Deion Sanders, Elevating HBCUs in Distinguished Style: Personality of the Year in Our Sports Culture

in December, the athlete Coaches, athletes, and other personalities who have had the most impact in the American sports we cover, as well as in the fields of sports business, media, and culture, will be honored. We kick off the series with our sports culture honoree: Jackson State head football coach Deion Sanders. The full schedule is here.


Not everyone believed what Deion Sanders wanted to do at Jackson State when he was hired in September 2020.

The person he thought was George Teague, Sanders’ teammate for three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. Nor was Teague’s belief based on Sanders’ time with the Cowboys, since he had not expressed interest in coaching at the time.

However, it was based on what Teague saw of Sanders as a coach with Truth that Sanders’ youth soccer program began a few years before he became a high school football coach in the Dallas area. But the seeds of what Sanders could do as a coach were clear.

“I knew a lot of guys who coached him, some played against him because his team was so good,” said Teague, the current head football coach and athletic director at John Paul II High School in Plano, Texas. the athlete. “He wanted to play with my JV teams or even my varsity teams, so that was kind of the beginning of seeing how he interacted with the guys, seeing how he was affecting their lives while putting out a good product.”

Eventually Teague matched Sanders’ wit as coach at the high school level.

“We’re in the same league with the coaches, and again I see it with high school kids putting together programs and starting winning traditions to build,” Teague said. “So, to go to JSU and watch him do what he’s doing there, I expected that. That’s all he’s ever done ever put his hand on a program.”

There has always been a high level of confidence about Sanders, dating back to his days as a bright spot man for Florida State and his career in the NFL. What he’s done in three seasons as head coach at Jackson State—in addition to winning a bunch of games—is raise the bar for the visibility of football being played at historically black colleges and universities, some of which are desperate for support. And he did it in “Prime” style.

Sanders’ results have won him on the field and his role in helping put HBCUs on a bigger stage Athletic Personality of the Year in Sports Culture for 2022.

Jackson State (11-0, 8-0 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference) will host Saturday’s SWAC Championship game against Southern. The Tigers are 26-5 in Sanders’ three seasons. All the while, the Coach Prime tenure has brought legitimate attention to Jackson State and HBCU football — and it’s also made Sanders a popular candidate for open Power 5 jobs.

Sanders was “prime time” during his playing days, but now he’sHead coachAnd he made Jackson State a famous football brand. He did it with the same kind of bravado that made him arguably the greatest cornerback in NFL history. He’s a successful coach. His steaminess is undeniable, and he makes no apologies for doing things the traditional way. He has fun. . Wins.

And he draws attention.

The Tigers spring game in April was the HBCU’s first spring game broadcast on ESPN. Jackson State became the fourth HBCU to host ESPN’s “College GameDay” this past October.

Sanders has also been an advocate for other HBCUs. He has called non-NFL teams to pro days at HBCUs. He has advocated having more HBCU players at the NFL Scouting Combine. Sanders is set just as HBCUs are beginning to receive more mainstream attention during the social justice awakening that some are experiencing in 2020 — the same year that George Floyd was killed in Minnesota.

Putting his words behind his words, Sanders hosted a pro day this past April for athletes from four different schools in Mississippi and brought 22 teams from across the NFL and CFL to scout talent.

After more than two years, interest in these issues has waned for some. Sanders’ name and high-profile status means that anything connected to Jackson’s state is getting attention, too. Conversely, when Sanders spoke of inequalities in the HBCU with the plural or Water crisis in Jackson, Miss.called the lack of a solution a question of “equality”.

“I don’t want to say this with any disrespect to anyone before in HBCUs, but Deion has the ability to cross a color line when it comes to his fame, who he is and how to bring people with him,” Teague said. “This has nothing to do with Xs and Os; that’s just the strength of being known, being trusted and trying to do what’s best for the community that needs to be known more.”

Sanders has preached that being at an HBCU does not mean a less satisfying college experience on or off the field. He managed transfers from Power 5 schools, as well as star athlete Travis Hunter, the No. 1 high school player in the country in the 2022 recruiting class, according to Rivals.com and 247 Sports. Hunter is closing out his freshman season as a cornerback and wide receiver for the Tigers. He is the highest rated player ever signed with the HBCU.

Sanders has not set the bottom line for himself or the program.

“One of the things Dion says is, ‘Hey, before we go to work, don’t send me guys you wouldn’t send to your alma mater,’” said Teague, who played college ball at Alabama. “If you’re going to send him to Alabama, I want that guy. Just don’t try to text me anyone because we’re boys or something. “

But Sanders recognizes some of the error, even in the HBCU community. Alabama State coach Eddie Robinson Jr., also a former NFL player, Sanders called out the lack of respect that led up to the match He said it was “not a SWAC.”

Sanders getting this kind of reaction isn’t a total surprise. He made his name in the NFL with excellent game play and bravery. The person who learned that quickly was Tom Holmo. He is currently the athletic director at BYU, but in 1994, he was in his first year as the defensive running backs coach for the San Francisco 49ers and was tasked with teaching Sanders defense after he joined the team.

Holmo was talking, but he was positive Sanders wasn’t listening much.

“After about a half hour, I’m thinking, ‘This is not going anywhere,'” Holmo said. the athlete. I said, ‘Look, Deion, we’ll call something, you’ve got to know what you’re doing. He said, ‘Don’t worry, Coach. You just put me in the cover guys, and I’ll take care of everything else.'”

It’s the kind of exchange that could easily upset a coach on a player – but it had the opposite effect. This led to hours of talking about their families, backgrounds, and more. It was the beginning of a relationship in which Sanders went on to win Defensive Player of the Year and the 49ers won the Super Bowl that season.

“I love that guy,” said Holmo. “I love Deion off the field more than I do on the field. People just don’t understand, off the pitch, he’s a great, great, great guy.”


Deion Sanders, with his son, quarterback Shedeur (2), and the rest of the Jackson State team after a win earlier this season. (Rogelio F. Solis/The Associated Press)

The main character can be intimidating. It is larger than life. It’s gold chains, rings and a mobile phone on draft day. it’s the Music Video for “It Must Be Money”. It’s the idea that he’s a “me first” player because of the Prime Time trademark.

But those who have met Sanders know him differently.

“As much as we view him through the lens of superstardom or superstardom, you can still sit down with him, tell jokes with him, eat fried catfish, talk about each other’s clothes or whatever,” Teague said. He’s still that guy. He’s the same guy that was in the locker room, so these kids can relate to that on any level because he’s a magnet where he’s not just ‘I’m holier than you, so I can’t talk like you or listen to the music you’re listening’ to her. That’s not just him.”

“Prime,” “Prime Time,” or “Neon Deion” aren’t exactly the kind of nicknames some might associate with the head coach. But it works for Sanders, and it works for the players and his coaching staff. This is largely due to Sanders being such an authentic person.

You’ll get Prime, because Prime is as confident as they come and wants to control everything. But he’ll also back up being the boss. Holmo recalls that Sanders kept a Rolodex to call players around the league to pick their brains over what they saw to improve his game while always intently studying the movie on his time.

“Here’s a boss. That’s the part everybody sees,” said Holmo. “And it made a lot of money for him; It’s a great brand. But Deion, his other side, was super smart, super witty, and had super game instincts. He doesn’t want to look like he’s studying anything, but at night, he wants tapes and he comes home at night and studies the tapes on his own.”

Teague noted a similar work ethic. He believes that attention to detail is the reason for Sanders’ success – because he is willing to do anything to be cool.

“He was the first player I ever saw who had a small portable machine, and he was watching a game alone on the bus,” Teague said. “While I was sitting there jamming to 2Pac, he was sitting there watching a tape and a movie extra.”

Teague added that the way Sanders worked to get the attention of NFL scouts to HBCU players and put together a set was not about pinning Sanders on the back.

“When he gets there in the game and then starts inviting other people to other things, that’s communication. That’s service. This is seeking to serve something greater than himself,” Teague said. People might confuse it with ‘This is just about Deion’, but what he’s actually trying to do is help a lot of people.”

Some wonder if he would jump to a larger college opportunity, where the Coach Prime brand could be more valuable and attract a wider pool of talent. He had already confessed “60 Minutes” interview Last month he would receive offers. And then, earlier this week, the athleteBruce Feldman stated that Sanders was offered the Colorado job—which Sanders later confirmed.

But even if he leaves Jackson State, Sanders has made an impact in his short tenure. And if he doesn’t leave, Sanders can continue to build a first-rate program at SWAC while also raising the bar for all HBCUs.

“He’s using his influence to pull everyone into a huge movement is amazing, and I don’t think it can be replicated,” Teague said. “It takes a very special person to do what he does.”

(Top illustration: Sean Riley/ the athlete; Photo: Charles A. Smith/Jackson State University via Getty Images

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