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Deion Sanders Named Head Coach at Colorado: The Aftermath

Deion Sanders shocked all of college football on December 2nd when it was announced that he had accepted an offer to become the Head Football Coach at the University of Colorado Boulder.

This comes after Sanders spent the past three seasons as the Head Coach at Jackson State, an HBCU (historically Black colleges and universities) and FCS school, in Mississippi. 

“Primetime,” as many like to call him, has had success in every stage of his life. At Florida State, he was the best player on their football team while also playing baseball and running track. To no surprise, his collegiate success catapulted him to being drafted 5th overall in the 1989 NFL Draft and in the 6th round of the 1985 MLB Draft. In the NFL, he was one of the best defensive players in the game, winning numerous individual awards and two Super Bowl rings. He did all of this while also playing periodically in the MLB. It goes without saying that if you are having a debate about the greatest athletes in sports history, Deion Sanders has to be in the conversation.

Of course, his athletic achievements don’t instantly make him a good coach, but they do make him an appealing coach. If you ignore all the X’s and O’s of football for a second and compare Sanders to other collegiate coaches, he stands out. After all, Deion Sanders is an incredibly prominent figure. If you are a top recruit and your final decision comes down to Sanders or an older but legendary coach, most people would actually choose Sanders because, well, he’s Deion Sanders. He is a massive draw.

Before we look at Colorado in a football sense to illustrate Sanders’ impact off the field, let’s examine the Buffaloes’ social media statistics since his hiring. He was hired on December 2nd, and as of December 7th, their social media platforms saw a follower increase of 175,000 people. That’s absurd for a college football team. Moreover, their season ticket interest is skyrocketing and their merchandise is selling for record numbers. This goes beyond just football success for the school—the whole institution is thriving.

Now to football. The Buffaloes finished 1-11 in 2022, good for last in the Pac-12. They need to establish a culture and identity, but more than anything, they need the talent to compete with the USC’s and Oregon’s of the world. Sanders’ son Shedeur, Jackson State’s QB during the past season, will be transferring to Colorado; no doubt an improvement, as Shedeur was one of the best signal-caller’s in the FCS.

Moreover, a video went viral shortly after the announcement in which Sanders was telling the current Colorado team that he is “bringing my luggage with me… and it’s Louis,” in reference to many of his Jackson State players and their talent. Since that clip, last year’s top recruit, Travis Hunter, a five-star who shocked the world choosing an HBCU and FCS school over Florida State and other college football “blue bloods,” will be following Deion to Boulder. He headlines a transfer class that ranks 4th in the nation according to 247Sports. In addition to Hunter, Sanders secured the commitment of the #1 ranked DB in this year's class, Cormani McClain, who flipped his commitment from Miami to Colorado. Sanders has now secured the top DB in back to back classes. That’s quite the accomplishment.

If Sanders can change the culture like he did at Jackson State and continue to bring in more and more elite talent, Colorado will be competitive sooner rather than later. 

Despite the promise in Boulder, however, Sanders is facing criticism for leaving Jackson State. Throughout his time in Mississippi, Sanders made a point about letting everyone know about how he had completely revamped that program and athletic department. He gave the school a swagger and stretch of success that they hadn’t seen in a long time. He beat out the Alabama's, Georgia’s, and Florida State’s of the world for the top recruit in high school football as the coach of an HBCU. He made history.

Because of this, though, many feel he shouldn’t have left—and I’ll be honest, that was my initial reaction as well. I thought, “He constantly talked about how he was going to make Jackson State into a football powerhouse just to leave a few years later?” 

Hopefully, the culture he created and coaches he mentored are able to maintain the success that Sanders had at Jackson State. In a broader sense as well, we should all hope that he inspired many prominent athletes and figures to invest their time and money into HBCU athletics. Unfortunately, however, the early returns aren’t great. 

Another NFL Hall of Famer, former Ravens and University of Miami safety Ed Reed, recently accepted the head coaching job at Bethune-Cookman University, an HBCU in Florida. This seemingly marked the next NFL great having a positive impact on HBCU athletics. However, the optimism was short-lived after Reed announced that the University would not ratify his contract after he had criticized the school on social media for not cleaning his office. Shortly after Reed’s announcement, Emmanuel Acho tweeted out a video in which Reed conveyed his feelings of anger and disappointment.

Ultimately, Deion Sanders’ time at Jackson State has shown the possibility for more athletes to bring their expertise to HBCU athletics. As seen with Reed, we can expect that more people will try and recreate Sanders’ success, yet it will be a difficult task— one that requires a school that is willing to take a chance like Jackson State did with Coach Prime.

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