We must use our power, influence, position, connections, and resources to build upon the foundation already established for us to follow
There has been so much talk and chatter on social media about Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders leaving Jackson State University after his team’s (Southwestern Athletic Conference) SWAC Championship win over Southern University this past weekend to become the new head football coach at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
The offer made to Sanders should be no surprise, in that Sanders compiled a 23-2 record over his last two years at Jackson State and was able to successfully snag several top high-level high school football recruits to bring their talents to an HBCU versus a Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school.
Sanders is only the second African American coach from an HBCU to ever coach at a Division I FBS school, and the first HBCU head coach from any school to ever receive a Power Five conference head coaching opportunity.
For those who don’t know, the Power Five conferences are widely considered the five most prominent and highest-earning athletic conferences in college football. Power Five schools are part of the FBS and are considered to be members of the best and most elite conferences in the entire country. The Power Five conferences are automatically granted at least one bid to one of the six top bowl games during bowl season, and the Power Five consists of the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), the Big Ten Conference, the Big 12 Conference, the Southeastern Conference (SEC), and the Pac-12 Conference, where Sanders has taken his coaching talents to help rebuild the program at the University of Colorado in Boulder.
Deion Sanders did EXACTLY what he came to do when he was named the 21st head football coach Jackson State on September 21, 2020—he brought his flare, his persona, his influence, his relationships, and his star-power to the University and changed the game (no pun intended).
Don’t get it twisted, Jackson State has a storied football foundation and legacy, in that only 13 college football teams, at any level, have ever produced more Pro Football Hall of Famers than they have.
Sanders built on that solid foundation and returned the school to the prominence it once experienced during the time that it boasted future NFL Hall of Fame players like Walter Payton, Lem Barney, Robert Brazile, and Jackie Slater, along with many other talented football players.
Contrary to what many believe, Sanders did NOT come to Jackson State to be the savior of HBCUs. Instead, Sanders was given an opportunity to finally become a college football head coach at Jackson State and used that opportunity to change the game and elevate Jackson State to national prominence, while also shining the light on all HBCUs in a way that hasn’t been seen in this country since the 1960s when HBCUs were able to successfully recruit top Black recruits because of the severe racism and lack of scholarship opportunities to play at predominately white institutions (PWIs) in the Jim Crow south.
Jackson State Vice President and Director of Athletics Ashley Robinson released a statement thanking Sanders for his many contributions to the Jackson State program and to the city of Jackson.
Sanders had an immediate impact and was able to snag top recruit Travis Hunter away from a major PWI, along with many other top athletes, which drew the ire of many people.
Sanders’ star-power led to ESPN traveling to Jackson to host its popular college football show, Game Day, their battle against Southern. It has been estimated that the economic impact on the city of Jackson has been about $30 million and the University will soon have a brand-new football stadium built in place of their outdated stadium.
On top of that, many professional sports scouts, and executives from the NFL, XFL, USFL, and others visited Jackson State to look at the talent, which has led to the NFL creating an HBCU Combine where student-athletes can now be looked at and potentially given an opportunity.
Sanders led his team to an undefeated season this year and has won back-to-back SWAC Championships. He should be celebrated for his accomplishments, correct?
Honestly, we need to make up your minds about what the collective fight is going to be for African American people, so the vast majority of us can be on the same page.
When we complain that we need more Black coaches in Division I college athletics, or more Blacks as head coaches for professional sports franchises, or that we want more Blacks as General Managers or executives in professional sports, or that we want more Blacks as CEOs and high-level executives in Fortune 500 companies, or that we want more Blacks on the C-Suites on Corporate Boards, or that we want more Blacks doing this or doing that, should we NOT celebrate that when it happens?
What makes Sanders so negatively polarizing of a figure to anyone that they would rather tear this man down than celebrate his accomplishments?
If we want HBCUs to grow and flourish then we need to do what Sanders did and follow the blueprint of using our power, influence, position, connections, and resources to build upon the foundation that he and many others have laid for us in plain sight!
It can definitely be replicated, because Black people have a long and well-documented track record of overcoming all kinds of obstacles, challenges, and roadblocks that led to the building of Black Wall Street, Negro League Baseball, Prairie View Interscholastic League (PVIL), the Turkey Day Classic here in Houston, and many other notable endeavors.
President Barack Obama overcame the odds and the naysayers to become the first Black elected to the highest seat in the land, despite those who told him to stand down and make way for others. He could have ignored his ultimate, God-given calling, but he didn’t. His story is one we can learn from, as many people take issue with Sanders’ decision to leave Jackson State.
President Obama was a civil rights attorney who worked as a community organizer. He decided to run for office and was eventually elected to serve as an Illinois state senator from 1997 to 2004. He left the state senate seat to run for the U.S. Senate in Illinois and was elected to serve from 2005 to 2008. He then ran for President and won and served two terms.
What if people told President Obama that he was wrong for leaving his community organizing work to run as a state senator? And then, argued that he was wrong for leaving his state senate seat and those constituents to run for higher office as a U.S. Senator? And then argued that he was wrong for being so selfish that he would leave his constituents to run for President?
The bottom line is, we must stop majoring in the minors and thinking that we have control of another person’s destiny, simply because it doesn’t fit our narrative or expectations.
In 1979, Jeffries became the first African American to be named the head football coach at a Division IA school, when he was hired to lead the Wichita State Shockers. Jeffries coached the Shockers from 1979 to 1983, before returning to coach at two HBCUs—Howard University from 1984 to 1988 and South Carolina State in 1989, where he returned and finished his head football coaching career in 2001.
It was because of the success Jeffries experienced at South Carolina State that he caught the attention of Wichita State and was hired away from the HBCU to a Division IA school.
Willie E. Jeffries was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010. Why?
Not only did Jeffries win three Black National College Football Championships at South Carolina State University in 1976, 1977, and 1994, he was also the first to do what Coach Prime is being lambasted for—leaving an HBCU after successfully coaching there from 1973 to 1978.
Was Jeffries wrong for leaving the HBCU where he experienced success to go to the Division IA school?
Should Jeffries have been inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame because of his overall body of work during his 29-year college football head coaching career?
Should Jeffries be celebrated for his accomplishments after leaving an HBCU for an opportunity he felt was best for his football head coaching career?
If you have no issues with Jeffries, you should have no real issue with Sanders, regardless of what you believe his motives were or how you perceived he should have navigated his college football head coaching career.
So, with that being said, what does God or Deion Sanders have planned next for Deion Sanders? Who knows? Only time will tell!
Congrats Coach Prime!
Continue to elevate and may others step up to the plate and lead by example and use their influence like you did!