Deion Sanders, the former NFL star who in his first stint as a college coach transformed Jackson State into a head-turning team, will take charge of Colorado’s football program, announced the university on Saturday.
In three seasons at Jackson State, a historically black university in Mississippi, Sanders lost just five games, upending a program mired in mediocrity — or worse — for years. In 2021, Jackson State won the Southwestern Athletic Conference title for the first time since 2007; Saturday in Jackson, he claimed another.
A few hours later, Colorado announced that Sanders would be its coach.
With a personal magnetism, an enduring mark and a footballing grit that has attracted talented high school rookies and transfers and hasn’t lacked public attention, Sanders has cooked up a Jackson State program that has led the SWAC on offense and defense this season. Heading into Saturday’s championship game, he averaged 37.5 points per game on offense, nearly a touchdown better than his nearest rival, and gave up about 10 on defense.
But it seemed early on in his success that Sanders, whose record at Jackson State was 27-5, might one day consider running a program in a Power 5 conference.
With Colorado, which has posted two winning seasons since 2006, it will face one of the nation’s biggest rebuilding challenges. The Buffaloes have been looking for a coach since Oct. 2, when the university ousted Karl Dorrell, whose team was 8-15 in less than three years at Boulder. Colorado finished that season with a 1-11 record, with its lone overtime win on Oct. 15 against California.
“There were a number of highly qualified and impressive candidates interested in becoming the next head football coach at Colorado, but none of them had the pedigree, knowledge and ability to connect with students- athletes like Deion Sanders,” Colorado athletic director Rick George said in a statement. “Not only will Coach Prime energize our fan base, but I am confident he will bring our program back to national prominence while leading a team of high quality and character.”
The possibility of Sanders leaving Jackson bubbled throughout the week leading up to Saturday’s conference championship game, in part because the coach acknowledged Colorado had offered him his coaching job.
Colorado is taking a risk with Sanders, who loves being “Coach Prime,” a nod to his longtime nickname. A brilliant NFL cornerback for 14 seasons who also played on the field in Major League Baseball – Colorado proudly noted that Sanders is the only person to play in the Super Bowl and World Series – he went on to ran Prime Prep Academy, which closed in 2015 amid academic, financial and legal issues.
His coaching record at Jackson State, however, gave him clear breathing room and influence there. Sanders, at times publicly, has called for more resources to be devoted to football at his school and other historically black colleges and universities.
And he acknowledged during the season that the large financial disparities in college athletics could lead him to go elsewhere, with his coaching staff in tow.
In a statement Saturday night, Jackson State athletic director Ashley Robinson showed no bitterness toward his former coach.
“He challenged norms and transformed mindsets of what was perceived to be possible to create new visions of success while inspiring the community and shining a light on HBCU sports and culture,” he said of by Sanders. “I can’t thank him enough for his impact on me professionally and personally.”
Robinson said Jackson State would begin an “aggressive national search” for its next coach.
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