JACKSON, MS — About last night. A strange atmosphere surrounded Jackson State the entire day. For three seasons, former head football coach Deion Sanders was the Hero of Jackson and Champion of all HBCU Sports.
It all changed after a speech, missed press conference, and flight to Boulder, Colorado.
Today, we have the Prime Exit to embrace.
"Either in coaching, you are elevated, or you get terminated," Sanders said. "Either they're going to run you off, or you're going to walk off. I've chosen to accept the job elsewhere next year. I'm going to finish what we started. We're going to dominate. I'm going to be here to that end, that conclusion. Then at that conclusion, we're going to move on."
Thus, he's gone.
Coach Prime was long gone before he boarded the University of Colorado's chartered jet headed to Boulder.
His team defended its SWAC Championship title for a second-straight season against Southern in a 42-24 effort. For someone who thrives on the energy of the people, especially the media, he elected not to attend the SWAC-sanctioned postgame press conference.
Following the 2021 SWAC Championship victory over Eric Dooley's Prairie View team, he criticized certain media "in and outside the room" for not "believing we [Jackson State] would be here." Meaning winning the SWAC.
The irony of not facing the press was staggering. But less than an hour later, he posted his exit speech to the football team.
Sanders, Jackson State, and partly Colorado fumbled the ball with the awkward exit he had after receiving his second-straight SWAC Football Championship Trophy. On stage, he requested for the presentation to speed along by waving his arm in a clockwise fashion.
Coach Prime wasn't overjoyed like last season while hugging his girlfriend Tracey Edmonds, son Shedeur Sanders, and athletic director Ashley Robinson. Instead, this year, it felt uncomfortable that even several audience members near me on the field cited the tension.
Sanders stood on one side of the stage with Athletic Director Ashley Robinson, and President Hudson positioned himself on the other with Commissioner Dr. McClelland.
One person said, "I don't care. I will miss him." Another, "It don't matter, he's gone."
Perhaps the most unforgettable remark I heard was from one of the JSU players. "He told me we would win. We did. He never said he was staying forever." All true.
For years, a majority of media professionals reported on the Jackson State football program before Coach Prime's arrival. And in three seasons since, quite a few have covered and promoted the team, his, and the JSU brand. With this in mind, Coach Prime refusal to attend was unlike how he embraced today's press conference in Colorado.
TENSION WAS RISING
Saturday morning, there was a weird vibe across Jackson, Mississippi. Fresh off Friday night's breaking news of Coach Prime's acceptance of Colorado's offer, the fans and attendees "couldn't get right" for the game. The Vet slowly filled and the chatter was muted.
Compared to the 2021 SWAC Football Championship game, The Vet's and tailgaters' tone was bland, like an unseasoned brisket or gumbo.
The icing on the cake was when the JSU fans started to sing King George's Keep on Rollin [One Monkey Don't Stop No Show] song during the game to Coach Prime.
The tension was thicker than the humidity inside the press box.
The rumored estrangement between him and Shilo gained credibility at his first press conference in Boulder. "The safety made me mad," Sanders remarked. "So I didn't bring him. His brother [Shedeur's], he's in my doghouse right now." Airing the dirty laundry already?
Family tension isn't new, but the alleged animosity between Sanders and Hudson may have brought us to this point.
Recall the "Either they're going to run you off, or you're going to walk off" statement.
The Tigers' season may have ended a perfect regular season and won the penultimate game before the Celebration Bowl, but the setting is far from perfect.
I agree partly that Coach Prime left Jackson State in better shape than when he first landed in Jackson, MS, on Sept. 21, 2020. 2021 was their first complete winning season since 2013. The number of wins, host of accolades, and honors is without question significant for Sanders and Jackson State. Yet, why does this hollowness exist?
His mission was clear from Day One. Win and Dominate!
However, one win eludes him upon his exit — the Celebration Bowl. Last season, Buddy Pough and South Carolina State stole their hearts on the field at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Bulldogs were crowned the 2021 HBCU Football National Champions as the highly-favored Jackson State Tigers sulked in their locker room.
It has loomed large over JSU since. Star linebacker Aubrey Miller said, "I cried" after losing. He returned to win the 2022 Celebration Bowl, although will Coach Prime be on the sidelines?
After witnessing today's joyfulness at the University of Colorado announcement, would athletic director Robinson and president Hudson want him to represent Jackson State at the contest? We shall see.
Deion Sanders, love him or not, has a big heart and ego. Most confident superstars have narcissistic tendencies, so I've been told. But that's another story.
He said God brought him to Jackson State. Only he and God are sure he accomplished the mission.
Naysayers are razzing Sanders. He championed that HBCUs weren't inferior to PWIs and joined one. The duplicity of the message is a problem for many.
With him, the spotlight on HBCUs shined, and some critical issues have been addressed. He's been an outstanding ambassador for HBCUs; now it's someone else's turn.
AS COACH PRIME
Coach Prime has an 84.4% college head coaching record, including two-straight seasons being undefeated in the SWAC. By all standards, his winning percentage is outstanding compared to his peers.
He deserves a second FCS Eddie Robinson Coach of the Year award. Nonetheless, the subtle asterisk stands — no Celebration Bowl win — and possibly, no longer patrolling the JSU sideline. As expected, a few Jackson State players have already decided to enter the transfer portal.
It is improbable Sanders will ever don the blue, red, and white of Jackson State again. Especially with the overflowing tensions brewed between him and the administration.
COULD IT HAVE BEEN DIFFERENT?
Rumors of a power struggle over a lack of financial resources between Sanders and the administration have existed since last season. The coach would have his "where's money" type comments regarding how the institution and Jackson, Mississippi businesses benefitted from the Tigers football program.
Hudson went on record in an interview with The Clarion-Ledger, noting that after signing Coach Sanders, the school had millions in new revenue entering the school. More puzzling was when Deion Sanders committed half his salary to complete renovations of the football team's new locker room and complex.
On Friday, I listened to a person from the Chamber of Commerce tell a WLBT reporter that Jackson businesses were projected to earn between $6M to $7M due to the SWAC Football Championship game.
Jackson State Football was a "cash cow" where community financial leaders and businesses could have interceded to alleviate most of the issues Sanders posed about his situation and his assistant coaches' economic concerns.
IN THE END
President Hudson and Deion Sanders most likely exchanged ideas and proposals regarding the future of Jackson State. They weren't able to come to terms. It is unfortunate.
The Hudson, Robinson, and Sanders trio could have propelled HBCU football to new heights. For now, it's grounded. Although, there's hope. Young coaches like Trei Oliver, Eric Dooley, Willie Simmons, Chennis Berry, Bubba McDowell, Vincent Dancy, and Eddie Robinson Jr. are on the rise. They, too, may have a voice and commitment to advance the HBCU football cause.
I like two coaches to replace Sanders. Dennis Thurman and Chennis Berry. Thurman knows the JSU culture, its players, and ran it well during Sanders' month-long hospitalization in 2021.
Berry recently won the 2022 SIAC Football Championship with a perfect 11-0 record before falling to Wingate in the NCAA Super Region II playoff game.
Other names like former NFL and college coach Herman Edwards have surfaced.
It takes a lot of work to replace a successful personality as Jackson State had in Deion Sanders. He's a once-in-a-generation or lifetime personality like his SWAC predecessors in Eddie Robinson, John Merritt, Jack Gaither, and Merino Casem.
Sanders will succeed. Coach Prime could have been an HBCU Legend. Only at this point, his HBCU exploits are just legendary.
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