He needs no introduction. He's Prime.
He's doing things his way — and inspiring Black coaches here in Milwaukee.
Deion Sanders has taken the sports world by storm after starting 3-0 in his first year as University of Colorado football coach. But even more so, his unconventional methods and prolific statements — along with that success — have sparked a cultural movement in the Black community.
Sanders, widely recognized as the greatest defensive back in NFL history, brings his brashness to whatever he does. He’s a former broadcaster, a HBCU football revivalist and a former major-league baseball player.
Now he's coaching in one of the NCAA’s Power Five conferences and attracting the attention of not just recruits but the whole nation.
“What he’s doing is groundbreaking,” said Chris Cummings, the first-year football coach at Milwaukee Riverside High School. “It shows me that, as a Black man, I can be a coach in a historically, predominantly white sport when it comes to head coaching.”
At the highest collegiate level, white men still dominate the profession. This season, there are only 14 Black head coaches in NCAA Division I — a little more than 10% of the 133 schools.
But Sanders helps bring weight to that 10% by immediately becoming a serious recruiting threat to prominent white coaches like Alabama's Nick Saban and Ohio State's Ryan Day.
His influence goes beyond recruiting, though.
Black figures in sports and entertainment, including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Lil Wayne and Kawhi Leonard have come to Boulder because of Sanders. Colorado games weren't selling out before this year — the team won only one game last season. But the school announced Tuesday that the entire schedule of home games this season have sold out.
Television networks have gotten a ratings boost in Black households watching Colorado football games. Fox Sports' Michael Mulvihill said that viewership in Black households increased dramatically more than the rest of the U.S. for the first two games of the year.
Here in Milwaukee, Cummings said his players told him they're now more likely to watch a Colorado game than Alabama or Ohio State.
Sanders is unconventional, which appeals to young Black players, said Anthony Dowery, second-year head coach for the Milwaukee Marshall co-op team.
Dowery, 32, said we’ve seen college programs divert from norms and affect culture in the past — like Miami Hurricanes football and Michigan's Fab Five basketball team in the 1990s. But what Sanders is doing is uniquely "Prime Time" Deion Sanders — a lot of flash, a lot of talk and at times cutthroat.
For example, in his first meeting with his new team, Sanders encouraged them all to enter the transfer portal because he wanted to replace them with superior talent.
"I promise you it's my job to get rid of you," he told his players.
The vast majority of the players transferred.
Many coaches wouldn't have taken that risk, but not Prime. And that's not his only unconventional method of leadership.
Instead of wearing the letter C for "captain" on players' jerseys, Sanders’ players wear L for "leaders" and D for "dawgs." He embraces having a film crew document his team and its season. His bodyguards wear shirts that say, “f— around and find out.” Celebrities and hall of famers line the sidelines. It’s not uncommon for the locker room to look like something out of a rap concert.
“It’s OK to be of the culture, to have the type of background we have, and show that in your coaching,” Cummings, 29, said.
Sanders has a Colorado student fanbase and a city with an overwhelmingly white population embracing an outspoken, unapologetic Black man.
Like in his playing days, he has again become a pop-culture icon.
Rob "Biko" Baker, an assistant visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, sees a lot of similarity between the cultural phenomenon that is Deion Sanders and the rise of early hip hop — how culture initially shunned it but eventually came around.
"People outside the hip hop culture used to point fingers at it. They talked bad about it," Baker said. "And then finally they embrace it and it becomes an economic boom for everyone involved. ... What we are seeing right now is a revolutionary thing happening at the college football level.
"It's going to bring people back to college football. ... I haven't watched college football that much since the (former Wisconsin running back) Ron Dayne era, but I have watched all of Colorado's games."
Baker, 45, said it's important to note that Sanders has appeal across races.
"I think the more the old heads, old guys, good ole boys point fingers and cast asunder, the more young people, white kids especially embrace it," Baker said.
"I've seen young white kids in my class talking about college football and Deion Sanders and they're excited and embracing it.
"I've spent some time in Boulder. It's different than the south. It's not Florida State or Atlanta. But I think that sort of highlights the intelligence of Sanders. He understands that he's both a spectacle and respected. He does a great job of amplifying the stories and the fun in a way that also is intelligent.
"The more people cast him aside, and think he's being a stereotype, the more he's going to create room for other Black coaches. And college football needs that."
Deion Sanders made his mark first at Jackson State
Sanders' college football coaching career began in 2020 at Jackson State, a historically Black university (or an HBCU) in Mississippi. After going 4-3 in a COVID-shortened first season, his team went 11-2 in 2021 and 12-1 in 2022.
The two Milwaukee City Conference coaches have followed Sanders’ coaching career since he went to Jackson State, saying God led him there with a promise that he would build an NFL factory for the university.
“I feel like he was doing some of the same things at Jackson State. It’s just getting more light on it now,” Cummings said.
Sanders was resilient throughout his time at Jackson State, having dealt with a series of health scares in recent years due to blood clots, including almost losing a leg.
After the 2021 season, he made news when he flipped the recruitment of the top high-school recruit in the nation, Travis Hunter, who initially committed to Florida State.
When Sanders left for Colorado, Hunter did, too, and was an early Heisman Trophy contender before being sidelined for several weeks with an injury.
While Sanders got criticism when he left Jackson State from those who thought he was abandoning his commitment to the HBCU, Baker doesn't see it that way.
"He showed what is capable at a HBCU with leadership and investment," Baker said. "Anybody that thought that Deion was going to just go to Jackson State and that'd be the end of it doesn't understand the power that a guy like Deion can have across the world."
Deion Sanders' sons are starring at Colorado
Besides Hunter, other Jackson State-to-Colorado players include Sanders’ children.
Quarterback Shedeur Sanders is also a Heisman contender. He threw for a career-high 510 yards and four touchdowns against TCU in week 1 and followed that with 393 passing yards and two touchdowns against rival Nebraska.
Last Saturday against Colorado State, Shedeur led his team to a double-overtime victory, throwing for 348 yards and four touchdowns.
Shilo Sanders, a defensive back who's nearly a spitting image of his father in his No. 21 jersey, returned an interception for a touchdown and nearly broke into his dad's iconic high-step.
The game had gotten extra attention earlier in the week because of comments Colorado State head coach Jay Norvell directed toward Deion.
Norvell, who's Black and from Madison, said, "When I talk to grown-ups, I take my hat and my glasses off. That's what my mother taught me."
Sanders, who's known to rock a cowboy hat and sunglasses, responded that the game was now "personal" for him, his team and his mother.
The added controversy led to the game, which started at 9:20 p.m. Central, being the fifth-most watched college football game in ESPN history, averaging 9.3 million viewers.
And the eyeglasses company that partnered with Sanders had more than $4.8 million in sales after Norvell's comments, according to The Denver Post. It's what's being coined "The Prime Effect" — a boost to the economy.
The family affair at Colorado has Dowery praising Sanders for accomplishing the goal of many football coaches who have sons.
“It’s a true dream what he is doing,” said Dowery, the father of three boys. “I don’t know if I’ve seen someone coach their sons on this level and have this success."
Deion Sanders promotes his players, too
Sanders has big expectations and isn’t afraid to place himself and his players among the best. While he said in a "60 Minutes" interview that he’s the best coach in college football, he also said he has a lot to learn from Saban.
He continuously campaigns for his star players to receive accolades, too.
“I’m supposed to do that," he said on "60 Minutes." "That’s what we told them when they were coming and choosing to play for us. My kids that play for me, they didn’t choose a university, they chose me. That’s a difference.”
It’s the ultra-confidence that led Sanders to two Lombardi Trophies and the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a player. He's also the only person to have played in a Super Bowl and a World Series.
Deion has always been a big talker, but has this remarkable ability to back it up, Dowery said.
“You know he cares about his guys,” Dowery said. “You can tell by the way he talks about his players. I’m sure those players will do anything for him.”
Sanders and his 19th-ranked Buffaloes face a big test this weekend, on the road against 10th-ranked Oregon.
Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and the game airs on ABC and streams on ESPN.
The nation will be watching.
Drake Bentley can be reached at DBentley1@gannett.com or 414-391-5647.
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Deion Sanders is 'of the culture' and inspiring Black coaches in Milwaukee