When Deion Sanders was named the 21st football coach at Jackson State on Sept. 21, 2020, the Pro Football Hall of Famer was very candid and matter of fact in his goals for a program that had not witnessed its historic winning tradition since 2013.
Sanders said he wanted to level the playing field at JSU and historically Black colleges and universities, create a “navigation system” that led players to the NFL, recruit “game changers,” change the game “in the blink of an eye” and celebrate when the program scored. Those were only some of earliest sayings from Sanders.
Three years later, Jackson State (12-0) sits hours away from its second appearance in the Celebration Bowl—a clash between the MEAC and SWAC champions—on Saturday afternoon in Atlanta and a matchup that will be featured on ABC in primetime hours. This campaign, JSU recorded its first undefeated season in program history after going 11-2 in the 2021 campaign and losing in the Celebration Bowl to South Carolina State a year ago.
Numerous players have received national FCS awards and recognition while the program has seen players earn postseason bowl game opportunities, countless media and television exposure as well as one player—Lions’ James Houston—from the program selected in the 2022 NFL draft while others earned free agent opportunities. However, when Sanders announced that he would leave the legendary HBCU program for the bottom-shelf Pac-12 program in Colorado, it created mixed feelings and emotions from those deeply rooted in the HBCU landscape.
Ahead of the Saturday’s bowl game, Sanders addressed the opinions saying that he did “everything” he wanted to do with the program and exceeded expectations. However, he told reporters that when he does not “fit into someone else’s plan and purpose,” “dysfunction” and “tension” comes. That required him to have a “real conversation” with the Lord about his future.
“Never once did I say they’re gonna put a tombstone with my name on it at Jackson State,” Sanders said. “But when I don’t fit into someone else’s plan and purpose, that is ridiculed… You just forgot about my plan, and God’s plan. That’s where the dysfunction comes.
“At what point do we keep dominating, that you don’t get mad at us… because it’s a level of dominance when you start to turn. And I felt that we start to get tension from our own people, because you’re dominant. … But it comes a time that that’s not what it’s all about for me. I’m a winner. I’ve always won. I’m gone win.”
Sanders also alluded to the idea of wanting the program to play in another conference and embrace his empowerment for change. However, he said that he cannot fully live his purpose by being a “football coach” and winning games.
“I’m a football coach and a darn good one,” Sanders said. “Name one thing in football that we haven’t accomplished that I said we would. But it’s bigger than that. And until we address these underlying issues that nobody wants to talk about, ain’t nothing go change.
“I’m a change agent. When we leave, you’re gonna find out what all we did. Because they don’t really talk about the positivity ‘til we go. You gone find out what all we did for Jackson State and all we wanted to do for Jackson State. I just pray to God that in all our getting… get some understanding, on change, and where change really starts. It does not start in the football department.”
Sanders was introduced as Colorado’s new football coach on Dec. 4. He is slated to earn $29.5 million over five years, not including potential bonuses and incentives, according to The Clarion Ledger. The contract is the largest financial package ever given to a CU football coach, athletic director Rick George told the Denver Post.
By 2024, Sanders’s compensation increases to $5.7 million, then to $5.9 million in ’25, $6.1 million in ’26 and $6.3 million in ’27. In addition, Sanders will receive $5 million to assemble his assistant coaches and support staff.