10 Questions for Head Coach Deion Sanders at Jackson State
Deion Sanders knows how to make news.
It's a fact that hasn't been challenged since accepting the head coaching job at Jackson State last week.
He has already offered some of the nation's top prospects a scholarship in the class of 2021, including SI99 offensive tackle Amarius Mims, defensive tackle Maason Smith, Alabama commitment Khyree Jackson and even his son - Shedeur Sanders - who is currently committed to Florida Atlantic. Dozens of offers have gone out with prospects excited to hear from an HBCU led by the NFL Hall of Famer.
Additional buzz following Sanders' move to the collage ranks included a star-studded group of former NFL players rumored to be hired as assistant coaches, with former Dallas Cowboys teammate Emmitt Smith reaching out publicly in case 'Coach Prime' needed a running backs coach.
But soon, with JSU expected to play a spring football season in 2021, the task of building and maintaining a roster before competing in between the lines will take place like it will for any other collegiate program.
With the dust settling on the Sanders news, SI All-American has 10 questions for the rookie head coach:
1. What is he selling recruits on?
Every college football program and coaching staff has at least one “recruiting sell” that serves as its main message of appeal to recruiting. Whether its winning, tradition, specific academics at their institution, program culture, location of their university, coaching/player development, scheme fit or quickest path to the NFL, every staff/university prides itself on one -at the minimum- sell. Sanders should already have one, if not more, in particular to how he plans to recruit prospects and their families to JSU.
2. How does he specifically want to build his roster and recruit players to fit what schemes?
Sanders noted during his press conference that his staff is already in place, and they’ve even begun digital staff meetings and scheme installs amongst themselves for sometime before he got the JSU head job. As a head college coach, its imperative to determine before you take a job what kind of prospects do you want to build your roster with. Some coaches put a big emphasis on character and maturity, while other coaches stress size and athleticism. Does Sanders want prospects with higher floors or raw players with high ceilings? What type of offensive linemen does he want? Does he want true hand-down Edges, or does he prefer hybrids? Does he need a volume runner in the backfield, or does his OC need several lightning backs? These are just a few questions that he’ll need to determine quickly.
3. Will he flip his son, Shedeur Sanders, from FAU?
FAU has a commitment from QB Shedeur Sanders, the son of Coach Prime. It’s no secret how important the QB position is in football, and it's one of the SI All-American premium positions. With Coach Sanders serving as the OC at Cedar Hill (Texas) Trinity Christian, working personally with his son there and on the 7-on-7 circuit, the pair developing trust and sync as play-caller and QB. It's fair to pose if Sanders will try to get his son to sign with JSU to ensure himself a QB that he can not only develop, but perhaps build his overall program around. The younger Sanders is currently on board with Willie Taggart, who also has ties to Prime.
4. Who will be his recruiting coordinator on staff?
College head coaches have final say on their rosters, yet just about all of them assign Recruiting Coordinator duties and title to one of their assistants. This is an important role, as not only does the assistant coach need to run their own position room, they are also charged with coordinating the program’s recruiting efforts. This calls for an organized coach who is also a good evaluator, effective communicator and has immense connections on the recruiting trail. It will be interesting to see who Sanders tasks recruiting coordinator duties to on his staff at JSU, and if he also hires a Director of Player Personnel/Director of Recruiting to supplement his off-field staff.
5. What’s his overall vision for the program?
JSU is an FCS school that competes in the SWAC, the same conference of Grambling State. Some still view GSU as the face of HBCU football, as the Tigers endured tremendous success under former head coach and legend Eddie Robinson. It’s worth wondering if Sanders envisions leading JSU to success in the same fashion on a national scale, or does he want to simply build the program into being merely competitive again and maintain the graduation rate. JSU has not won the SWAC since 2007, and hasn’t won the SWAC East Division since 2013.
6. How will he leverage the resources of JSU with where he wants to go for players?
Resources for programs at the FCS level are not close to what FBS schools have at their disposal, including even non-Power 5 programs. Sanders played at an elite program at Florida State and spent 14 seasons experiencing the lavish resources available to NFL teams, plus his time at NFL Network/Barstool Sports, working with ESPN/Under Armor and his private resources. It’s fair to wonder if Sanders understands that JSU doesn’t have as much access and financial prowess to the level of resources he is used to. JSU likely has a smaller recruiting budget than many FBS schools, to which Sanders being able to get on the road (FCS head coaches are allowed to actively recruit, unlike FBS head coaches) to travel all over the country to recruit during certain active recruiting periods could prove to be tougher than he expects.
7. Can Deion focus on JSU coaching, recruiting and program development vs. his current branding interests?
Sanders has already said he isn't going to shy away from endorsement deals with Subway and other companies while leading the Tigers football program. Sure, many head coaches have endorsement deals and such, but Deion hasn't had to manage them while leading a program. Look, the two-sport pro standout knows a thing or two about time management, but now while holding such a day-in, day-out post like a head coaching gig in the FCS. Sanders is also involved in the media, joining Barstool Sports just last month.
8. Can he adjust to the college game not having ever coached above the prep level?
Maybe this should have been the first question. It's the simplest and perhaps most relevant considering the facts of his coaching experience. He has worked with a bevy of high-profile athletes and recruits, through his own camps, the Under Armour All-America Game and other events, but it's another ask to lead an entire FCS program that hasn't had a winning season since 2013. The brand is one thing, but it has never had a win-loss record attached to it, where coaches are often defined by it.
9. What type of leeway will JSU have with him when it comes to hiring assistants?
We mentioned the rumors of former NFL stars joining the JSU football staff, most have since been refuted. But Sanders doesn't seem like the type to hire many up-and-coming coaches without at least relative name recognition. Even if he does, what will the budget be for such an endeavor? More eyes will be on JSU than ever but can that compensate for a potential lack of compensation compared to other FCS or even FBS coaches?
10. If he doesn’t win early on, will the administration give him time?
This may be the most important question of all. Taggart got two years at Florida State before the win-loss record and overall product was too much to bear. The window for college coaches without that dramatic turnaround is literally smaller than it's ever been and the current JSU roster isn't among the best in the SWAC. The Tigers were 4-8 in 2019 and have exactly zero players on NFL rosters as of September 2020. Last year's offense was respectable, scoring just over 26 points per game while averaging 388.6 yards per game but the defense was dreadful. JSU gave up 35 points per game and averaged more than 400 yards each time out. The Tigers gave up more than 40 points in the final three games last year.
Edwin Weathersby II and John Garcia, Jr. contributed to this future.
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