Deion Sanders was all dressed up in JSU colors just before his introduction.

Yes, winning the introductory news conference is a real thing in 2020. And Deion Sanders, introduced as head football coach at Jackson State on Monday morning, knocked his out of the park like a 450-foot, walk-off grand slam home run.

Clearly, he is, not for nothing, known as Prime Time.

Dressed in a blue sports coat with red buttons, Sanders killed it is what he did, drawing loud cheers from the socially distanced crowd in the Lee E. Williams Athletic and Assembly Center. He spoke with the fervor of a Baptist minister and received more than a few “Amens.” He shed tears. Then he flashed that wide smile. He even invoked a call and response toward the end.

Rick Cleveland .

“Do you believe?” he shouted to his audience.

“We believe,” they shouted back.

On a scale of 1 to 10 for enthusiasm, he was a solid 12. JSU faithful ate it up.

He promised much: to bring Jackson State football back to prominence, to win the SWAC, to successfully recruit players recruited by power five conference teams, to help recruit for all the other JSU athletic programs, to play hard, fast, tough disciplined football, to look good winning and to win professionally.

“I have a commitment to excellence. I believe this is going to be a marriage made in heaven,” Sanders said.

Now then, comes the hard part: Doing it.

Deion Sanders lived up to his Prime Time nickname Monday.

His job is to rebuild a once proud program that hasn’t experienced a winning season since 2013. The combined record of the last three JSU head coaches over the past five seasons: 21 victories, 40 defeats.

Sanders has to hire a staff, which he has never done before. He has to be the CEO of a team, which he has never done before at this level. He has to supervise an offense, a defense and special teams, which he has never done before, at least at the college level. He has to recruit, which he has never done before (again, at least at the college level).

All this Sanders must do with resources that are minimal and in facilities that are lacking.

You should know Sanders was in the Jackson area in August as the offensive coordinator at Trinity Christian (near Dallas), when Trinity played at Madison Ridgeland Academy. Trinity was led by quarterback Shedeur Sanders, Deion Sanders’ son, a four-star recruit who has committed to Florida Atlantic over Alabama, Florida State, Georgia and others.

MRA, the defending state private schools champion, won the game, scoring late for a thrilling 27-26 victory. I watched it. Both teams appeared well-coached until a questionable decision late in the game. Trinity led 26-20 with under two minutes remaining, needing only to run out the clock behind a big, physical offensive line to win. Instead, on second and seven (from their own 23) the visitors ran a risky reverse, fumbled and MRA recovered and went in for the winning score.

On the other hand, with Sanders calling the plays, Trinity has averaged 46 points a game in the four games since. And, no, we don’t know yet whether or not Shedeur Sanders, clearly a big-time talent, will follow his father to JSU.

We do know from multiple news reports that Deion Sanders was previously involved with another coaching job at another private Texas high school. In fact, Prime Prep Academy, a grouping of charter schools in north Texas, was co-founded by Deion Sanders in 2012. It did not end well. After numerous and well-publicized problems, the school was closed in January of 2015 due to financial insolvency.

Of course, none of that mattered to Jackson State faithful Monday morning when Deion Sanders added to the lengthy list of Pro Football Hall of Famers associated with JSU. The school of Walter Payton, Jackie Slater, Robert Brazile and Lem Barney is now also the school of Deion Sanders.

Winning the introductory press conference does not count in the standings. But for the man known as Prime Time, it was a promising start.


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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.