The official news came late Saturday night: Colorado has named Deion Sanders as its next football coach.
“Not only will Coach Prime energize our fanbase, I’m confident that he will lead our program back to national prominence while leading a team of high quality and high character,” Colorado athletic director Rick George was quoted in a press release.
In Jackson, we had a strong hint a couple hours earlier. After Jackson State polished off Southern University 43-24 in the SWAC Championship Game Saturday evening, Sanders wasn’t around to answer the questions everyone wanted to ask.
Reporters and photographers jammed into a small media room at the south end of Veterans Memorial Stadium and waited for more than an hour after the game ended. Finally, a SWAC spokesman, seated beside where Sanders was supposed to sit, told reporters that Sanders and his team had left for the JSU campus where there was a team meeting. There would be no press conference.
At the risk of understating matters, that is not usual protocol after a football team completes a perfect season and wins the conference championship. (Much later Saturday night, JSU issued a two-sentence press release: “Coach Prime attempted to enter the interview room. Southern’s press conference was still in progress. Coach Prime then left the stadium to attend official business with the athletic director and the team.”
Whatever, clearly Deion Sanders’ mercurial 26-month run as JSU head football coach was at end. Including an abbreviated 2020 spring season, his JSU teams won 27 games, lost five. Over the past two fall seasons, the Tigers are 23-2 overall and 16-0 in the SWAC. As an athlete, Sanders could do just about anything. Turns out, he can coach, too.
Asked about Sanders’ impact on the SWAC, Southern U. Coach Eric Dooley, who did show up for his turn at the microphone, answered, “He has obviously had a huge impact on Jackson State. Back to back SWAC championships – it’s been a long time since that has happened. He has put Jackson State football back to where it used to be.”
Dooley would not comment on Sanders’ impending departure other than to say, “I love competition. I hope he stays.”
Sanders has achieved so much in 26 months. He has brought JSU fans back by the tens of thousands. That success has translated into millions of desperately needed dollars pumped into the Jackson economy. He not only recruited the No. 1 high school prospect in all of America to Jackson State, he has restocked the Tigers roster with talent that is vastly superior to that of JSU’s conference brethren. He has surrounded himself with outstanding assistant coaches and he lets them do their jobs. He holds his players accountable and they bust their rear ends for him.
He has earned his keep – and then some – at Jackson State, where he was reportedly paid about $500,000 a year. Colorado will likely pay him more than 10 times that much, plus his assistant coaches will at least triple their salaries. They will have to earn it. Colorado was 1-11 this year, 5-19 over the last two. Colorado has had one winning season out of the last 15 and has not enjoyed sustained success since the Bill McCartney era (1982-94).
Keep in mind, JSU was 12-22 in the three seasons before Sanders’ arrival. That’s why, despite various published reports of Sanders’ imminent departure, many of the announced crowd of 53,754 Saturday hoped he would have a change of heart.
They cheered wildly and waved their blue and white pompoms as the Tigers zoomed to a 26-0 first quarter lead over a team they had vanquished 35-0 just five weeks ago. Shedeur Sanders, the coach’s quarterbacking son, was his usual brilliant self, completing 31 of 44 passes for 305 yards and four touchdowns. Shedeur Sanders often zipped his passes even before his receivers made their cuts. Just as often, Southern defenders appeared helpless to stop it.
As Jackson State players stood at attention at game’s end, coach and quarterback, father and son, stood side by side, the coach’s arm draped around his son’s shoulders. It was a poignant scene.
Still, we are left with so many questions:
- Will Deion Sanders coach the Celebration Bowl on Dec. 17 when Jackson State will play North Carolina Central in Atlanta?
- How many of his Jackson State players will join him at Colorado? After all, players can transfer at will these days.
- How many of his coaches will join him?
- Who is next up at JSU? Deion Sanders was the most important hire JSU athletic director Ashley Robinson ever made, that is, until he makes the next one.