They’re high for both the Broncos and Buffaloes after the hiring of Sean Payton and Deion Sanders as the respective new head football coaches.
Payton has a Super Bowl victory in his past, and Sanders went 12-0 at Jackson State last season be-fore losing a bowl game.
So, what should fans expect?
Well, the Broncos won five and lost 12 last season, and the University of Colorado was worse at 1-11.
Those records do more than just explain why Payton and Sanders were brought on board. They also attest to the challenges both face as fan bases excitedly anticipate overnight turnarounds this fall.
The late Woody Hayes, while he was still one of col-lege football’s most acclaimed head coaches at Ohio State, once wrote a book titled, “You Win With People.” Translat-ed: It wasn’t just bad coaching that produced those dismal performances.
Woody’s bottom line ap-plies both at Dove Valley and in Boulder: It takes talent and depth to win championships.
In CU’s case, the transfer portal offers immediate help, but it only goes so far. Same for the Broncos’ off-season additions. Quality may im-prove, but it may not be in sufficient quantity in either’s Year One.
The styles of the two “saviors” are as different as different can be.
Payton eschews hype.
A disciple of Bill Parcells, he keeps press access extremely limited. If the league mandates that he speak with the media under certain circumstances, he complies. Otherwise, he’s not into giving interviews or holding press conferences.
Sanders, meanwhile, is called Coach Prime for a reason. Prime Time is a pro-moter—of his program and himself.
His charisma is the reason the CU Spring Game last Saturday attracted a wildly enthusiastic full house at Folsom Field and was the only collegiate spring game shown nationally on ESPN’s main channel.
But the exhibition in Boulder was more show than any-thing, from 98-year-old Peg Coppom, escorted to midfield by Prime himself and completing the ceremonial opening kickoff, to Prime wearing his white cowboy hat through-out the performance. In all, it was more like a scrimmage at practice than a real game.
Fans did get a glimpse of what might be in Shedeur Sanders, the coach’s son, at quarterback, multi-talented Travis Hunter at both wide receiver and defensive back, and other speedsters. But, as exciting as that was, the action didn’t do anything to foretell the coming season.
Meanwhile, it will be August before preseason games suggest how the Broncos might perform under Payton during their 2023 season.
Free agency has improved the Broncos’ offensive line. It also brought a defensive lineman who, some believe, is on the verge of a breakout season, and a running back as insurance pending Javonte Williams’ return from a serious knee injury.
The NFL Draft, which starts tonight, could add someone of value, though Denver doesn’t have a pick in the first two rounds. (Justin Simmons—a Pro Bowl de-fender—was chosen in Round Three in 2016, so who’s to say there can’t be a player or two that far down the picking order?)
General manager George Paton is on record saying, predictably, that the Broncos will take “the best available play-er” when it’s their turn.
What that means is the Broncos will choose whomever the other Payton (first name Sean and last name with a Y in the middle) decides is the best player available.
“My way or the highway” is in effect, I’m told, in the front office as much as it is in the locker room—with CEO Greg Penner’s full approval.
Make no mistake: These are no longer Pat Bowlen’s Broncos. If that wasn’t al-ready apparent, the departure of John Elway—franchise icon—confirms it.
That doesn’t necessarily mean this is a bad turn of events; just that we’re entering a new era: the Wal-ton-Penner/Sean Payton era.
The ghost of Bill McCartney may finally be exorcised at CU, too. Perhaps the return to glory is nigh.
But a word of caution seems in order in both hopeful instances.
Six wins would be enough to receive an invitation to a minor bowl. That would be stellar in Coach Prime’s first season, considering a tough schedule. It could be the beginning of the hoped-for revival, whether or not fans would view it that way.
And a winning record, which may or may not earn a playoff berth, would be a great start for Payton.
Take a deep breath, fans.
Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the news-paper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 15 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@ comcast.net.