Jackson State Head Coach Deion Sanders

Last week one of the most turbulent, yet also successful eras in Jackson State and HBCU football took a different turn. With the tenure of NFL Hall of Famer and former Head Coach Deion Sanders over, Jackson State named a new head coach. JSU Athletic Director Ashley Robinson named current wide receivers position coach T.C. Taylor as the school’s new head coach.

This ended a period of turbulence for JSU that began Dec. 3, when Sanders announced he was leaving to become head football coach at the University of Colorado. Reaction to the move was largely negative inside the HBCU world, though many on the outside felt it was a logical step for Sanders to take. He had previously said on “60 Minute” that his ultimate ambition was to coach a Power 5 school. But what surprised many was that he chose Colorado, a school that hasn’t enjoyed much success since the early ‘90s, when Kordell Stewart was leading them. Last season they were 1-11. Karl Dorrell was canned after going 0-5 to start the season.

But Sanders is now their head coach. He departed JSU with a three-year record of 27-6, two SWAC titles. But their bid for a perfect season ended at the Celebration Bowl, where North Carolina Central won a thrilling 41-34 overtime contest that was carried nationally on CBS. It was the second straight Celebration Bowl loss for Sanders’ teams, and the only real blemish on his record over the last two seasons. There was speculation that all the indecision and rumors surrounding Sanders’ final days at JSU may have contributed to the loss, but it didn’t stop them the previous week from winning the SWAC title.

Still, now the focus shifts to his successor. Whatever else one thought of how Sanders left JSU, it’s hard to find a lot of fault with how well the team did over the last two seasons. He faces some tough obstacles. It’s been reported that a number of top high school recruits have withdrawn from JSU as a result of Sanders’ departure. Sanders’ high profile and national recognition got JSU lots of media exposure. Many wonder whether Taylor will be able to maintain that type of high octane publicity and exposure. 

Meanwhile, the details of Deion Sanders’ new contract at the University of Colorado have both raised eyebrows and also shown the huge gap in pay and resources between Power 5 schools and HBCUs. The details of the new contract were originally reported by the Denver Post. Sanders’ deal will pay him $29.5 million over five years in base pay and incentives, making him the Pac-12 program’s highest-paid head football coach in history. That figure is 24.6 times the value of Sanders’ four-year deal at Jackson State, and it stands out even more considering Sanders donated half a year’s salary toward the building of a new athletic facility at JSU and was required to pay back $300,000 for leaving a year before his total contract was up.

Indeed he is b eing paid more than some NFL head coaches make. But perhaps what has upset JBCU advocates is that Sanders’ words about getting top Black athletes to think about considering HBCUs and how his original decision to come to JSU was motivated by his religious faith seem hollow. He didn’t leave to return to his alma mater. It’s even possible had he waited a few more days he might have been landed an SEC head coaching job at Mississippi State after the sudden death of their head coach Mike Leach.

But whatever the case, Sanders is gone and now the new coach must pick up the pieces. For one, there are many in the SWAC still angry that Jackson State withdrew a year early from the Southern Heritage Classic, shocking Tennessee State and threatening the future of the event. Fortunately, a new foe was found and it will continue.

On the one hand, it’s very difficult to fault anyone who wants to improve his lot in life. It’s very doubtful that any of the many online types loudly criticizing Sanders for leaving would have spurned the chance in their chosen occupation to get a huge payday if offered the chance. But it was the Sanders rhetoric that’s fueled the anger, and it’s a good object lesson moving forward.

Be careful whenever you make public statements, particularly those that are linked to racial or cultural solidarity. A lot of people expect you to follow up on those statements, and feel betrayed if your actions seem at odds with your rhetoric.

In the case of Deion Sanders, at minimum that seems to be what happened.

Coach Prime’s deal at Colorado is similar to his deal at JSU in at least one way: If he decides to leave early again, he’ll owe the school back some of that scratch. But it’ll be a lot more costly—between $5 million and $15 million, depending on how many years are left on his contract if and when he decides to roll out.

Sanders oversaw a Jackson State program that had an unprecedented run of success, attracting attention on the field, with recruiting, with donors and in the media.

Despite that, opinions about his early departure are still greatly divided between those who praise what he accomplished and those who thought those accomplishments were only temporary and in the service of his own self interest.