One of the biggest coaching hires in FCS college football history has paid quick dividends.
Jackson State University certainly “believes” in the results under Deion Sanders, who on Tuesday was named the 2021 recipient of the Stats Perform FCS Eddie Robinson Award, which is presented to the national coach of the year in the Division I subdivision.
One of 17 finalists for the award, which is named for legendary Grambling State coach Eddie Robinson and celebrating its 35th anniversary season, Sanders will be honored at the FCS National Awards Banquet on Jan. 7 in Frisco, Texas.
Just over a year after the school made the legendary cornerback a first-time head coach, the Tigers have set a program record with 11 wins and captured the Southwestern Athletic Conference title for the first time since 2007. The Tigers have qualified for the Celebration Bowl for the first time, set to face South Carolina State on Saturday in Atlanta.
“This is a team effort, it’s a valiant effort, it takes a lot, it does not just take me. I know it takes a visionary, but people have to really support the vision. And that’s what we did,” Sanders said.
After Jackson State hired Sanders in September 2020, he quickly instituted an “I Believe” mantra to suggest positive days were ahead for a program that didn’t have a winning season since 2013.
In his first campaign this past spring, the Tigers went 4-3, but one win was a forfeit. This fall, they’ve left no doubt, losing only once by five points to an FBS opponent, even while the 54-year-old Sanders, who’s known as Coach Prime, coached in and around a three-week hospital stay.
With Sanders’ son Shedeur, a freshman quarterback, leading the offense as the 2021 Jerry Rice Award recipient, and the defense ranking as the SWAC’s best, Jackson State has gone 11-1, including 9-0 against conference opponents. While it’s unfolded, an average of 42,293 fans flocked to six home games – a single-season record for an FCS school.
Jackson State’s turnaround has added another chapter to Sanders’ remarkable career. He’s one of the greatest cornerbacks in history, voted to both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame. He starred at Florida State before the Atlanta Falcons selected him fifth overall in the 1989 NFL Draft, and he went on to win two Super Bowls and make eight Pro Bowls while playing for five organizations over 14 seasons.
A two-sport star, he also spent parts of nine seasons in Major League Baseball.
A 50-member, national media panel selected the Eddie Robinson Award following the regular season. Past recipients include Mark Duffner, Erk Russell, Chris Ault, Jim Tressel, Houston Nutt, Andy Talley, Paul Johnson, Joe Glenn, Mike Ayers, Jerry Kill, Jerry Moore and two-time recipients Mickey Matthews, Sean McDonnell and Craig Bohl. Sam Houston’s K.C. Keeler, the 2016 recipient, was the runner-up for the second consecutive season.
Also at the national awards banquet, Stats Perform will present the Walter Payton Award (FCS offensive player of the year), Buck Buchanan Award (FCS defensive player of the year), Jerry Rice Award (FCS freshman player of the year) and Doris Robinson Scholar-Athlete of the Year. An awards show will begin airing the next day, Jan. 8, on Bally Sports Regional Networks.
2021 Eddie Robinson Award Voting Results
A first-place vote was worth five points, a second-place vote four points, a third-place vote three points, a fourth-place vote two points and a fifth-place vote one point.
1. Deion Sanders, Jackson State: 9-7-8-10-6-123
2. K.C. Keeler, Sam Houston: 9-5-5-6-7-99
3. Randy Sanders, ETSU: 11-4-7-2-1-97
4. Troy Taylor, Sacramento State: 7-7-5-3-4-88
5.(tie) Matt Entz, North Dakota State: 1-7-3-3-2-50
5.(tie) Brent Vigen, Montana State: 1-5-5-4-2-50
7. Eric Morris, UIW: 2-2-6-3-2-44
8. Jason Simpson, UT Martin: 3-3-1-3-2-38
9. Glenn Caruso, St. Thomas: 2-3-2-0-1-29
10. Brian Bohannon, Kennesaw State: 0-2-2-4-4-26
11.(tie) Mark Ferrante, Villanova: 1-1-2-2-5-24
11.(tie) Bobby Petrino, Missouri State: 0-3-1-4-1-24
13. Buddy Teevens, Dartmouth: 2-0-2-3-0-22
14. Colby Carthel, Stephen F. Austin: 1-1-0-3-3-18
15. Bob Chesney, Holy Cross: 1-0-1-0-5-13
16. Buddy Pough, South Carolina State: 0-0-0-0-5-5
17. Chris Merritt, Bryant: 0-0-0-0-0-0
Graphic by Matt Sisneros.