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Kent State coach Sean Lewis to Colorado as OC, sources say

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Deion Sanders vows to put Colorado among the elite (0:57)

New Colorado Buffaloes head coach Deion Sanders is introduced in a news conference Sunday. (0:57)

The on-field identity of Deion Sanders' Colorado program took form Monday, as sources told ESPN that the Buffaloes are hiring Kent State head coach Sean Lewis to be the team's offensive coordinator.

As Kent State's head coach and playcaller, Lewis developed a distinct identity -- whiplash tempo, quick snaps and wide-open offenses. His offense is a descendent of the old-school Baylor offense, which helped make devastating tempo vogue in college football more than a decade ago.

This year, Kent State finished with the fastest offense in the Group of 5 and the fourth-fastest offense in college football. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, it averaged 30.1 seconds of real time between snaps.

Sources told ESPN that one of the appeals of Lewis working in Colorado was that breakneck pace, combined with the altitude in Boulder, will wreak havoc on opposing defenses.

Lewis' fidelity to tempo led to one of the best runs of football in recent generations at Kent State. His success there belies his record (24-31), as he won the program's first bowl game and reached the MAC title game last year. That was just the second MAC title game in school history.

Lewis' offenses at Kent finished in the top five in total offense in both 2020 and '21. In 2020, the Golden Flashes led the nation in scoring (49.8 points per game) when Kent State played a MAC-only schedule in the COVID-19-shortened season. It's not just wide-open passing either, as Kent was No. 3 nationally in rushing offense last season.

Sanders proved to be a prolific recruiter at Jackson State; Travis Hunter, the No. 2 overall recruit in the ESPN 300 last year, chose Jackson State over Georgia and Florida State. If Sanders can draw elite athletes to Boulder, Lewis' system should be able to highlight them.

"It makes sense," said a MAC coach who has faced Lewis. "They'll be able to get players and play in a wide-open passing attack. They'll be explosive, athletic and attacking. I think anytime you're dealing with altitude, no matter what system you run, it's something you have to adapt to. I think it fits a little bit of the wide-open attacking Pac-12 type of offenses. They should be able to attract guys who want to play in that type of system offensively."

Lewis played tight end and quarterback at Wisconsin under offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, an unusual incubator for a hyper-tempo offense. He started early in his coaching career at Eastern Illinois with Dino Babers, who is a former Baylor assistant and passed on the high-octane offense to Lewis. Lewis was also on the staff during Jimmy Garoppolo's tenure at Eastern Illinois.

From there, Lewis followed Babers to Bowling Green in the MAC and Syracuse in the ACC, climbing to offensive coordinator and steeping himself in tempo offense.

Lewis was the youngest head coach in the country when he got the Kent job at age 31 in December 2017. His success in five seasons at Kent has been so appreciated by the administration there that a source told ESPN they aim to keep a similar up-tempo style, as it's fun to watch, fan-friendly and easy to recruit to.

Kent State officials are appreciative of the momentum Lewis helped create and plan to use the $750,000 buyout Colorado will pay to hire Lewis to continue to supplement the program. Kent State has long been one of the MAC's most challenging jobs, as Lewis' two bowl appearances there matched the total in the history of a program that began in 1962.

At the core of Lewis' tenure was a forging of a distinct identity, and it's one that's easy to see why it would be attractive to a program where Sanders promises to bring in a wide swath of five-stars recruits and elite skill players.

"They'll play with pace and tempo and try and spread the field all 53 and a third," another MAC coach said. "It's a dynamic system if they can get a quarterback recruited that can run it."