Deion Sanders elevated Jackson State, and next coach must keep momentum going
Tigers headed to Celebration Bowl after defeating Southern to win SWAC title
JACKSON, Miss. — During a six-hour span Saturday, Deion Sanders showed exactly why Colorado wanted him to become its head coach.
Jackson State University’s players, who had heard rumors all week about their coach potentially leaving for Colorado, played their best quarter of the season in the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship game; the Tigers, missing a key starter and two role players who had been suspended for violating a team rule, led 26-0 after the first quarter, en route to a 43-24 win over Southern University at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.
So much for distractions.
Sanders made it clear weeks ago that he expected to play in the Cricket Celebration Bowl – and win it – so any prospective employer would have to understand: He planned to finish what he started.
It’s important for him to do that because he has preached dominance all season. Going 13-0 and winning the Celebration Bowl would allow this JSU team to live in the annals of the SWAC forever.
After the SWAC title game, Sanders sent a text message to all players and support staff to gather in the team meeting room. There, while seated alongside JSU athletic director Ashley Robinson, Sanders explained frankly why he was taking the Colorado job and acknowledged the emotions his players and support staff might have about his decision.
“In coaching, either you get elevated or terminated,” he said. “Ain’t no other way.”
During the meeting, he recommended receivers coach T.C. Taylor, a former Jackson State great, as the new head coach, saying Taylor would be best suited to maintain the program’s current culture. He talked about the transfer portal and warned players, in general, not to jump into the portal without a plan.
Finally, he talked about money, saying he has made a lot of it over the years and has never chased “a bag.” Still, he will go from making about $300,000 a year to reported salary of more than $5 million. The assistants joining him at Colorado also will receive significant raises.
Several times laughter filled the room as Sanders spoke to his team, and when he finished, several players spoke about how he had changed their lives. Aubrey Miller Jr., the defensive MVP of the championship game, implored his teammates to focus and finish – Sanders’ words for the week — to complete a perfect season. When the meeting ended, there were no tears.
Obviously, there was some disappointment; that’s to be expected after the success the Tigers have had under Sanders. He needed only two full seasons to make Jackson State the jewel of the conference. The Tigers went undefeated in the SWAC for the second consecutive season, and they are 23-2 in their past 25 games.
Robinson has been terrific at hiring head coaches during his tenure as an athletic director at Prairie View A&M and JSU.
While at Prairie View A&M, he hired Willie Simmons, who is now at Florida A&M University. After Simmons left, Robinson hired Eric Dooley, who is now coach at Southern. And of course, Robinson swung big and hired Sanders.
He must get this next hire right.
JSU has 19 SWAC championships and is one of the conference’s foundation programs, so it’s always going to maintain a certain level of prestige among historically Black colleges and universities. But Sanders elevated the program nationally.
It’s virtually impossible to hire a coach with charisma similar to Sanders’, but Robinson can hire a coach who understands how to use social media and continues to expand JSU’s exposure. Do that, and JSU will continue to win and thrive nationally. If not, the program will lose national relevance and all the bells and whistles that accompany that level of prestige.
In Boulder, Sanders will try to resurrect one of the worst programs in college football. Colorado, 1-11 this season, lost 10 games by at least 23 points. The Buffaloes do not have a player returning to the team who made first- or second-team All-Conference. There’s nowhere for this team to go but up, and it starts and ends with the players.
A few weeks ago, JSU safety Shilo Sanders was asked what makes his father a good coach.
“He always has better players,” he said matter-of-factly.
It was that way with Truth, the coach’s youth football and baseball organization in Dallas. And it was that way when he won three consecutive state championships as the offensive coordinator at Trinity Christian High School in suburban Dallas. He won at Jackson State with better players, and eventually he’ll win at Colorado because he has better players.
There already are questions about why Sanders picked Colorado since his name resonates so much louder in Florida and the South and how that will affect his recruiting.
It won’t. That’s old-school thinking. Sanders is a coach with old-school principles when it comes to blocking, tackling and working. He is decidedly new school, though, when it comes to recruiting – and that’s why he’ll ultimately win.
He flipped five-star receiver/cornerback Travis Hunter Jr. from Florida State last year and signed four-star receiver Kevin Coleman, who scored a touchdown and converted a pair of 2-point conversions in the SWAC title game.
Sanders has 2.8 million followers on Instagram and 1.4 million on Twitter, and he pushes tons of content every day. He lets cameras into his team meetings and practices, allowing recruits to see for themselves how he interacts with players and understand his coaching philosophy before he or a member of his staff contacts them.
Now that he has a real recruiting budget, he’s going to be a force. He’s Prime Time to parents and Coach Prime to players. Name recognition counts heavily in recruiting, and Sanders is going to be able to get into any recruit’s living room simply off the strength of his name.
Plus, he is bringing a couple of top-notch recruiters — Tim Brewster and Andre’ Hart — with him from JSU. Brewster is widely considered one of the best tight ends coaches in the country, and Hart was the only FCS assistant on On3.com’s list of 30 assistant coaches who are on the rise. They’re part of Sanders’ machine.
Sanders knows how to replicate what he did at JSU, and it’s only a matter of time until he creates the same success at Colorado.