Deion Sanders has done wonders in transforming Jackson State from an HBCU football afterthought, into a powerhouse program that’s beating out schools like Alabama and Florida State on the recruiting trail. Should he do like most coaches and parlay his success into a higher-pay, higher-profile job, or stay put and build on what could be one of the greatest coaching legacies ever?
No matter the level, no matter the sport, Deion Sanders has always been a talent capable of using his otherworldly skills to make an impact and, literally and figuratively, blow past the competition.
So it should come as no surprise that in just three seasons and a 26-5 record as the head coach at Jackson State, a Historically Black Institution, Sanders has taken the HBCU football world by storm to the point where he’s now one of the hottest names on the coaching circuit, at all levels.
All the attention and adoration he is receiving now because of his success at Jackson State is nothing new for “Prime Time.”
A Pro Football Hall of Famer, the man became the first and only athlete to ever hit a home run (with MLB’s New York Yankees) and score a touchdown (with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons) in the same week, in 1989, at the highest levels of professional play.
His ability to defy the undefinable, to succeed where so few have tried let alone come out victorious, put his legacy in a select class of all-time great athletic talents.
And now, he’s at a crossroads where he can cash in on his coaching success or continue adding layers to the framework for another legacy that has wide-reaching implications beyond his own personal success and accomplishments.
Indeed, Sanders is a man with many options now which includes taking the head coaching job at Colorado, continuing to converse with others interested in hiring him, or do what would be such a Deion Sanders kind of thing to do: stay put at Jackson State and build his coaching legacy with an HBCU institution.
His success at Jackson State is about more than wins and a few losses. He has changed the perception many have had about HBCU football, beating out national powers for players while other HBCUs schools are now finding they too are getting more looks from Power 5 talents than ever.
The 2022 recruiting class of North Carolina Central in Durham, North Carolina, included a former SEC receiver (OrTre Smith) who was ranked as the top player coming out of high school in the state of South Carolina in 2017, and a three-star standout linebacker (Albert Redd) who had offers from UNC, Georgia Tech and Louisville.
“I see somewhat of a trend to it,” N.C. Central head and NCCU alum Trei Oliver, told the Fayetteville Observer “I just hope it’s not a fad.”
This is where Sanders’ decision becomes more than just about what’s best for him. His ability to win at a high level while also attracting some of the nation’s best talent bodes well for the entire HBCU system. And based on the team’s success and the talent Jackson State continues to be in the mix for, it’s unlikely the Sanders effect on HBCU football will go away anytime soon.
Along with Sanders, HBCUs also have the benefit of NIL (Name, Image and Likeness) deals for potential recruits, a tool that doesn’t make things equal with Power 5 schools but certainly levels out the playing field a bit to where HBCUs can be far more competitive in attracting the best talent.
And while that may still be in play if Sanders bolts to Colorado or one of the other schools pursuing him, his decision to stay put would speak volumes about his “all-in” status with Jackson State and HBCUs.
But considering the immediate impact he has made, no one should fault him if he decides to take his talents as a head coach to a Power 5 institution.
Ultimately, it comes down to what’s best for Sanders.
And while there are several factors in play, there are two that should be watched closely: Resources and Legacy.
Jackson State won’t be able to offer him as much money or the on and off-campus resources that some of the schools pursuing Sanders can.
But the Tigers, even after all the success Sanders has had, can still offer him an opportunity for everlasting greatness.
At first, it was an opportunity to be a college football head coach.
It’s an opportunity to build a legacy, unlike anything we’ve seen among HBCUs.
To do so, it will require Sanders to do what he has seemingly always done in this kind of situation which is to defy the undefinable and succeed where many have failed, the kind of challenge he has consistently met and conquere.
Doing so won’t bring him the kind of payday other highly successful coaches will haul in.
But what he does come away with by staying, is adding yet another chapter to a legacy that has the potential to change not just the lives of his future players at Jackson State, but also creates a new narrative for HBCU football.