He ain’t SWAC now: Colorado hires Deion Sanders away from Jackson State

Published 10:04 pm Saturday, December 3, 2022

BOULDER, Colo. (AP) — He ain’t SWAC now.

Deion Sanders is taking over as head coach at Colorado, leaving Jackson State to bring his charisma and larger-than-life persona to a beleaguered Pac-12 program that’s plunged to the bottom of college football.

The deal was announced Saturday night by Colorado athletic director Rick George.

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“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, the knowledge and the ability to connect with student-athletes like Deion Sanders,” George said in a statement. “Not only will Coach Prime energize our fanbase, I’m confident that he will lead our program back to national prominence while leading a team of high quality and high character.”

The Pro Football Hall of Famer has been at Jackson State, a historically Black college that plays in the NCAA’s second tier of Division I, since 2020. He guided the Tigers to a 27-5 record and back-to-back Southwestern Athletic Conference championships.

The Tigers beat Southern University 43-23 in the SWAC championship game Saturday in Jackson, and a few hours later Colorado announced he was coming to Boulder. Neither Sanders nor his players spoke to reporters after Saturday’s game. A SWAC spokesman said the team had left Veterans Memorial Stadium and returned to campus for a team meeting.

In an on-field interview played over JSU’s home field public address system, Sanders referred to the Tigers’ upcoming Celebration Bowl appearance and said, “We still have one more to go, and we will finish.”

Sanders told his team after the game he had accepted another job, but intended to coach Jackson State (12-0) in the Celebration Bowl for historically Black colleges on Dec. 17 in Atlanta against Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference champion North Carolina Central.

“In coaching you either get elevated or you get terminated,” Sanders told his team. “There ain’t no graveyard for coaches where they die at the place. They either going to run you off or you going to walk off.”

Sanders talked about the dearth of Black head coaches at the highest levels of college football and trying to be a catalyst for change.

“It’s not about a bag,” Sanders said. “It’s about an opportunity.”

Sanders figures to bring a few players along with him — possibly even his son, quarterback Shedeur Sanders, a 6-foot-2 sophomore at Jackson State who threw 36 touchdown passes this season and just six interceptions.

When he moved to Jackson State in 2020, Sanders called the fit “a match made in heaven,” and quickly lifted the school in Mississippi’s capital.

The performance of Jackson State was significant beyond earning its first conference title since 2007: It made a program that has produced Hall of Famers such as Walter Payton, Lem Barney, Jackie Slater and Robert Brazile relevant again among HBCUs, and Sanders was determined to keep it that way.

The arrival of Sanders raised Jackson State’s visibility. They were on the cover of Sports Illustrated in July — a feature on how Sanders rebuilt the program — and saw ESPN’s “College GameDay” pay a visit to Jackson State in October. Sanders also appeared on “60 Minutes” in a profile story.

Sanders has scored big on the recruiting trail, landing five-star defensive back Travis Hunter and four-star receiver Kevin Coleman for this year’s squad. Sanders told The Associated Press in an October podcast that both players chose JSU because he and his staff will prepare them for careers in the NFL.

Jackson State athletic director Ashley Robinson said in a statement Sanders “challenged norms and transformed mindsets of what was perceived to be possible to create new visions for success while inspiring the community and creating a spotlight on the HBCU sports and culture.”

Sanders told the team he was recommending to Robinson and the Jackson State administration that receivers coach T.C. Taylor be the next head coach.