did with the Tigers — going 27-5 in three seasons, including a 12-0 campaign in 2022 — he will be far more than a curiosity. Sanders will be a disruptor. And he’ll get the attention that such figures typically draw from media and fans. According to the Denver Post‘s Sean Keeler, at least 400 people attended what felt more like a celebration than a press conference.
Coach Prime wasn’t going to just win the press conference, which is what any school and fanbase want when a new coach is introduced.
If Colorado wanted someone to sit at a podium, and give platitudes like “We want to win the Pac-12 and get to the College Football Playoff,” “We’re going to build a program with young men you’ll be proud of,” or “It’s time to restore Colorado to the football glory we remember,” Sanders isn’t the guy for that.
“Do I look like a man that worries about anything? Did you see the way I walked in here? Did you see the swagger that was with me?” Sanders said during his introductory presser. “Worry? Baby, I am too blessed to be stressed. I have never been one for peer pressure. I put pressure on peers. I never wanted to worry, I make people worry. I don’t get down like that. I am too darn confident. That is my natural odor.”
To no surprise, Sanders announced his presence in Boulder with authority. He had cameras following him as he met with Colorado players for the first time. How many other coaches would have recorded what many would see as a private moment for posterity and post it online?
Sanders caused a stir by putting his players on notice. He warned them he was coming, telling them they’ll be pushed so hard they might quit. He told them to enter the transfer portal and go someplace else if they don’t like what he and his staff are going to do.
That candor, that brutal honesty surprised many fans and media when they saw it Monday morning. For some, that message might have felt too familiar. How many in media — or many other industries — have worried about their job status when a new boss takes over? What may have seemed secure days earlier is now uncertain.
But how do we know other coaches haven’t said something similar when taking over at a new job and addressing their team? We just hadn’t seen it before. But Sanders has been in the media. He knows social media. He understands controlling his own message and telling his story.
Sanders also knows what kind of value he brings to any venture he takes on. How many people would have left an NFL Network gig for Barstool Sports? But Sanders went to where his star would shine, where he was the main show, where he could be Deion Sanders. Maybe he’ll have to turn that down just a bit at Colorado. But athletic director Rick George knows who he hired.
Colorado could have made a safer choice, including previous head coaches Tom Herman, Bronco Mendenhall, or Gary Patterson. A top assistant from one of this year’s Playoff contenders — such as Georgia’s Todd Monken, USC’s Alex Grinch, Alabama’s Bill O’Brien, or Michigan’s Sherrone Moore — could also have been an option.
But what fun would that have been? What kind of tremor would Colorado have created in the college football news cycle? How much attention would a more conventional hire have received? Yes, Sanders has to recruit and win. However, if the objective was to make Colorado football a talking point again, that’s been accomplished.
There could be some friction too. Sanders has already been criticized for being a champion of HBCUs, only to bolt for a mainstream Power 5 program when the opportunity opened. (To be fair, other columnists have defended the move.)
At Jackson State, Sanders tried to control local media when he didn’t like how reporters were addressing him or covering a story. Last year during Southwestern Athletic Conference Media Day, he balked at a Clarion-Ledger reporter addressing him as “Deion,” not “Coach,” insisting that Nick Saban would’ve been shown that respect. Earlier this season, Sanders admonished a school broadcaster (and assistant athletic director) for speaking to him more formally on camera than he did off-camera.
Will that fly among Boulder and Denver media, or the national college football press? It’s difficult to imagine. Maybe Sanders will ease back on his efforts to control reporters within a larger university environment, metropolitan area, and media market. But we’re also talking about Deion Sanders here. He doesn’t bend to outside forces. He makes them bend to him.
Sanders’ stint in Boulder — whether it lasts the five years of his contract and beyond, or less than that — will not be dull. There could be no better gift for the media covering Colorado football. Or college football, a sport already full of bold personalities, eccentric to unhinged fanbases, and outsized expectations. Coach Prime will fit right in.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at email@example.com.