When Jackson State hired Deion Sanders, the program didn't just hire a football coach. It hired a pop culture figure dating back darn near 30 years -- a Pro Football Hall of Famer, a former Major League Baseball player, a recording artist, a businessman, a television analyst, an education executive, a podcast host and a corporate pitchman. Jackson State wasn't just getting Coach Prime, it got every one of Deion's alter egos. (Well, let's hope he's done recording music.)
That's all part of the deal here. Good or bad, win or lose. He's still putting out two Barstool Sports podcasts a week, and he's still making deals.
In fact, USA Today's Jarrett Bell did a great job outlining just how much effort Deion puts into lining up marketing opportunities in this profile:
Like pretty much any and every coach, Deion Sanders has a whiteboard in his office at Jackson State. Yet the board mounted above the coffee maker and microwave, a few feet from his desk, is hardly typical. There are no X’s and O’s scribbled on the board to diagram plays.
Sanders’ board contains a list of 20 items — either generic products or the names of specific stores. These are marketing targets.
The whiteboard illustrates how much he recognizes the buzz about him can generate revenue for an underserved program seeking a wide range of upgrades.
The first item on the board: Insoles. Makes sense. The Tigers, like all athletes, need their footwear support.
Sanders’ board also includes items for "credit repair" (Is this a play on "starving students?"), "coffee" (I’m thinking there’s a tie-in to all-nighters before mid-term exams), "pain" medication (football is a collision sport) and as the coach noted, "tractor supply" (which I’m assuming might have been inspired by shoddy practice fields).
He wants his and/or Jackson State's brand everywhere. And I do mean everywhere.
But still: Item 5 on Sanders’ whiteboard? Condoms.
"The slogan is good," Sanders said. "It says, 'I’ve got you covered.' "
That’s going to takes some explaining.
"The reason that’s on there is because, what am I coaching right now? A bunch of young men," Sanders said.
Deion would go on to say he got the idea when one of his players returned from a team break having met his son for the first time. "We’ve got to teach these kids how to practice safe sex," he said.
This right here explains what makes Deion so, well, so Deion. Is this marketing, is this mentorship, or is this both? Is he selling Jackson State or his he selling himself? Or is he selling Jackson State through selling himself? Is the Jackson State job just an avenue for Deion and his marketing team -- he's a client of SMAC Entertainment, co-owned by Michael Strahan, an HBCU product himself -- to push Coach Prime to a new audience, or is the ultimate goal to enrich Jackson State football?
Honestly, who can even tell where the line is? Deion is a master at intertwining his desire to mentor young men with his business interests. Where does one begin and the other end? You tell me.
And while we're having this conversation, it appears Jackson State's spring season is done. His recruiting has been off-the-charts good, but his first season will end at 3-3 (last Saturday's victory over Alcorn State was a forfeit) with a three-game losing streak. With four and a half months until the opener of Jackson State's fall 2021 campaign, will his mind be on his team or his business?
In Deion's mind, those two are likely one and the same. In December of 1994, he released his first and only original hip hop album, Prime Time. That same year, he hit .342 and stole 38 bases for the Atlanta Braves, won the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award, and helped the San Francisco 49ers win the Super Bowl. Considering that's the lived experience we're dealing with here, coaching is trying to line up a condom sponsorship and trying to line up a coaching sponsorship is coaching.