CHICAGO – One of the biggest hires in HBCU football history has paid off in a major way for Jackson State.
Deion Sanders was named the 2021 recipient of the Stats Perform FCS Eddie Robinson Award, which is presented to the national coach of the year in the Division I subdivision.
One of 17 finalists for the award, which is named for legendary Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson and celebrating its 35th anniversary season, Sanders will be honored at the FCS National Awards Banquet on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.
Just over a year after the school made the legendary cornerback a first-time head coach, the Tigers have set a program record with 11 wins and captured the Southwestern Athletic Conference title for the first time since 2007. The Tigers have qualified for the Celebration Bowl for the first time, set to face South Carolina State on Saturday in Atlanta.
“This is a team effort, it’s a valiant effort, it takes a lot, it does not just take me. I know it takes a visionary, but people have to really support the vision. And that’s what we did,” Sanders said.
Sanders was also named SWAC Coach of the Year earlier this month.
After Jackson State hired Sanders in September 2020, he quickly instituted an “I Believe” mantra to suggest positive days were ahead for a program that didn’t have a winning season since 2013.
In his first campaign this past spring, the Tigers went 4-3, but one win was a forfeit. This fall, they’ve left no doubt, losing only once by five points to an FBS opponent, even while the 54-year-old Sanders, coached in and around a three-week hospital stay while recovering from foot surgery.
With Sanders’ son Shedeur, a freshman quarterback, leading the offense as the 2021 Jerry Rice Award recipient, and the defense ranking as the SWAC’s best, Jackson State has gone 11-1, including 9-0 against conference opponents. While it’s unfolded, an average of 42,293 fans flocked to six home games – a single-season record for an FCS school.
Prior to winning the award, Sanders had already earned respect for his coaching prowess.
He had been a rumored candidate for the vacant TCU job and several former high-profile college stars pined for him to take over a Power Five program.
“He (Sanders) is going to take his team to levels that they’ve never been before,” said Lousiana-Monore coach Terry Bowden.