Deion Sanders made Jackson State into an HBCU football power in just three seasons. But his departure to Colorado along with back-to-back losses in the Celebration Bowl will taint an otherwise short-lived but impressive HBCU legacy.
For most of this college football season, the wins stacked up for Jackson State like Friday night pancakes at an all-you-can-eat dive in the middle of Anywhere, USA.
Coach Prime was on top of his game, and so were his players. HBCUs show up, if you want to. Coach Prime’s Jackson State ballers were gonna show out and in doing so, send your team on their way with an ‘L.’
He was that good, and so was his team.
Talent obviously helped.
But they were really good because they had an unmatched focus, oblivious more times than not to the mental blunders or life setbacks, like a jacked-up drinking water system that is now under a more watchful eye from the Justice Department.
So it’s not a surprise that the one game when the distractions were far more intense and personal than at any point in the season for Jackson State, they failed to meet the moment in the biggest game of the season.
You have to give North Carolina Central props for handling business, jumping out to an early lead and making all the tough plays when it counted to escape with a 41-34 overtime win in the Celebration Bowl.
And with the loss, NCCU and HBCUs alike, are celebrating the Jackson State loss.
There should be no argument about what Sanders’ time at Jackson State meant to that institution and for HBCU football as a whole.
He was great for all of them.
But the success during his time as an HBCU fixture does not cleanse him of the stench left behind since his departure.
No one should fault him for taking his talents on to a higher-paying, higher-profile gig. I hear loud and clear those who felt he should have built an Eddie Robinson-like legacy at Jackson State.
But if an opportunity to increase your earning power by 15 or 20-fold manifests itself along with a slew of other higher-profile perks, would anyone really fault you for making that move?
The problem for Deion Sanders in all of this is simple.
When he made the decision to leave for Colorado, he should have gone all-in on it and not played this absurd game of trying to write a new chapter in Boulder, Colorado, at the same time seeking closure in Jackson, Mississippi.
Sanders should have never coached that bowl game.
He should have fully divested himself of the situation because no matter how much time he put into game-planning for North Carolina Central, his total focus wasn’t where it needed to be.
Now, he is left with the lingering taste of defeat at the Celebration bowl—again.
But the one difference now is that a year ago only South Carolina State was celebrating after their 31-10 beating of Jackson State.
N.C. Central and just about every HBCU football-playing school is elated with the Celebration Bowl outcome as the Eagles sent Sanders on his way with yet another lost opportunity for greatness slipping through his hands.
He came to Jackson State looking to do what every coach wants to do and that’s win at the highest level of whatever level you’re competing at.
Sanders got two cracks at it and came up short both times.
But that’s just the beginning of the damage he has inflicted on not just Jackson State, but also the program that he’s about to take over in Boulder, Colorado. It’s not unusual for college football coaches to take over teams and uh, “encourage” some of the players that had committed earlier to de-commit and look to play elsewhere.
But Sanders, like most things he’s involved with, took it to another level that, in this instance, crossed the lines of being cold and callous behavior, with some recruits finding out from the outgoing coaching staff that their scholarship offers weren’t going to be honored.
“It was hectic,” Carson Mott, a three-star defensive end from Simi Valley (Calif.) High School, told the Athletic. “It was a huge mess. I actually never got contacted by Deion or any of his new (on-field) staff. I got called. They told me that coach Deion didn’t want to honor my commitment and hung up the phone. I was in a group chat with all the other commits and they were all I guess freaking out, too, because a lot of us had our options closed for months now being committed to Colorado. So we hadn’t reached out to any school. It was a whole big deal.”
Fortunately, most of the players who had previously committed to Colorado have received scholarship offers from other schools or will sign during the regular signing period
There’s no playbook on how to best part ways with a school if you’re a head coach.
But the way Sanders handled it, could have been done better—a lot better which is surprising when you consider one of his strengths as both a player and as a coach (the Celebration Bowl, excluded) has been his ability to close things out.