It’s no secret that there are many in the HBCU ranks who are at best indifferent and at worse openly hostile to Jackson State Head Football Coach Deion Sanders. There were many who thought when he took over the program he would be more PR flash than substantive coach, someone who would keep the focus squarely on himself while doing very little for either Jackson State or HBCU football.
Well that assumption has been thoroughly disproved. With Saturday’s 48-6 romp over Bethune-Cookman, Sanders’ JSU team is 6-0, 4-0 in the SWAC, and squarely in line to win another SWAC title. They’ve been ranked all season in the FCS Top 25. Among the bigtime recruits that Sanders has lured to JSU, one includes his son Shadeur, the team’s star QB. He had another big game Saturday, completing 36 of 38 passes for 272 yards and five touchdowns.
There’s even been some Heisman Trophy candidacy talk, though it is no doubt silly to think an HBCU QB would get a fair shot in a contest overwhelmingly stacked in favor of Power 5 schools and players.
But Sanders has continually emphasized he wants HBCU athletes to be considered every bit as good as those at larger schools, and he often complained that the NFL doesn’t accurately or fairly evaluate HBCU players. When he first arrived at JSU, Sanders voiced his disapproval of the facilities. Now there’s movement towards improving them. JSU has played three games this year in NFL stadiums and won all three.
Without question Sanders has ruffled some feathers. After a 26-13 loss two weeks ago, Alabama State coach Eddie Robinson Jr. son of the legendary Grambling coach Eddie Robinson, voiced some of what the old guard in SWAC circles thinks about Sanders. “I’m SWAC, he ain’t SWAC,” Robinson said. Sanders response later was “Who is SWAC If I ain’t SWAC.” Writers at various publications in SWAC cities have speculated that Sanders might not stay at Jackson State beyond this season. He has interviewed in the past at Power 5 schools, and these days it’s trendy to link him with every major opening from Arizona State to Nebraska, and some that aren’t open l(yet) like Auburn. Sanders has become such a celebrity that his opinion and input is even being sought on non-political issues in the state, most notably the water crisis in Mississippi.
But like him or not, no one can deny Sanders is bringing major attention and exposure to not just Jackson State but the SWAC. He’s featured every week in AFLAC commercials with Alabama’s Nick Saban. The two had a brief spat after Saban accused him of essentially buying highly regarded recruit Travis Hunter and convincing him to come to JSU rather than Alabama (Saban later apologized and things seem fine at this point).
Aside from his presence being responsible for every JSU game now being covered by both regional and national publications, this past Sunday Sanders achieved something few coaches, college or pro, ever do. He was one of the featured subjects on “60 Minutes.” He discussed a wide range of subjects, among them his views regarding the SWAC, his coaching future, and many other things.
My hope is that Deion Sanders at least stays through the full term of his first JSU contract. After that, if he wants to leave for larger pastures, no problem. I’m under. no illusions he wants to be another John Merritt or Eddie Robinson and remain at JSU for decades.
But if he at least stays five years and continues the degree of success he’s enjoyed to this point, he will have done both JSU and HBCUs in general a huge service.