A college head football coach is judged solely on "What have you done for me lately?" Nick Saban at Alabama had scattered calls for his retirement after an opening season loss at home to Texas and a weak victory at the University of South Florida (USF). This, despite having led Alabama to six national championships during his tenure. Deion Sanders is currently the most polarizing figure in the sport, and his current success infuriates his haters.
There are multiple categories of Deion haters. Some begrudged him for coaching success at Jackson State University (JSU), where he parlayed his fame and personality into recruiting success, including the number one prospect in the nation, Travis Hunter, who was expected to sign at Florida State University (FSU). Some saw that signing as an outlier, while others truly resented an HBCU landing a prospect they saw as rightfully theirs.
Then they said, "Deion can recruit, but can he win?" Coach Prime turned around a losing program and made JSU a winner, including an 11–1 season where they played for the Black National Championship in the Celebration Bowl. Sanders won the Eddie Robinson Award as college football's top coach.
Deion wasn't toiling in obscurity; as much as he walked the walk, he talked the talk. He was constantly on television, hyping his program and himself. Some rival coaches in the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) expressed jealousy, including Eddie Robinson, Jr. at Alabama State, who said, "He ain't SWAC; I'm SWAC!"
Love him or hate him, Sanders had the Tiger Woods effect on all of HBCUs. Every program in the SWAC and some outside made more money because of Deion. Stadiums filled up, television revenues grew, and in addition to hyping Jackson State University (and himself), Deion talked up HBCU programs and their historical significance. Though Sanders was a football and baseball star at Florida State, he earned his degree from Talladega College in Tuscaloosa, AL, an HBCU.
Deion called out the contracts several HBCUs had with various "Classics" that were culturally significant but financial busts for the schools. Schools were giving up more lucrative home games to play in a "Classic" at a neutral site. They were earning money for the host cities and promoters while losing revenue for the schools. He announced that JSU would no longer participate in the Southern Heritage Classic in Memphis, which made some people mad. The haters were growing.
“By the time we get back, we’re broke," said Sanders "We’re going to stop all that, just so y’all know. It’s got to be equitable for us at Jackson. We got to do business now. We got to quit playing games, we’re doing business.”
Deion brought Jackson State to the pinnacle of success, and then he left, signing a deal to coach at a primarily white institution (PWI), Colorado, that finished 1–11 the year before. Some saw it as doing what college coaches do: taking better jobs for more money. Others saw it as a betrayal of Jackson State, the SWAC, HBCUs, and Black people in general.
Sanders made it clear he was cleaning house, and he did. Many existing players at Colorado were encouraged to use the transfer portal and find a new home. Some who didn't leave voluntarily were cut from the team. At least 70 players left the program, all replaced by transfers and recruits. Sports Illustrated ran an article featuring criticism by Pittsburg coach Pat Narduzzi.
“That’s not what the [transfer portal] rule intended to be," said Narduzzi. "It was not to overhaul your roster. We’ll see how it works out, but that, to me, looks bad on college football coaches across the country."
The entire off-season was filled with news of Deion's recruiting success, including bringing his son Shedeur Sanders and former number one recruit Travis Hunter from Jackson State. Their first game was on the road at Texas Christian University (TCU), which played in the National Championship Game last season. Despite being as much as four touchdown underdogs, Sanders kept talking, predicting victory. He continually asked, "Do you believe?" Most people didn't but thought in a few years, Sanders might achieve success. Sanders kept saying, "We're coming," and now they've arrived.
In a thrilling offensive match, Colorado beat TCU 45–42, featuring standout performances from Shedeur Sanders and Travis Hunter. Those waiting for Sanders to fall on his face were greatly disappointed. Colorado soundly beat legendary program Nebraska at home the following week. Next up was rival Colorado State, where Sanders was attacked for wearing a hat and sunglasses during interviews. The game was closer than expected, with Colorado overcoming a 4th quarter 11-point deficit to win 43–35 in double overtime. The game was marred by ten personal fouls committed by Colorado State, including a late hit on Hunter, which resulted in him being taken to the hospital during the game, where he was diagnosed with a lacerated liver. They couldn't attack the coach, so they attacked the players.
Colorado's next opponents is number 5 ranked USC. The team will face the Trojans without one of their top players, Hunter, who will be out for a few games due to his injury. Chances are, Colorado will lose this game, as they did the Oregon game, and the Deion-hating celebration will continue.
College coaches across America are worried that Sanders can enter any recruit's living room and persuade him and his parents that Colorado is the place to be. Who would have thought we'd ever be describing the star-studded atmosphere at Colorado home games featuring NFL legends and entertainers, all related to Coach Prime? Deion's already achieved unbelievable success, which has mostly silenced his critics, but don't think they aren't lying in the cut, waiting to pounce.
Haters think that a few losses will finally shut Sanders up after a lifetime of athletic success accompanied by braggadocio. Did they miss the memo on this Hall of Famer?
Deion turned around a program that won a single game last year. They are now the most talked about college program in America. Their players are getting NIL money, Shadeur Sanders is showing up in KFC commercials, and the last game was preceded by a Lil Wayne concert. Sanders will continue to recruit, and his coaching staff is littered with people with success at the NFL level. Sanders will get players and has demonstrated the ability to motivate them. The haters will have their moments, but chances are Prime will have the last word.