Jackson State head football coach Deion Sanders smiles as he holds the Orange Blossom Classic trophy after winning an NCAA college football game over Florida A&M on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Jim Rassol)

You see all the the gold chains around his neck, including the one that spells out “PRIME.” You see the reflective sunglasses he so often wears. You see the cameras and microphones that follow his every move on the sideline. You see the hoodies he wears and often flips over his head. 

You see Deion Sanders along the Jackson State sidelines or at a postgame press conference and you think: Man, this is an avant-garde football coach. This is new wave. This is football meets hip hop. We’ve never seen this flashy a college football coach before.

Rick Cleveland

But then you watch his team play. You watch how the players respond to him. You watch how he teaches. You see his attention to detail. And then you listen to him talk, and you hear him wax on about the value of discipline, about doing things the right way, about the value of hard work, about striving for consistency and about how special teams are so important to winning.

And then you think to yourself: There’s a lot of “old school” football coach in Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders.

I mentioned this to Sanders at his weekly press conference at the Walter Payton Health and Recreation Center. I told them that when I listen to him much of what I hear sounds like an old school football coach with old school values.

Said Sanders, “Your analysis is 100 percent correct.” And then he talked about following the lead of many of his football coaches — all “old school” — through the years.

“Dave Capel, my peewee coach who has passed away, was old school,” Sanders said. “My high school coach Ron Hoover, who died this past spring, was straight old school.”

Sanders then talked about the late Bobby Bowden, his decidedly old school and folksy head football coach at Florida State, and about Mickey Andrews, the long-time, fiery Seminoles defensive coordinator.

“Coach Andrews is still alive and I talk to him usually once a week,” Sanders continued. “A lot of the people guiding and shaping me were old school football minds, and I have adopted their ways. I am not going to change any time soon because their way works.”

Sanders wasn’t finished. He talked about his “old school” parents and how he strives to be an old school parent himself.

“I am not going to say it’s the right way or the only way, but it’s the way I know,” Sanders said.

With his players, Sanders is nothing if not demanding. You can see it on the sidelines. You can hear it in his interviews. Indeed, you could hear it Tuesday afternoon. “I want to see some of the guys we have been waiting on get up and play up to expectations,” Sanders said. “We got several of those guys and I am waiting. I am waiting. Some of the guys have to wake up or they will be replaced.”

Message delivered.

Old timers, including this one, can close our eyes, think back and remember coaching legends such as Bear Bryant, Eddie Robinson, John Vaught, Marino Casem and W.C. Gorden sounding much the same. They didn’t dress like Sanders but they surely had some of the same values when it came to toughness and discipline.

You can’t argue with the results. In the four seasons prior to Sanders’ arrival, Jackson State won 15 games and lost 29. In his first full season (2021), Sanders’ Tigers finished 11-2. They are 6-0 this season, ranked No. 1 among HBCUs heading into Saturday’s homecoming game against Campbell University.

And that brings up another way Sanders can sound old school. Tuesday, he made the Campbell University Camels sound like the Green Bay Packers. (The Camels are 4-2 and have won three straight.)

“They are tough, really tough. This is not going to be a cakewalk,” Sanders said.

With Sanders, we usually get more than just football talk. Tuesday was no exception, He talked about JSU homecoming and how it should be a boon for the city of Jackson.

“The city is going to be swamped,’ he said. “This should be a windfall for the whole city…”

Sanders paused before continuing. “The one thing I do desire is for us to unite and put a cease on the crime for this weekend. I wish it could cease forever but let’s take one step at a time. No crime this weekend. No killings this weekend, no robberies this weekend. No aggressive nature. Let’s just show love this weekend. That would be a true blessing and that’s what I want to see this weekend.”

Don’t know if that qualifies as “old school” — but, surely, we can all agree on the message, can’t we?


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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.