Last year, Jackson State coach Deion Sanders proved to naysayers that he could recruit against Power 5 programs.
Now, he’s taking that energy and putting it toward creating a Power 5-level coaching staff.
On Tuesday, Sanders added former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer to his staff as an analyst.
Earlier in the offseason, Sanders hired former Minnesota coach Tim Brewster, who coached tight ends at Florida last season. He also added assistant strength coach Maurice Sims from the University of Georgia to run that aspect of JSU’s program.
“I’m not just trying to build a HBCU coaching staff,” Sanders said. “I’m trying to build a Power 5 staff.”
Zimmer, fired by the Vikings after eight seasons, is still owed nearly $20 million, so he comes cheap.
Zimmer and Sanders have been friends for parts of four decades. They met when Sanders joined the Cowboys in 1995 and Zimmer was the secondary coach.
They clicked because Zimmer coached Sanders hard from the start, earning the All-Pro cornerback’s respect during his five seasons in Dallas.
They’ve maintained their relationship over the years and with Zimmer being unemployed, it made for a perfect fit.
“Zim has great knowledge,” said Sanders, “and he’s going to be a great resource who can help propel us to the next level.”
Zimmer won’t move to Jackson, Mississippi, but he’ll help the staff in a multitude of ways with his experience and defensive knowledge.
“He’s asked me about it a few times,” Zimmer told Thee Pregame Show. “The pay’s not good, but I do love Deion and I’d do anything for him.”
So would Brewster, though he didn’t have a close relationship with Sanders before joining the staff.
They met several years ago when Brewster was recruiting Sanders’ players at Trinity Christian high school in suburban Dallas.
Brewster was considering a few options when Sanders contacted him to discuss the possibilities.
They met, their philosophies meshed, and Brewster joined the staff.
“He brings a lot of energy,” said Sanders, “and he can coach his butt off.”
Sims worked with Brewster at North Carolina in 2019.
“He has a way of connecting with players that allows him to work them hard and almost cross that line,” said Brewster, “without going over.”
Sanders wanted a strength coach who would challenge his players mentally and physically.
He wanted a strength coach who would allow them to dominate in the fourth quarter and at the end of the season, when their bodies are bruised and battered.
“It’s not where I want it to be but we’re getting there,” Sims said. “It takes 2 to 3 years to get to the point where you have a group that can tell the freshmen why they need to listen to you.”
Sanders is also putting together a staff that can recruit.
Brewster is the man credited with bringing quarterback Vince Young to Texas and he nearly helped persuade four-star tackle Miles McVay to choose Jackson State over Alabama last week.
The Tigers are involved in a lot of recruiting battles for four- and five-star players.
He wants everything about JSU’s program to say Power 5 because it helps with recruiting.
JSU greets recruits at Jackson-Medgar Wiley Evers International Airport in a custom Mercedes Sprinter van. The revamped locker room — Sanders contributed $100,000 to its renovation — has a TV above each locker and looks like it belongs in the SEC.
The lounge has a pool table, pingpong table, foosball and arcade games.
JSU has a training table just for the players to eat, a rarity among programs at historically Black colleges and universities, and a new training room.
Every edge matters.
Sanders and his staff are continuing to recruit some of the nation’s best players.
Imagine if they had a budget of more than $1 million like most Power 5 schools. They’re doing it on nickels and dimes.
But they signed two players from ESPN 300 last year, including Travis Hunter Jr., the second-ranked player, and receiver Kevin Coleman Jr.
No one knows how long Sanders will be at JSU, and he tells anyone who listens that he’s so focused on today he’s not worried about tomorrow.
He’s already interviewed several times with Power 5 programs. If JSU meets expectations this season, he’ll have more interview opportunities.
His success at JSU should make a lot of administrators wonder what he could do at a program with significantly more money considering the way he’s built a staff and recruited.
“We’re just a Power 5 coaching staff,” said Sanders, “that happens to collect its mail in Jackson, Mississippi.”