There is no argument that Jackson State University (JSU) football has benefitted immeasurably from the hiring of Deion Sanders as head football coach. In a year and a half, the team went from being a mediocre team to arguably the best in Black college football. (We are not discounting JSU’s defeat in the Celebration Bowl. South Carolina State won it fair and square. We are simply saying that it was arguably the best last year, but that South Carolina State University had a coach, Oliver “Buddy” Pough, who did an outstanding job in producing a game plan and making the half-time adjustments necessary to overcome the weaknesses of JSU’s excellent team.)
Coach Prime assembled and molded a team that was reminiscent of many that had played under coaches John Merritt, Bob Hill, W.C. Gorden, James Carson, and Rick Comegy. In a single season, the team emerged to win the SWAC championship, defeating every single conference team it played.
We say assembled and molded because nearly one-third of the players transferred after having initially selected other big-name predominantly white colleges. Nearly a dozen others transferred from community colleges. Clearly, it was no easy matter to have these players come together as a team in such a short period of time. This means that a great deal of credit must go to the coaching staff, including Michael Pollock, Jason Phillips, Dennis Thurman, and T.C. Taylor. They made it happen.
At the same time, it was the drawing power of Sanders that caused many of the players to choose JSU over other colleges. It is that factor that we refer to as “the Coach Prime Effect.” In addition to players transferring from other colleges and junior college players, there are many high school players, such as Travis Hunter, who are delighted to play for the likes of Deion Sanders. This may be a widespread raising of consciousness.
Since the days that the courts ordered the desegregation of the historically white colleges, many Black people have watched and bemoaned the decline of Black college football. A few truly-gifted Black high school players, such as Steve McNair, Jerry Rice, Walter Peyton, and Doug Williams, have gone against the grain and attended Black colleges, proving that it is the talent of the player – not the college to which one goes – that is the key to football life after college. On the other hand, more and more such Black players have chosen to go to the likes of LSU, Ole Miss, Alabama, Notre Dame, and Southern California. This has happened, not because these predominantly white colleges are more culturally open, more racially welcoming, or otherwise a better fit than Black colleges. As many Black people know, it is because the large white colleges have more “incentives” to offer Black players. These incentives often include jobs and housing for the parents of the players. They include extra money, jobs, automobiles, and entertainment. They have the networks to carry it out without being exposed as violations of NCAA regulations.
If, and when, parents, Black college alumni, and other significant Black people use their influence, they could help steer these young players to Black colleges. The youngsters could come to realize that their chances of getting seen and being drafted by NFL personnel are just as great as were the chances of Donald Driver, Ashley Ambrose, Jackie Slater, Buck Buchanan, Mel Blount, and others. Young players could be shown that they are more appreciated as students and human beings at Black colleges; that the Black college is a more natural home in terms of their history, politics, and culture.
Over the years, the white colleges’ wealth has enabled them to hire more coaches, secure more resources, and provide more financial assistance compared to the Black colleges. That helps create the myth of how good they are. This draws in Black players, requiring the overwhelming influence of trusted Black adults and role models if a difference is made as to where they chose to go.
If the Coach Prime Effect could be duplicated at Alcorn, Valley, Grambling, Southern, Howard, Tennessee State, and other Black colleges, it could, over a period of time, rebuild Black college football. Furthermore, it would not be long before the Black colleges could match and defeat the white colleges. It is the talents of Black players that enable Alabama, West Virginia, Oregon, UCLA, and other white colleges to win conference and national championships. These same players could be transforming the Black colleges and their programs, making them conference and national champions.
Too often, however, Black adults – football fans, parents, and role models – are deluded and “buy into” the myth of white superiority, even when it comes to college football. They think that Alabama is great because it is Alabama rather than Tuskegee; that LSU is great because it is LSU rather than Grambling; that Ole Miss is great because it is Ole Miss rather than Alcorn. No thought is given to the presence of the Black players who could be making Tuskegee, Grambling, and Alcorn these national champions. These white colleges are who they watch and root for. They then proceed to encourage the literal selling of Black players as if they are thorough-bred animals who can make the white colleges look good and keep up the façade.
The Coach Prime Effect can be used to reverse the trend that started in the late-1960s. Black adults, fans, coaches, and otherwise need to wake-up and make it happen. John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised their fists; Colin Kaepernick knelt on the sidelines; Lebron James spoke out repeatedly; and Deion Sanders came to JSU. It is beyond time for us to help spread the Coach Prime Effect, benefitting Black college football, raising it to where it belongs.