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Deion Sanders leaves Jackson State for Colorado

Coach Deion Sanders (right) speaks with Jackson State cornerback De'Jahn Warren at Saturday night's Southwestern Athletic Conference title game. In three seasons at Jackson State, Sanders only lost five games.Rogelio V. Solis/Associated Press

Deion Sanders, the swashbuckling former NFL star who in his first stint as a college coach shaped Jackson State into a head-turning team, will take over the football program at Colorado, the university announced Saturday.

In three seasons at Jackson State, a historically Black university in Mississippi, Sanders lost only five games, upending a program that had been mired in mediocrity — or worse — for years. In 2021, Jackson State won the Southwestern Athletic Conference title for the first time since 2007; on Saturday in Jackson, it claimed another.

Hours later, Colorado announced that Sanders would be its coach.

With a personal magnetism, an enduring brand and football mettle that attracted high school recruits and talented transfers and yielded no shortage of public attention, Sanders cobbled together a Jackson State program that led the SWAC in offense and defense this season. Before Saturday’s league title matchup, it averaged 37.5 points per game on offense, nearly a touchdown better than its closest rival, and surrendered about 10 on defense.

But it seemed from close to the start of his success that Sanders, whose record at Jackson State was 27-5, was someday bound for consideration to lead a program in a Power 5 conference.

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With Colorado, which has posted two winning seasons since 2006, he will face one of the country’s greatest rebuilding challenges. The Buffaloes have been in the market for a coach since Oct. 2, when the university ousted Karl Dorrell, whose team was 8-15 in his less than three years in Boulder. Colorado finished this season with a 1-11 record, with its lone win coming in overtime Oct. 15 against California.

“There were a number of highly qualified and impressive candidates interested in becoming the next head football coach at Colorado, but none of them had the pedigree, the knowledge and the ability to connect with student-athletes like Deion Sanders,” Rick George, the Colorado athletic director, said in a statement. “Not only will Coach Prime energize our fan base, I’m confident that he will lead our program back to national prominence while leading a team of high quality and high character.”

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The possibility of Sanders exiting Jackson bubbled all through the week leading up to Saturday’s conference championship game, in part because the coach acknowledged that Colorado had offered him its coaching job.

Colorado is taking something of a risk with Sanders, who relishes being “Coach Prime,” a nod to his longtime nickname. A brilliant NFL cornerback over 14 seasons who also played outfield in MLB — Colorado noted proudly that Sanders is the only person to have played in the Super Bowl and the World Series — he went on to lead Prime Prep Academy, which closed in 2015 amid academic, financial and legal troubles.

His coaching record at Jackson State, though, won him some breathing room and clear sway there. Sanders, sometimes publicly, urged for more resources to be devoted to football at his school and other historically Black colleges and universities.

And he acknowledged during the season that the wide financial disparities in college athletics might lead him to go elsewhere, with his coaching staff in tow.

In a statement Saturday night, Ashley Robinson, Jackson State’s athletic director, showed no bitterness toward his former coach.

“He challenged norms and transformed mindsets of what was perceived to be possible to create new visions for success while inspiring the community and creating a spotlight on HBCU sports and culture,” he said of Sanders. “I cannot thank him enough for his impact on me professionally and personally.”

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Robinson said Jackson State would begin an “aggressive national search” for its next coach.