By Tyler Carter
By now, the world knows of Deion “Primetime” Sanders exodus from Jackson State University [JSU] is imminent. Once he coaches his 12-0 JSU football team against the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference’s North Carolina Central University Eagles, he will move to the next phase of his coaching career as the Head Coach of the University of Colorado Buffaloes.
His exit from JSU was nothing like his entrance. Athletic Director Ashley Robinson and school officials welcomed Primetime with a grandiose entrance unlike any you’ve probably ever seen when introducing a college football coach.
But such is life when a sports icon is your head coach.
After the Dec. 3 the Southwestern Athletic Conference [SWAC] Championship game where Jackson State defeated the Southern University Jaguars 43-24, Sanders evaded media, taking his players back to campus for an emergency meeting to let them know he was taking the Colorado job [Sanders has since said he showed up to the press conference but because the opposing coach was still being interviewed, he left. While that may be true, he left the presser because he had a flight to catch later that evening].
In the meeting with the team, he told them they were the first to know of his decision. While that may be their first time hearing it from him, it wasn’t the players first time hearing the rumors. Dec. 2 at 10 p.m. eastern time, ESPN dropped an alert saying Sanders had been assembling a staff to join him at his new job and the expectation was for him to accept the job as the Buffaloes coach.
This news shocked the college football world, sending social media into a frenzy. While Sanders did not release the news himself obviously, conversations he was having behind closed doors made their way to the media.
All week, when he did speak to media leading up to the SWAC Championship game, Sanders confirmed the report by ESPN’s Pete Thamel that he had interviewed for the Colorado job, among others, but also confirmed there was serious interest between he and Colorado officials for their head coaching vacancy.
His team obviously assumed his personality and kept the main thing as the focal point, scoring 26 points in the first half leading them to victory and a second consecutive SWAC title.
After informing his team of his decision, Sanders left like a thief in the night [as older black folks used to say] on a private jet. Photos surfaced of him landing, being met by officials, leading up to his eventual introduction the following day.
On social media this week, there have been opinions swirling about JSU fans and their supposed anger regarding Prime taking another job.
Full disclosure, I am a native of Jackson, Miss. and what people seem to not understand is that two things can be true.
So here are the truths:
Sanders absolutely changed and reinvigorated the JSU football program and enhanced it tremendously. His business acumen challenged the status quo of the way business had been done and held up a mirror to show the flaws in the way things were done before his tenure needed to be amended, i.e. the Southern Heritage Classic and contract associated with the two schools and game.
Any logical person can absolutely see the value Sanders brought to JSU and the City of Jackson with the economic viability both the institution and city experienced.
That cannot be refuted or understated.
Now here is the second truth:
JSU fans are not mad at Prime opting for upwards mobility, it is the way he went about it and the unfulfilled promises he made.
In his opening presser as JSU head football coach, Sanders said “God called him collect and he had to accept the charges”; he discussed “leveling the playing field”, “changing the game”, and making Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) a viable option for NFL hopefuls.
“I could be an assistant in any college, or a head coach in any college, but at such a time as this, God called me to Jackson State and me to these men,” Sanders said in 2020 when it was announced he’d be the new JSU head coach.
Did he change the game? That is subjective, depending on who you are, but the answer would be no because he did not stay at JSU long enough for adequate changes to be made to the entire HBCU landscape as he touted he would.
Is the playing field leveled? Absolutely not. What he fails to realize is the power he has and that the NCAA feared him. You cannot say you want to level said field when you go on to join the system you claimed to want to see and treat HBCUs as equals.
He also said he wanted to see guys from HBCUs drafted because there is talent at that level. This is one promise he fulfilled as his former player and FCS All-American James Houston was drafted in the sixth round of the NFL Draft last year by the Detroit Lions.
Houston was called up to the main roster from the practice squad on Thanksgiving Day and recorded two sacks against Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, one of the best QB’s in the NFL.
On that front, Sanders absolutely succeeded.
He also ingratiated himself into the community in Jackson, going to the homes of families, eating their food, learning more about them, their faith and just including himself into the culture of Jackson. People in the city really felt there was an emotional attachment between him and them.
Mississippi is a unique place, with unique people. If you’re going to go into the Bible Belt and tell people “God called me here,” you have a certain responsibility whether you feel you do or not.
Basically, he took a “prime” opportunity to leave his job unfinished in his own words, not the words and expectations of others.