Say this a lot for Deion Sanders: He did not slink away below duvet of darkness, quiet surrender at the season or succeed in for some other dog-eared web page from the opportunist’s playbook.
Instead, the 55-year-old trainer accrued up his Jackson State Tigers avid gamers one closing time over the weekend and informed them that, certainly, the breaking information was once true – that the University of Colorado had employed him away. “It’s not about a bag,” he informed the somber room. “I’ve been making money a long time and ain’t nowhere near broke. It is about an opportunity.
As good ol’ fashion Mississippi scandals go, only the case swirling around Brett Favre tops this. Coach Prime, as he redubbed himself, is a singular phenomenon in sports, the great athlete who is also a great coach. He talks a good game too – rhyming like a preacher, turning podiums into pulpits, framing his coaching odyssey as a divine calling. “Usually, a coach is elevated or terminated,” he said of his new position in Colorado. If he sounds like a cleric, that’s because it’s one of many positions Sanders has occupied in his dizzyingly peripatetic career.
When Sanders arrived at Jackson in the fall of 2020, he didn’t just vow to turn around a program that had been a loser for much of the past decade. He said he’d flip the field for historically black colleges and universities to make “HBCUs” like Jackson State as attractive as predominantly white institutions like Colorado. And he was promising the moon at a time when the social justice movement had turned HBCUs into a cause for reparations.
And once again Sanders walked the talk, losing just five games out of 32, setting scoring records and selling out stadiums all the while. He lured away top recruits (starting with his quarterback son, Shedeur), prompting fellow NFL alums Eddie George and Hue Jackson to join him in the HBCU coaching ranks. He had ESPN covering the Tigers with an intensity that’s typically reserved for the Dallas Cowboys or the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Sanders was right about the spotlight’s knack for finding him. It didn’t matter if he was peddling insurance in TV adverts with Bama’s Nick Saban, or getting stiff-armed out of a post game Shug, Little of what Sanders did at Jackson State went unnoticed. That he was also so generous about sharing his attention with the young Black men and women at Jackson State only further set him apart in a profession known for harboring white men with big egos and retrograde social values (ahem).
With the Colorado hire, Sanders becomes the 12th Black coach in college football’s top tier – and at a time when stalwarts like Florida Atlantic’s Willie Taggart and Stanford’s David Shaw are cycling out of their roles. It would be a shining moment for equity and fairness if it weren’t also such a dark day for HBCU football. Even though he ended his Jackson State tenure on a high note, winning a second straight conference championship last Saturday, the prevailing mood was downcast. “I think many Jackson State fans were holding out hope that the news wasn’t true, or he wouldn’t go through with it,” Tiffany Greene, who known as Saturday’s sport for ESPN, informed me.
Sanders’ affect went some distance past Jackson State in his 3 years there, finally. He boosted the native financial system and consciousness of Jackson’s faculties and prime faculties. He shone a gentle on Jackson’s water disaster, which compelled a shutdown of colleges, faculties and companies. Earlier this autumn Sanders’ staff survived on bottled water donations and lived in a lodge on account of the water disaster; the associated fee, $15,000 an evening, is not cash Jackson State assists in keeping mendacity round. “How can we go out there, dominate like that, and take a child back to something that’s shut down and you have no water?” he stated after the Tigers season opener. “You can’t even flush the darn toilet. You have to think about that stuff.
Not only did Sanders appear to be invested in reviving HBCUs’ reputation for grooming pro talent like Walter Payton (Jackson State), Jerry Rice (Mississippi Valley State) and Shannon Sharpe (Savannah State), Coach Prime was fully engaged in the bigger, much the trickier job of creating self-sustaining Black communities. That he had come so far in such a short period only heightened expectations. That there was still so much work to do didn’t matter because Sanders, reputation aside, kept cracking on. It didn’t seem long before the day would come when he cut the ribbon at a new stadium and punctuate the moment with news of a blockbuster HBCU television rights pact, or a similar tide that lifts all ships.
By staying at Jackson State, Sanders could have become even bigger than he ever was as a two-sport, twin Super Bowl-winning, double football hall of famer. Given that, as he says, he’s not hurting for money, he didn’t have to operate like some coach who paid his dues sleeping at the office while barely making minimum wage. Sanders could have been Jackson State’s version of Eddie G Robinson, the trailblazer who launched tiny Grambling State into a pigskin power – a coaching immortal. But now that Coach Prime is gone, well, much of that hope is too.
Nothing against Colorado. It’s a mint of a program, the Power Five equivalent of a double-digit miles Lamborghini. Before a decade-long swoon the Buffaloes ranked among college football’s elite, laying claim to the 1990 national championship and the 1994 Heisman trophy winner before an odious culture of alcohol and sex abuse toppled them. With Shedeur Sanders leading the parade of transfer students Coach Prime brings with him, there’s little reason to believe that the Buffaloes couldn’t dominate a listless Pac 12 conference and emerge as national title contenders soon.
The chance to compete at college football’s highest level wasn’t all that attracted Sanders. There was also the pay bump (to a reported $4.5m from $300,000, not that he needs the money – assuming Colorado can actually pay him) and the Buffaloes’ first-rate facilities. In his introductory news conference, Sanders praised Boulder as a “crime-free city.” For a Jackson State community currently grappling with a recent campus homicide case, the throwaway line must have stung.
Jackson State, though a notch below Colorado in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision, was hardly a cakewalk for Coach Prime. He took the reins during Covid, has only recently recovered from having two toes amputated, and spent a chunk of this year working out of a hotel during the Jackson water crisis. His tenure kicked off with burglars ransacking his office. If those aren’t justifiable reasons to move on, consider the massive stage he just secured for his son – who is rounding into a top NFL draft prospect.
Sanders is clearly hurt by perceptions that he sold out his people by not just going west, but to a city that’s 0.9% Black. “The thing that alarms me the most is just because I’m leaving Jackson, they think I’m leaving African Americans,” Sanders thundered. “I have no idea in the event you’ve spotted or no longer, however I’m Black. I will by no means depart who I’m, what I’m, how I’m or how I’m going about being that.”
Still: Without Jackson State taking him in and washing the stains of his checkered highschool training occupation (as soon as a resume sticking level), Sanders by no means reaches this Rocky Mountain prime. But worse than seeing him take his guy of the cleats act to some other campus – however no longer sooner than returning to guide Jackson State within the Celebration Bowl – is the conclusion that he’s who he is at all times been: a employed gun. He may no longer borrow from the opportunist’s playbook, however the sport he is taking part in at isn’t any other.