Skip to main content
Publish date:

At Jackson State, Coach Prime gets the faithful ready to believe

It was 9:30 on a Monday morning, but it might as well have been a Sunday. There was a revival inside the Lee E. Williams Athletic and Assembly Center, and the religion was Jackson State football.

Inside, the faithful gathered to congregate with like-minded believers, to listen to music, and to hear the good news. The pastor rolled up to the stage in an Escalade, with his bust in the Pro and College football halls of fame and two Super Bowl rings at home, and his message that was a promise of better days to come. He even wore a new suit, double-breasted with Jackson State's logo custom stitched into the interior lining.

If you think I've stretched this metaphor beyond its breaking point, you didn't watch Deion Sanders' introductory rally on Monday. In his first public comments as Jackson State's new head coach, Sanders structured his message around the program's new "I Believe" mantra, complete with a call-and-response format.

"I believe the men I looked in the eyes of in a Zoom call yesterday can win SWAC championships," Sanders said.

"I believe that the coaching staff we assemble will have professional playing and coaching experience together with mine can reach, teach, educate, inform and lead these kids to excellence. I'm fortunate enough to believe. Do you believe?

"I believe that stadium gets 30,000, which is wonderful for an HBCU, but it holds 60,000. I believe that we can fill it. I love the way you tailgate, I love the tradition, but I believe we can now get your butt in the stadium and watch this team win.

"I believe that a child that has D1 potential or Power 5 potential that they can now choose Jackson State," he continued, the crowd getting more and more into it with each one.

"I believe that our coaching staff is going to go into every hood, every barbershop, every soul food joint, every nook and cranny and recruit these dogs, because we have 99 players that have been drafted into the NFL. I believe under my watch we're going to have 100.

"I believe, with your help, with your assistance, that we can be a pillar of all HBCUs," Sanders continued, his voice rising and falling, his cadence slowing and quickening.

"I believe each and every one of you, without a shadow of a doubt -- I don't care if it's 3rd-and-5, we're down by six at our 20, you've got to believe that we're going to march down there," he said, pausing as the crowd roared. "You've got to believe that we can accomplish the unattainable... If you don't believe you can make it to the NFL, you picked the wrong school. We need some dogs that truly believe. Now do you believe?

"I believe that we will ever settle for mediocrity ever again. If you believe, say I believe," he said

"I BELIEVE!" the crowd responded.

Now, to be clear, Jackson State took a risk by making Coach Prime (to use his preferred title) their head coach. He's never spent a day as a college football coach -- in any position, at any level. His last foray into executive leadership -- Prime Prep Academy -- ended after three years, a revoked charter and multiple investigations. The Dallas Morning News called it a "spectacular collapse."

Deion's coaching experience amounts to serving as offensive coordinator at a Dallas-area private school. There's nothing there that guarantees he's got a blueprint for Jackson State to climb back atop one of the most competitive conferences in FCS.

If this move fails, it won't fail in a way that normal coaching hires fail. It will fail with flair.

But, if you're Jackson State, why not swing for the fences?

We're in an era where the CEO coach reigns supreme in college football. Who would have imagined in 2008 that Dabo Swinney would one day lead the sport's premier program? Who would have imagined in 2016 Ed Orgeron would, within four years, lead LSU to a national title? Who would have imagined Herm Edwards walking straight out of an ESPN studio into instant success at Arizona State?

There are a lot of conventional coaches who may or may not win in a conventional way at Jackson State. There is one Deion Sanders. Personality sells, and Jackson State is betting recruits that otherwise wouldn't have given JSU the time of day are now ready to buy.

Today's teenagers won't remember his exploits with the 49ers and the Cowboys. They won't remember the minds he blew at Florida State, his double-dipping with the Falcons and the Braves at the same time, his running a 4.2 in street shoes, and all the excesses that came with it -- but their parents will. Recruits will know him as a talking head on NFL Network for as long as they can remember and, more recently, as a personality at Barstool Sports. (Speaking of Barstool, will that arrangement continue? Great question! We don't know; Deion didn't take questions at the rally.)

To hear Jackson State's administrators, the school was gained as much from the merging of its brand with Coach Prime's as the coach himself.

"We have an opportunity that most HBCUs simply do not come across. One of the most formidable forces in football, Deion Sanders, Coach Prime, is on board to lead this program and increase the notoriety of JSU. This is the day where Deion Sanders and the JSU football program become one," acting president Thomas Hudson said.

"I told the team I would find the best possible candidate and not leave one stone unturned. This was truly a national search, and it was evident pretty quickly that we had one prime candidate rise to the top of the list," JSU AD Ashley Robinson said. "He's a man who can enhance and refine the skills of our players. Not only on the football field, but in the classroom, the community. Our coach will turn our student-athletes into great men that will be leaders we'll see tomorrow.

"You're going to have a coach for life in Deion Sanders."

For a program that dominated the SWAC from the 1980s through the mid-90s -- 10 SWAC championships in 17 years -- but hasn't won the conference in 13 seasons and has since seen three straight coaches leave with losing records, it's easy to see why they believe Coach Prime can their Tigers from mediocrity to excellence through the sheer force of his charisma.

It worked to perfection on Monday. We don't know what offense Coach Prime's Tigers are going to run, what defensive front they'll play, what type of kid they're looking for in recruiting. But we do know they won the press conference, and they won that thing 70-0.

"We're going to give these kids exposure. We're going to put a light on these kids. We're going to light up and shine. But you've got to understand that causes them to shine is the same light that shows their blemishes. So I want y'all ready. I hope you're prepared, and I hope you're able. Because I have a commitment to excellence in each and every thing I do. We're going to win, and we're going to have a good time while we win," he closed. "I believe that this is going to be a marriage made in heaven, and I cannot wait to get started. Do you believe?

"WE BELIEVE!"

"I'm going to ask you one last time. Do.. you... believe?"

"WE BELIEVE!"