Deion Sanders finalizes Jackson State coaching staff

Deion Sanders is back to the collegiate ranks as the head coach at Jackson State. The move was surprising to some in the football circles, but Sanders has assembled a coaching staff that is filled with high-level experience.
On Monday, Sanders announced his coaching staff for his debut season. Sanders has tabbed a mix of former NFL veterans, high school coaches and viable college assistants to help lead the program.
“We have a great group of coaches, and I’m thrilled they’ve decided to join me on this journey at Thee I Love Jackson State University,” Sanders said via the school press release. “We have a group of men that will serve as mentors in the field of competition and in the classroom. This staff knows how to win and win at a consistent level.”
NFL veteran defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman brings 32 years of experience to the Jackson State roster. He will take the same role with the Tigers and lead a defense that gave up 40 or more points five times last season.
Sanders tabbed former high school coach Michael Pollack to serve as his offensive coordinator. Pollack has a lot of respect in the Southeast and has coached several high school prospects that went on to have successful collegiate careers.
Other assistants include Mike Markuson (offensive line), Alan Ricard (special teams), Gary Harrell (running backs), Kevin Mathis (defensive backs), Andre’ Hart (linebackers), Jeff Weeks (defensive line), T.C. Taylor (tight ends) and Otis Riddley (recruiting coordinator).
The group will be tasked with helping Sanders get the team ready for a Spring 2021 football schedule. The Tigers will open with a home game against Edward Waters. The slate also includes games against Grambling State, Prairie View A&M and Alcorn State among others in Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) play.
Sanders is excited to help his players develop this season. He mentioned on Big Noon Kickoff in September that his commitment is to gradually see improvement within his program.
“With the climate, we’re in right now in our country and everything that’s going on, I think the time is right. It’s time to level the playing field. When you talk about those basketball players (committing to HBCU schools), they give three to four months then go to the NBA. Our guys give a three to four commitment to our program and that’s what I love.”
Sanders has also been busy on the recruiting trail. He has secured commitments from some terrific prospects. Las Vegas Desert Pines three-star defensive tackle Braezhon Ross, San Diego Lincoln three-star athlete Herman Smith, Mississippi Gulf Coast C.C. defensive lineman Jammie White and Lexington (Miss.) Holmes Country Central defensive lineman Jeremiah Williams have all committed to Jackson State.
Also, joining the team is Shedeur Sanders. The four-star quarterback is Sander’s son and a top pro-style quarterback recruit. He recently flipped from Florida Atlantic and will likely compete for the starting role once he steps on campus.
“I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to help level the playing field & pursue equality for HBCU’s! Dad I got your back!,” Shedeur wrote on Twitter.
As the season looms this spring, Sanders has a staff and some impressive recruits to get Jackson State back to national promise.
Fred Akers, who served as an assistant coach at Texas under Darrell Royal and succeeded the legendary head coach at the helm of the program for 10 seasons, died Monday at the age of 82, the school confirmed. In his time as head coach of the Longhorns, Akers posted an 86-31-2 record and led Texas to a pair of Southwest Conference championships (1977, 1983).
Only Royal (167 wins) and Mack Brown (158) racked up more wins as the program’s head coach than Akers and only Royal (.774 winning percentage), Brown (.767) and Blair Cherry (.756) posted better winning percentages than Akers (.731) among the 11 men to serve as Texas head coach since the Associated Press poll began running continuously in 1936. Over his 10 seasons on the job, Akers guided the Longhorns to six AP Top 25 finishes, including four top-10 rankings and two top-five finishes.
The best AP Top 25 finish under Akers came in 1981 when Texas completed a 10-1-1 campaign by defeating Bear Bryant and Alabama in the Cotton Bowl en route to a No. 2 national ranking. The two conference championships the Longhorns won under Akers were seasons where Texas went 11-0 in the regular season and headed into the Cotton Bowl with a chance to win a national championship.
Akers started his tenure off with a bang in 1977, returning to the Forty Acres where was an assistant coach (1966-1974) for two of Royal’s national championship-winning teams (1969, 1970) before a two-season run as the head coach at Wyoming (10-13) that included his 1976 squad going 8-3 before suffering a loss to Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl. Akers oversaw Earl Campbell winning the program’s first Heisman Trophy in a memorable run where the Longhorns spent the final five weeks of the regular season as the No. 1-ranked team in the country, a ranking they carried into what would be a Cotton Bowl loss to Notre Dame.
Campbell was one of two No. 1 overall draft picks to play for Akers when the Houston Oilers made him the top overall selection in the 1978 NFL Draft, a feat matched by Kenneth Sims when the New England Patriots took him with the first overall pick in 1982. Akers produced 10 first-round draft picks in his time at Texas (Eric Metcalf was the last Akers recruit to go in the first round when the Cleveland Browns took him No. 13 overall in 1989) and his 1984 draft class set the record that still stands with 17 players selected, breaking the previous mark Notre Dame established in 1946 (Ohio State in 2004 and LSU in 2020 are tied for the record with 14 selections since draft went to a seven-round format in 1994).
In addition to Campbell’s Heisman Trophy, Akers coached Sims (1981) and Tony Degrate (1984) to the Lombardi Award and had an Outland Trophy winner in his time in the saddle when Brad Shearer claimed the honor in 1977. Akers coached 48 Longhorns who claimed All-Southwest Conference recognition and 19 All-Americans, including nine consensus and six unanimous selections (Campbell, Shearer, Sims, Jerry Gray, Johnnie Johnson and Steve McMichael).
With the help of coordinators Leon Fuller and David McWilliams, Akers fielded some of the best defenses in school history. The 1983 defense led the nation in yards per game allowed (212) and surrendered 3.28 yards per play in 11 games heading into an eventual loss to Georgia in the Cotton Bowl.
Akers was inducted into the Texas Athletics Hall of Honor in 2015. He was inducted into both the Texas Sports Hall of Fame and Cotton Bowl Hall of Fame in 2016.

MIAMI, FLORIDA – FEBRUARY 02: Deion Sanders of the NLF 100 All-Time Team is honored on the field prior to Super Bowl LIV between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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