Eddie Robinson Jr. “Big” John Merritt. Jake “The Snake” Gaither. “John McClendon. Clarence “Big House” Gaines All these men became legends at HBCU institutions and are beloved figures to t his day. For a short while there were some who thought that Deion “Prime Time” Sanders might join this robust group, though anyone really familiar with the Sanders track record knew he was never destined to remain at an HBCU permanently. or even long-term.
Sanders did what many white coaches do at smaller mainstream schools. They use their first jobs as stepping stones for eventually bigger positions. But Sanders didn’t seem as though he was doing that when he initially took the JSU job three years ago. He talked about being guided to Jackson State by God and how he was going to help convince top Black athletes to attend Jackson State instead of predominantly white and/or Power 5 schools. He even managed to snag the top defensive back in the country Travie Hunder away form Alabama, something that temporarily angered his AFLAC commercials partner Alabama coach Nick Saban.
But as it turned out, Deion Sanders wasn’t interested in remaining at Jackson State even through the end of his first deal, which doesn’t officially expire until Dec. 15, 2024.
Speculation began two weeks ago that Sanders was being offered Power 5 coaching jobs. Then earlier last week it was reported that Colorado University had offered him a contract, a story that Sanders later verified. On Sunday it was expected that his decision to become the Colorado Buffalos next head coach would become final. According to various stories Sanders was flying to Colorado right after Jackson State completed an undefeated regular season with a 43-24 win over Southern University. It was JSU’s second straight SWAC title under Sanders, and his three-year record with Jackson Stae is 27-5.
But his decision to leave JSU has caused lots of uproar within the HBUC community and on Twitter. Many people are expressing everything from feelings of betrayal to outrage. For many in the HBCU world, he was and is nothing more than a fraud and an opportunist who took the first chance he could to grab the money and run. Sanders had hinted at this a few weeks ago on “60 Minutes” when he acknowledged that his ultimate goal was to be a Power5 head coach.
The terms of the new deal had not yet been announced at press time. The Colorado Board of Regents called a special Sunday meeting in what was supposedly “a grand celebration” announcing Sanders’ hiring. Details had not yet been released.
Sanders will owe JSU just over $300,000 as part of his contract buyout. No one questions that he did a great job with JSU during his tenure. The disappointment comes from those who truly felt he was making JSU a career position rather than a short-term move to leverage into a higher paying job.
The next JSU coach will inherit a program in far better shape than it was when Sanders took over. The question now is will JSU find someone who sees the job as a career position, or will they find another head coach ultimately more interested in Power 5 success than long-term HBCU program and player development.