For fifty years, Floyd Keith has patiently awaited a Black coach who possesses the same charisma and accomplishments as Deion Sanders to revolutionize college football.
While the media buzz surrounding the Colorado program since Sanders’ arrival has received extensive coverage, Keith, who served as the executive director of the Black Coaches Association for over a decade, hopes that this newfound attention will translate into more opportunities for Black coaches.
Despite a recent loss to Oregon that caused the Buffaloes to drop out of the AP Top 25 rankings, Deion Sanders continues to captivate the football world. At the age of 75, Keith believes that this includes influential decision-makers who have traditionally been hesitant to hire Black coaches.
“There used to be a prevailing notion that everyone needed to adhere to a certain model,” Keith remarked. “There was a predetermined blueprint for how things should be done. Well, I believe Deion has shattered that mold.”
While there is a sense of hopefulness, there is also a considerable amount of skepticism. Sanders stands out in many ways, making it uncertain whether the impact he has generated will extend to others.
Keith never received the opportunity to become the head coach at a prominent Division I program, but he tirelessly advocated for others. He served as an assistant coach at Miami (Ohio) and Colorado in the 1970s before assuming the role of head coach at Howard University, a historically Black institution. Later, he became the head coach at Rhode Island, a Football Championship Subdivision program.
The ongoing struggle he championed continues today.
Currently, only 14 Black head coaches are seen on the sidelines among the 133 Football Bowl Subdivision programs, despite approximately half of the players being Black. Just seven out of the 69 Power Five head coaching positions are held by Black men. Notre Dame’s Marcus Freeman and Penn State’s James Franklin are the sole leaders of what could be considered traditional powerhouse programs.
These coaching positions rarely become available, and Sanders didn’t secure one either.
He assumed control of a Colorado program that had only won a single game the previous year, and this season, they started with victories over TCU, Nebraska, and Colorado State, propelling the Buffaloes into the national rankings while remaining unapologetically himself.
“Coach Prime” is often the most outspoken and confident individual in the room, a display of assertiveness that Keith believes is essential because Black coaching talent has been overlooked for decades.
“I evaluate his accomplishments and what he has achieved,” remarked Keith, currently residing in Indianapolis. “I believe that he has now opened the door not only for coaches of color but also for coaches to be authentic. And I believe that’s a remarkable development.”
Sanders cannot be overlooked, and N. Jeremi Duru, the director of the Sport & Society Initiative at American University’s Washington College of Law, emphasizes that Sanders’ impressive credentials and confident demeanor naturally command the attention required to address the issue at hand.
Sanders, widely regarded as one of the greatest cornerbacks in history, holds a place in both college and professional football’s Hall of Fame and boasts a Super Bowl championship – accomplishments he is far from modest about.
Duru credits Colorado’s leadership for taking a bold step that few other programs would consider, and he highlights the positive outcomes, including record-breaking television ratings.
“It’s surprising that Colorado, along with all the stakeholders involved in their program, chose Deion,” Duru remarked. “But they did, and it’s paying off handsomely. The transformation has been remarkable. Perhaps other organizations will now be more willing to take a similar leap.”
Darryl Jacobs, the executive director of Rising Coaches’ DEI Alliance, points out that there is no shortage of qualified Black coaches, with many found at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
He notes that Sanders experienced losses in both of his appearances at the Celebration Bowl, which is considered the HBCU national championship game. In 2021, Jackson State fell to South Carolina State and coach Oliver Pough, followed by a loss to North Carolina Central and coach Trei Oliver in 2022.
Jacobs believes that losses like the one against Oregon will be a rarity for Sanders, stating, “This is probably the worst team Deion Sanders is going to have because by the time he addresses the issues with the offensive and defensive lines, and people are reaching out to him, there will be significant talent there. The possibilities are limitless for them, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them contending for a national championship next year.”
As Sanders achieves success, those who have faced similar challenges applaud his efforts. Eric Bieniemy, the offensive coordinator for the Washington Commanders and a former star running back on Colorado’s 1990 national championship team, as well as a former Colorado offensive coordinator, expresses his admiration for Sanders.
“As a Black man, I’m immensely proud of everything he has accomplished,” said Bieniemy. “It’s been a pleasure to witness his journey, to see him do things his way without apologizing for his actions, words, or how his players have responded. Watching this process unfold has been truly unique.”