Just about everyone has heard of Deion Sanders. They may have called him “Neon Deion” or “Prime Time” at different stages of his career but he is a character that has transcended sports. In fact, he has transcended more than one sport – playing pro baseball as well as enjoying a successful career in the NFL.
But these days he goes by the name of “Coach Prime” and has quickly become the most well-known – and most famous – college football coach in the country. Never shy about letting everyone know about his many talents, Sanders has begun to forge a successful career on the side of a football field as well.
At the end of last year, Sanders was announced as the new head coach of the Colorado Buffaloes and anyone hoping that he would finally fall from his pedestal thought this would be a rare moment of failure. If you bet on college football you will know that his first season in Boulder has not gone entirely to plan. But it has not been too bad either. Coach Prime will obviously be aiming higher – but just what does make Deion Sanders so special?
Deion Sander’s success story has been told often over the last 30 or 40 years. He was one of the names in US sports in the 1980s and 90s but first burst onto the national scene as a student athlete at Florida State University. Sanders was a track and baseball star, as well as one of the finest college football players in the country.
Drafted by both the Atlanta Falcons of the NFL and the New York Yankees of the MLB, it is only surprising that he didn’t also attempt to win Olympic gold as well. There have been a number of big-name players that have switched from football and baseball and back again over the years – but Sanders is the only one to ever win a Super Bowl (he actually won two) as well as a World Series.
Forging His Own Path
We can assume that all that experience of winning is something very valuable for a coach to be able to draw on. But not many exceptional football players – he is regarded as the best cornerback of all time – then go on to become successful head coaches. Coach Prime has though.
His determination to do whatever he wanted to do and to completely believe that he was going to be successful has seen Sanders go from a gifted student athlete to one of the biggest names in pro sports. It now comes out in trusting absolutely in his abilities to coach football and make younger players better. He learned very early that he would have to rely on himself to make it – and it is fair to say that he has achieved that.
A Sense of Duty
At times in the 1990s, at the height of Prime Time Deion Sanders mania, he was sometimes criticized for being too flamboyant. Even by today’s standards, Sanders’ antics and passion stood out and met with displeasure from the more traditional fan bases of his two chosen pro sports. But even then, Sanders seemed to know what direction he needed to go in.
Sanders has retained that complete confidence in his abilities as he has progressed into the coaching world. Many people questioned his abilities when he first went to Jackson State, an HBCU, but he saw the position as his duty to share his knowledge and talents and help a school with a minuscule football budget make a name for itself.
Elevating the Community
But part of Sanders’ appeal and strengths as a coach is that he doesn’t just see his job as coaching football. At Jackson State, he soon realized just how much work there was to be done off the field, as well as with the players. Facilities were basic for the team and the city had a terrible record for crime and murders.
Sanders lobbied for games to be brought forward in the day to ensure the safety of his players and moved them into a hotel when the city was forced to deal with drinking water issues, not once but twice. He saw that he needed to highlight the way that HBCUs had been left behind while other schools had prospered as more money flowed into college football. That is why his decision to leave Jackson State in 2022 was met with dismay by so many of his fans.
A Higher Purpose
When he initially went to Jackson State, Sanders said that he had been told by God to go. He gave the same reason when he left to become the new Colorado Buffaloes head coach. Sanders obviously believes that but part of his move up the college football ladder is that he can see that he deserves it and that he can do more. It is the same qualities that he sees in his staff and players – especially the ones that he took with him to Boulder from Mississippi.
Although Sanders caught flak for leaving an HBCU, it is evident that he believes that he is doing his work to help the Black community. He has stated that it is more important what his players are doing in 10 or 15 years than whether they are winning championships now. That is undoubtedly true but, with Sanders, it feels like he really does believe that that is his purpose.
Work, Work, Work
Prime Time or Coach Prime, Sanders has always come across as too brash and too flashy to some. But there is one story that runs through all of his successes to date – and one that his former colleagues and teammates will all tell you about. And that is his work ethic.
Sanders has always worked harder than just about everyone else on the team and that is still evident today. That hard work has brought him much success and it would not be a surprise if he goes on to become one of the most successful college football coaches of all time – at Colorado or elsewhere.