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 into building a Power 5 level coaching staff.
On Tuesday, Sanders added former Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer to his team as an analyst.
Earlier in the offseason, Sanders signed 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 handle that aspect of JSU’s program.
“I’m not just trying to build an HBCU coaching staff,” Sanders said. “I’m trying to build a Power 5 stick.”
Zimmer, fired by the Vikings after eight seasons, still owes nearly $20 million, so he’s cheap.
Zimmer and Sanders have been friends for four decades. They met when Sanders joined the Cowboys in 1995 and Zimmer was the secondary coach.
They clicked because Zimmer coached Sanders hard early on, earning the respect of the All-Pro cornerback during his five seasons in Dallas.
They’ve maintained their relationship over the years and with Zimmer’s unemployment, it was a perfect fit.
“Zim has great knowledge,” Sanders said, “and he’s going to be a great resource that can help us take it to the next level.”
Zimmer won’t be moving to Jackson, Mississippi, but he’ll help the staff in multiple ways with his defensive experience and knowledge.
“He asked me about it a number of times,” Zimmer said. The pre-game show. “The salary is not good, but I love Deion and I would do anything for him.”
The same would be true for Brewster, although he didn’t have a close relationship with Sanders before joining the team.
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 blended, and Brewster joined the staff.
“He brings a lot of energy,” Sanders said, “and he can train his butt.”
Sims worked with Brewster in North Carolina in 2019.
“He has a way of connecting with the players that allows him to work them hard and almost cross that line,” Brewster said, “without overstepping.”
Sanders wanted a strength coach who would challenge his players mentally and physically.
He wanted a strength coach that 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 2-3 years to get to the point where you have a group that can tell freshmen why they need to listen to you.”
Sanders is also building 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 pick Jackson State over Alabama last week.
The Tigers are involved in numerous 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 pickup truck. The revamped locker room — Sanders contributed $100,000 to its renovation — has a TV above each locker and appears to belong to the SEC.
The living room has a pool table, table tennis, table football and arcade games.
JSU has a player-only practice table, a rarity among historically black college and university programs, and a new practice room.
Every edge counts.
Sanders and his team continue to recruit some of the best players in the country.
Imagine if they had a budget of over a million dollars like most Power 5 schools. They do it with nickels and pennies.
But they signed two players from ESPN 300 last year, including No. 2 ranked player Travis Hunter Jr. and wide receiver Kevin Coleman Jr.
No one knows how long Sanders will stay at JSU, and he tells everyone who listens that he’s so focused on today that he’s not worried about tomorrow.
He has already been interviewed several times with Power 5 programs. If JSU meets expectations this season, he will have more interview opportunities.
His success at JSU should have many administrators wondering what he could do in a program with a lot more money given the way he’s staffed and recruited.
“We’re just a Power 5 coaching staff,” Sanders said, “who picks up his mail in Jackson, Mississippi.”