Deion Sanders' transition from player to coach has been seamless. In just his second season at Jackson State, he led the program to an 11-2 record.
Although he has been awfully successful on the field, "Coach Prime" has dealt with his share of adversity away from the gridiron. This past fall, he unfortunately suffered complications from toe surgery. It has been a lengthy recovery process for the Hall of Famer, but thankfully he's inching closer to 100 percent.
In fact, Sanders felt strong enough to participate in the third-annual Bassmaster Classic Celebrity Fishing Tournament this week.
We caught up with Deion Sanders to discuss his time at the Academy Sports + Outdoors’ 2022 Bassmaster Classic Celebrity Fishing Tournament, recovery process, first two years at Jackson State and much more.
This interview is presented by Academy Sports + Outdoors’ 2022 Bassmaster Classic Celebrity Fishing Tournament.
The Spun: Tell me a bit about Academy Sports + Outdoors’ 2022 Bassmaster Classic Celebrity Fishing Tournament. Why did you choose to participate in the event?
Deion Sanders: First of all, I love to fish - you know that. Just partnering with a brand that has the quality they do – they’re well-known and I’ve utilized it anyway – [is great]. This is my second year. Last year in Texas was phenomenal. Actually, my team won – my team usually wins. This year, my son, Travis Hunter and some of my coaches were here. We had a blast, man.
The Spun: How do you compare your mindset on the water compared to when you’re out there on the sideline?
DS: Well, it’s not that different. It takes a tremendous team effort, it takes an accumulation of many moving parts to be consistent so you can get the victory. This is fun, man. This is something that we love to do. You don’t need to compensate us. We love fishing and we love the competitiveness of it.
The Spun: There was a clip from the 'Coach Prime' series that showed your message to the players before a procedure. How much did that connection with the team help you throughout that process?
DS: It was the toughest time of my life. To start something so phenomenal [coaching at Jackson State] and then have the enemy pop in and disrupt the progress. Thankfully, we instilled structure, we instilled togetherness and unity. So when I had to miss a month, we were still disciplined. It was one of the toughest times of my life, truly.
The Spun: You managed to land the top recruit in the country in Travis Hunter. What was your reaction to him officially joining the program?
DS: It was tremendous. Hats off to the entire coaching staff and the people at Jackson State. He came down to an official visit, I think it was Homecoming. The last thing you want to do is allow a kid to come to an HBCU Homecoming. As a matter of fact, you need to come to an HBCU Homecoming so you can see what it transpired. Just the communication and him seeing a collection of 60,000 African-American people in one place was something to behold. It’s something that floored me. When I went to my first press conference, I was floored by seeing my people support me. But landing Travis, I’m not surprised. That’s like asking me if I was surprised that Santa dropped off something under the tree for me. No, I was supposed to get something because I was a good kid [laughs]. I was thankful, though.
The Spun: Travis can play both sides of the football just like you. Do you think we’ll see him at cornerback and wide receiver?
DS: We want to put him in situations where he can win, where he can be successful. Not only do we want to do that for the 2022 season, but for his entire career at Jackson State. We want him to be extremely successful.
The Spun: I think we’ve reached the point where we can say HBCUs are attractive destinations for players and coaches. What’s next for HBCUs?
DS: We have to focus on the business aspect of it. We got the pageantry, we got the kids, and we got the outside interest we desire and deserve. Now, we need to take care of the business part. We need to make sure these kids are receiving the proper education, make sure they’re eating properly, make sure the normalcy of things that transpire at Power Five schools happen here and they happen expeditiously. The business aspect of things is something we need to jump on immediately.
The Spun: Shaquille O’Neal suggested that you should be the next head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. You made it clear you don’t want to coach in the NFL, but do you appreciate being mentioned for that job?
DS: Yes. First of all, it shows he’s watching and is well-aware of what we’re accomplishing at Jackson State. That’s a tremendous blessing not just for me, but for us. He’s a friend, and I’m thankful for him. We didn’t even discuss it. I’m thankful he mentioned me, but I have no desire to coach in the NFL.
The Spun: You’ve been adamant about not doing payday games because “All money isn’t good money.” If Jackson State continues to add talent the way it’s currently doing, would you change your stance?
DS: When I feel like it’s not just a money game, certainly. I feel like we’re super competitive and close. Your offensive lines and defensive lines need to be competitive. Skillset-wise, we can compete. We have linebackers, we have a great quarterback – most HBCUs don’t have one that can throw the ball that effectively. You have to look at things as a whole. What we’re trying to do is be dominant, and we want to perfect our craft before we package.
The Spun: What’s it like coaching Shedeur? And what improvements have you seen him make?
DS: He’s seeing the field better. He’s understanding the scheme and what we’re trying to accomplish. This is a kid directly out of high school being thrown into the spotlight. That doesn’t bother him whatsoever, though. He should see much more success moving forward. He’s a workaholic, he loves the game and he loves the pursuit of greatness. I can’t wait to see what he accomplishes next season.
The Spun: Have you thought about bringing in Tom Brady as a guest speaker?
DS: Well, I don’t think you bring Tom Brady in. I think Tom Brady brings you in [laughs]. That’s the difference. You can bring Wayne Brady in, but Tom Brady brings you in.
The Spun: I remember you brought up how people should treat you the way they treat other coaches. Do you feel like that message has gotten across to the media?
DS: What you’re referring to, that was just someone being disrespectful. He had no idea we had a commercial on hand with one of the greatest coaches of all time addressing me as ‘Coach Prime.’ So I think that made him look like an idiot. We win in the end. I’m pretty sure if he’s even allowed at SWAC Media Day, I’ll welcome him. It’s no problem.
The Spun: You mentioned the greatest college football coach of all time. Have you received any pointers from Nick Saban?
DS: We were shooting a commercial for a couple of days. Anytime you’re around Coach Saban, you shut up and listen - and that’s what I did. I would just ask the next question to keep him going. He’s phenomenal. If there was a role model for coaches, he’s that guy.
The Spun: Do you coach with a chip on your shoulder because Power Five programs initially overlooked you?
DS: I don’t need motivation to get out of bed in the morning. I’m ready to be dominant, I’m ready to win. It’s nothing different now that I’m coaching. I don’t need someone to look past me to have a spark instilled in me. I’m good.
The Spun: How is your health? Are you feeling a lot better?
DS: Much better. I’m walking, slowly but surely. I should hit my stride by the first game. I should have my swagger back [laughs].
The Spun: What’s that next step for Jackson State in Year 3?
DS: We want to be dominant. We want to really be dominant. When you watch us play, we want you to leave from that television set saying, “Damn. I want to watch them in person. I want to visit the program and see how they do what they do.” We want to be the blueprint. We were good last year, we won last year. But there’s another level to attain, and that’s dominance.
Jackson State's football team should be considered must-see TV heading into the 2022 season. In addition to landing Travis Hunter, the program also signed four-star wideout Kevin Coleman and three-star cornerback Tayvion Beasley.
We'll see if "Coach Prime" can take the Tigers to new heights this fall.
You can read more of our interviews with athletes or media stars here.