JACKSON, Miss. — Similar to previous occasions, Deion Sanders flowed with all kinds of vitality, positivity, philosophies and, properly, type, as he sat in his workplace on the Walter Payton Middle and assessed the state of “Coach Prime.”
That’s what all people calls him at Jackson State, the moniker emblazoned proper there on the nameplate on his desk. “Prime Time” was the tag for different occasions and locations — marking the persona and impression hooked up to his brilliance as one of many biggest athletes in historical past — however Coach Prime has its personal a number of layers of which means.
Yeah, it’s a noun, however it could be extra of verb, given the motion in play. It’s a nickname and a message as Sanders seeks to revive the soccer program — and extra — at an HBCU college with a brand new sort of relevance.
“Don’t inform me what we will’t do, inform me what we will,” he declares, sporting a cranium cap imprinted with the “I Imagine” slogan that has change into ubiquitous in these elements.
Sanders, 53, insists he’s right here, proper now, as a result of it’s nothing lower than a religious calling.
“I used to be going to teach. However then when our nation simply took that left flip with equality and justice, and with the social unrest final 12 months … I simply heard that voice in my head and felt my spirit that mentioned, ‘That is it,’ ” Sanders instructed USA TODAY Sports activities.
Earlier than the announcement on Sept. 21 that he would change into Jackson State’s fifth head soccer coach since 2013, Sanders (who coached on the highschool stage in Texas after working an elite youth program for a number of years) mentioned the chance for practically a 12 months with athletic director Ashley Robinson.
“As stuff transpired, it was a simple navigation in pondering why I needed to do it,” he mentioned. “The youngsters. The group. The imaginative and prescient. The hope. Then you definitely begin compiling that with the town of Jackson …
“It was a type of issues the place it was a calling, and I needed to reply.”
Neglect about glamour
Jackson State, the SWAC (Southwestern Athletic Convention) and the universe of Traditionally Black Faculties and Universities (HBCUs) undoubtedly want him now. That a lot is clear by the publicity Sanders has commanded throughout a spring soccer season the SWAC engineered after shutting down the autumn marketing campaign in 2020 as a result of coronavirus pandemic.
Jackson State (3-3) has performed its final two video games on ESPN (and the others on ESPN2 and ESPN3), which can be typical for a Energy 5 college however not for an FCS operation that hasn’t had a profitable season since 2013.
It’s a testomony to the sustained curiosity that continues to be in the one man to play in each a Tremendous Bowl and World Sequence — who additionally occurs to have greater than 2.5 million mixed followers on Twitter and Instagram.
It’s additionally obvious that the calling matches when contemplating all that comes with the Coach Prime model in type and substance. His path to the Professional Soccer Corridor of Fame was paved by standing as the sport’s greatest cornerback throughout his heyday, and his presence as a swing issue on back-to-back Tremendous Bowl titles with two totally different groups (the 49ers, then the Cowboys). But it surely was all the time accented by the flashy advertising and promotion that made “Neon Deion” an icon.
“Ain’t an entire lot of Deions on the market,” Doug Williams, the Grambling legend and first Black quarterback to win a Tremendous Bowl, instructed USA TODAY Sports activities. “Let’s face it: Deion comes with star energy and the aptitude that will get your consideration. He has finished wonders for the SWAC. They wanted him.”
Stated Sanders: “Man, it’s a lot greater than teaching. You’ve acquired to be Tyler Perry round right here. You’ve acquired to jot down the film, produce the film, edit the film, act within the film, promote the film. You’ve acquired a number of hats to put on.”
Becoming, that he can relate to an leisure mogul. Sanders has been trailed all season by a movie crew accumulating footage for a documentary pegged to air later this 12 months.
Simply don’t mistake this for a glamour job. The Tigers are driving a three-game shedding streak that underscores a sure actuality examine. The protection allowed a median of greater than 40 factors and practically 500 yards in the course of the setbacks. Sanders benched quarterback Jalon Jones final week and changed him with freshman Quincy Casey. The expertise is skinny within the trenches.
There’s additionally a necessity for upgraded services and assist programs. HBCU colleges have historically lagged in these areas when in comparison with predominantly white colleges with high-revenue applications. Listening to Sanders break down how the upcoming set up of a turf apply area will change the move offers a snapshot.
Because it stands now, a rainstorm provides at the very least two hours in journey time to bus to Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium or native excessive colleges to apply, given the flooding points and poor drainage on the varsity’s grass apply fields. There’s additionally a brand new locker room below development. And athletic director Robinson outlined efforts to boost day-to-day requirements for the complete athletic program, together with sports activities medication, diet, power and conditioning and educational assist.
It’s not that Sanders didn’t understand such challenges existed. When he attended Florida State, the place the premium services may simply be taken without any consideration, he wanted to merely stroll up the road to the close by HBCU, Florida A&M, to get a way of the distinction.
“FAM was proper across the nook,” he mirrored. “But it surely’s one factor to go to. It’s one other factor to know what they’re coping with. That’s why the inequality is actual. While you’re in it, you begin saying, ‘Oh my God. I acquired y’all.’ “
Williams is aware of. Earlier than returning to the NFL in 2014 as a personnel govt with Washington, his journey included two stints as head coach at his alma mater, along with a 12 months as coach at one other HBCU, Morehouse Faculty. A few month earlier than Sanders started at JSU, Williams mentioned he instructed him, “At an HBCU, you’re not going to have all the things that you just assume you want.”
But Williams added, “They’re giving him greater than most coaches across the SWAC have.”
Regardless, Sanders is undeterred because the season winds down with a house date in opposition to Prairie View A&M on April 24. He believes that his teaching experiences in Texas, when he didn’t have as a lot as a coach’s workplace — “We had been make-shifting all the things,” he mentioned — offered some preparation. And he’s banking on a human factor that features a teaching workers flush with professional and faculty expertise, to offer a recruiting edge.
“We could not have this, this or this, however we will try this,” Sanders mentioned. “No, we don’t have the new tub in the course of the locker room. However guess what? This navigation system can get you straight to the NFL, identical to that one can.”
Imaginative and prescient for enhancing a metropolis
No shock, there isn’t a scarcity of concepts coming from Sanders as he envisions success. He has lengthy been a grasp strategist. Bear in mind, properly earlier than he entered the NFL in 1989 because the fifth decide within the draft, Sanders mapped out a plan to boost the profile and incomes energy of defensive backs … then backed it up along with his expertise.
Now the methods contain big-picture visions that go method past producing a workforce adequate to win a SWAC crown. He desires to see extra HBCU groups in faculty bowl video games. He desires to maintain the momentum flowing with the current nationwide TV dates, sensing how the publicity can create alternatives for the perfect gamers on opposing groups, as properly, to play on the subsequent stage.
Shoot, he desires to be a participant, too, in boosting a metropolis that lately drew nationwide consideration for its water disaster.
“Earlier than you permit, simply take a drive all the way in which across the college,” Sanders urged, referring to the decaying neighborhood on the outskirts of the campus. “You’ll say, ‘Oh my God.’ We’ve acquired to revitalize these things, man. There’s a number of revitalization that I might like to do. I might like to get with an incredible contractor and revitalize all of this across the college. One has to care that a lot.”
In keeping with The Clarion Ledger, 25% of the 166,000 residents in Mississippi’s capital dwell under the poverty line, and the median family earnings is $38,000. Mayor Chokwe Lumumba mentioned the town has suffered from “cycles of humiliation” mirrored by an under-funded and poorly performing instructional system, a failing infrastructure, poverty and a excessive crime fee.
Aware of Jackson State’s impression on the native financial system — and on the native tradition — Lumumba sees Sanders’ arrival as a “shot within the arm,” with the coach’s optimism for the soccer program working on a monitor parallel to his visions for the town.
“It was clear when he arrived that he wished to be greater than a soccer coach,” Lumumba instructed USA TODAY Sports activities. “What that claims to me is that he will get it.”
It stays to be seen whether or not Sanders will considerably affect enterprise improvement within the metropolis, however his impression is definitely already felt at Jackson State. Within the 9 days after Sanders’ arrival, college officers instructed The Clarion Ledger that the athletic division generated $19 million in extra advertising and promotional worth.
Robinson mentioned when he arrived as A.D. in 2019, this system didn’t have a single sponsor. Now, he mentioned, it’s aligned with “15 to twenty” sponsors, lots of whom signed on since Sanders got here aboard.
Cannot wait to win massive
Nothing sells like profitable. For that mission, Sanders is like the standard rookie coach, looking for to improve expertise and alter tradition.
There’s buzz amid the fan base concerning the fall season, as JSU is predicted to area a number of new starters — together with Deion’s sons, Shilo, a switch security, and Shedeur, one of many nation’s high quarterback prospects — from a crop rated as the perfect recruiting class within the nation on the FCS stage.
Dennis Thurman, the longtime NFL defensive coach who signed up as JSU’s defensive coordinator, warned in opposition to getting caught up in Sanders’ flamboyant persona.
“He’s a lot deeper than that,” Thurman mentioned.
He described Sanders as a strict disciplinarian who opens workforce conferences with a prayer, including to fixed messages about off-the-field conduct. “He’s very dedicated to creating them for the true world, exterior of soccer,” Thurman mentioned.
Daylen Baldwin, a junior receiver, vouched for the evolution.
“The entire workforce basically is extra disciplined,” Baldwin mentioned. “The group … all the things is simply very strategic in how our coaches go about speaking to us every day and go about serving to us on and off the sector.”
Baldwin, 21, is just too younger to recollect Sanders as a participant, so he is grasped a lot by digging up video clips, and he obtained an earful from his father.
“My dad was actually excited when Coach Sanders got here,” Baldwin mentioned. “He instructed me how nice he was and the way he did issues his method, along with his Jheri curl and gold chains. He made his personal picture.”
As Sanders tries to create a brand new picture within the teaching ranks, it’s obvious that identical to previous occasions, he’ll make his personal template.
But some issues by no means change. Sanders continues to be stoked by competitors, which is why the Tigers’ efficiency in current video games has at occasions embarrassed him. And you recognize he wasn’t feeling it when one opposing coach served up some postgame trash speak after defeating Jackson State.
“We are able to’t wait till we get there, as a result of it’s going to be enjoyable,” Sanders mentioned, speaking about profitable massive. “So the place any individual’s acquired us on the ropes and so they’re speaking junk, boy, you haven’t any thought. As a result of it ain’t going to be no enjoyable when the rabbit’s acquired the gun.”
Observe USA TODAY Sports activities’ Jarrett Bell on Twitter @Jarrettbell.
This text initially appeared on USA TODAY: Deion Sanders, ‘Coach Prime,’ says Jackson State job ‘was a calling’