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Deion Sanders, Improving HBCUs with Prime Style: Our Sports Culture Person of the Year

in December, athletic celebrates the coaches, athletes, and others who have made the greatest impact not only in the American sports we cover, but also in sports business, media, and culture. The series begins with sports culture winner Jackson State Football his coach Deion Sanders. See the full schedule here.

When Deion Sanders was hired in September 2020, not everyone believed what he wanted to do at Jackson State University.

George Teague, Sanders’ teammate for three seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, was someone he really believed in. Teague’s beliefs weren’t based on Sanders with the Cowboys.

But it is based on what Teague saw from Sanders as coach of Truth, a youth football program that began years before Sanders 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 people who coached with him actually played against him because his team was so good,” said John Paul II High School, now in Plano, Texas. Teague, head football coach and athletic director, said. athletic“He wanted to play for my JV team and national team, so it was an opportunity to see how he interacted with young people and impacted their lives while building good products. became.”

Teague eventually matched his wits with Sanders as a high school-level coach.

“We are in the same league as the coach, and you can also see him starting to build a winning tradition by assembling programs with high school students,” Teague said. “So going to JSU and seeing what he was doing there, I expected that. .”

Dating back to his days as a flamboyant cornerback for Florida State and being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame, Sanders has always had a high level of confidence. What he accomplished in his three seasons as head coach of Jackson State University, in addition to winning many games, increased the visibility of football historically played in black colleges and universities. That’s it. And he did so in “Prime” style.

Saunders’ results on the field and his role in putting HBCU on a grander stage earned Saunders his acquisition. athletic 2022 Sports Culture Person of the Year.

Jackson State University (11-0, 8-0 in the Southwestern Athletic Conference) will host Saturday’s SWAC championship game against Southern. The Tigers are 26-5 in his three seasons with Sanders. All the while, the coach in his prime has given Jackson State and his HBCU football its due attention. Sanders also became a popular candidate for an open job on Power 5.

Sanders was “prime time” when he was playing, but now he’s “coaching prime,” making Jackson State a popular football brand. He did so with the same kind of bravery that made him arguably the greatest cornerback in NFL history. He is a winning coach. His swagger is undeniable and he makes no apologies for doing things the conventional way. he wins

And he gets attention.

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

Sanders is also an advocate for other HBCUs. He called his NFL team out of the pro day at the HBCU. He advocates for more players from his HBCUs in NFL Scouting his combine. Sanders was hired at a time when HBCUs were beginning to gain mainstream attention in the wake of social justice some experienced in 2020. The same year George Floyd was murdered in Minnesota.

Sanders lived up to his word by hosting a Pro Day last April for athletes from four different schools in Mississippi, bringing together 22 teams from the NFL and the Canadian Football League to scout for talent. I was.

More than two years later, some people have lost interest in these issues. Sanders’ name and high profile means that anything related to Jackson State University will be noticed. Conversely, when Sanders spoke about HBCU inequality with the Combine and the Jackson, Mississippi water crisis, he called the lack of a solution an “equity” problem.

“I don’t mean to say anything disrespectful to anyone in the HBCU ever, but Dion crosses color lines when it comes to notoriety for who he is and how he brings people in. “It has nothing to do with X or O. It’s about him trying to do what’s best for the community where he should be known and trusted and more recognized.” is the power of

Sanders preaches that being in an HBCU doesn’t take away from college fulfillment on and off the field. According to and 247 Sports, he was able to land star athlete Travis his hunter for his Power 5 school and the nation’s #1 high school player in the 2022 recruiting class. Hunter is completing his freshman season as a cornerback and wide receiver for the Tigers. He is the greatest player ever signed with his HBCU.

Sanders has not set the bar low for himself or the program.

Teague, who played college ball at the University of Alabama, said, “One of the things Dion says is, ‘Hey, before we start, don’t send me anyone who won’t send you to your alma mater.'” go to Alabama, I want that guy, please don’t try to send someone because we’re boys or anything like that.

But Sanders has made some mistakes, even within the HBCU community. Alabama State coach Eddie Robinson Jr., also a former NFL player, accused Sanders of disrespect before the game, saying he was “not a SWAC.”

It’s not at all surprising that Sanders got such a reaction. He made a name for himself in his NFL, sterling for his play and bravado to match. It was Tom Holmo who knew right away. Although he currently serves as BYU’s athletic director, in 1994 he was the defensive manager of the San Francisco 49ers. I lost.

Holmo had spoken, but he was sure Sanders wasn’t listening.

“After about 30 minutes, you’re thinking, ‘This can’t be helped,'” Holmo said. athletic“I said, ‘Look, Dion, we’re going to call something. You gotta know what you’re doing.’ So, Coach, you just put me in the male press and I’ll take care of everything else.”

An exchange that could easily anger a player’s coach, it had the opposite effect. It was the beginning of a relationship that saw Sanders win Defensive Player of the Year and the 49ers won the Super Bowl that season.

I love that man He’s something else,” Holmo said. “I like Dion off the field more than on the field. People don’t understand that off the field he’s a great, great, great guy.”

With Deion Sanders, his son and quarterback Shedule (2), and the rest of the Jackson State team that won a game earlier this season. (Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press)

Prime’s persona is intimidating. It’s bigger than life. Gold chains, rings and mobile phones on draft day. Music video for “Must Be The Money”. Prime his time, thanks to his brand, is the idea that he is the first player to “me first.”

But those who have met Sanders know him in a different way.

“As long as we see him through the lens of stardom and superstardom, we get to sit with him and crack jokes, eat catfish fries, and discuss each other’s clothes. “He’s still that guy. He’s the same guy that was in the locker room, so these kids can relate to it on every level. The music you hear. It’s not him.”

“Prime,” “Prime Time,” or “Neon Dion” are not nicknames associated with head coaches. But it works for Sanders, and it works for the player and his coaching staff. That’s mostly because Sanders is a real person.

Prime is as confident as they come and wants to rule everything, so you’re trying to get Prime. Saunders, as Holmo recalled, held onto a rolodex to call players across the league to improve his own game while always diligently studying movies in his spare time. I chose my brain about what I saw.

“That’s the prime. It’s the part that everyone sees,” says Holmoe. And it makes him a lot of money. he is a great brand. But his other side, Dion, was very smart, very intelligent, and had a very good instinct for the game. I didn’t have one, but at night I wanted a tape, so I went home at night and studied the tape myself. “

Teague recalled a similar work ethic. He believes that attention to detail is what makes Sanders so successful.

“He was the first player I saw with a little portable machine watching the game by himself on the bus,” Teague said. “While I’m sitting there and he’s jamming with 2Pac, he’s sitting there watching extra tapes and films.”

Teague added that it’s how Sanders has been working to get the attention of NFL scouts to the HBCU player, and that wearing the combine wasn’t a pat on the back for Sanders himself.

“When he starts playing games and inviting other people to do other things, that’s outreach. That’s service. That’s the Bible,” said Teague. “It’s about trying to serve something bigger than yourself. That’s it. “

Some wonder if he’ll jump to bigger college opportunities, where the Coach Prime brand could be more valuable and attract a wider range of talent. had already admitted to accepting and earlier this week, athletic‘s Bruce Feldman reported that Sanders was offered a job in Colorado – a Sanders later confirmed.

But even though he left Jackson State University, Sanders made an impact in his short tenure. You can continue building your program.

“Using his influence to get everyone involved in a large movement is outstanding and I don’t think it can be replicated,” Teague said. “It takes a very special person to do what he does.”

(above: Sean Riley / athletic; Photo: Charles A. Smith/Jackson State University via Getty Images)

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