On the eve of the Celebration Bowl and his last game as Jackson State head coach, Deion Sanders affirmed that he accomplished everything he set out to for the football program and beyond.
After turning HBCU football on its head by challenging the way in which Black colleges were perceived in mainstream circles while also transforming Jackson State into an on-field and multimedia force by landing blue-chip athletes and national attention exposure over three seasons, Sanders agreed to be the next head coach at Colorado.
After accepting the Colorado position two weeks ago, there was a myriad of discussion of whether Sanders — who championed elevating not only Jackson State but HBCUs as a whole — had completed his personal mission before abruptly bolting to a lucrative Power Five job.
“Never once did I say they were going to put a tombstone with my name on it at Jackson State,” Sanders said. “So, I wasn’t gonna die here. “Everything I said I would do here I did. Everything I said I wanted to have happen, I tried my darndest to make it happen. We’ve exceeded expectations in some realm.”
Sanders, who has led Jackson State to back-to-back SWAC championships and consecutive appearances in the Celebration Bowl, confronted the candid criticism that he had somehow abandoned HBCUs by not remaining at Jackson State longer.
“But when I don’t fit into someone else’s plan and purpose now there is ridicule, he said. You forgot about my plan and God’s purpose. That’s where the dysfunction comes. I reached a point where I said to myself We are going to recruit another great recruiting class and we’re and (successor) T.C. (Taylor) will, and we will win again.
“At what point do we dominate that you don’t get mad at us for dominating? Because there is a level of dominance where you start to turn and I felt that. You start to get tension from our own people because you’re dominant.”
Sanders’ Tigers are 12-0 and face MEAC champion North Carolina Central on Saturday, attempting to win the school’s first Black National Championship since 1996.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer, however, said that winning football games doesn’t necessarily define his mission. Sanders explained his purpose has always been about raising the profile of the university and cultivating a welcoming experience for the student body, not just football players.
“I would love to go to another conference. Is the baseball team ready? Are the basketball teams ready? Or just the football team? Is the rest of the school ready,” Sanders asked. “The things I want to accomplish I can’t accomplish by being a football coach and winning games. I reached a point where I had a real conversation with the Lord. There is so much I can’t do because that’s not my occupation.”
Sanders also hinted that he desired to do more but could only do so much being a football coach.
“I’m a football coach and a darn good one,” he said. “Name one thing in football that we haven’t accomplished that I said we would. “But it’s bigger than that. Until we address these underlying issues that no one wants to talk about ain’t nothing gonna change. I’m a change agent. That’s what I’m all about.
“When we leave, you are going to find out what we did for Jackson State and all we did for Jackson State.”