I couldn’t stand Deion Sanders when he played professional football and baseball. I certainly marveled at his athletic ability that would rightfully earn him the induction into the Pro and College Football Hall of Fame, but it was everything else that he did that made me question what kind of person Sanders was.
I saw “Neon Deion” play one time in Cowboy Stadium and the flamboyance, the cockiness, and the silly dances furthered my disdain. I wasn’t alone in my sentiment. Around that same time (1997), Sanders described in his autobiography that he was in a dark place. Sanders said that despite all the success, including a two-time Superbowl champion, he had no hope, no joy, and no peace. After a failed attempt at suicide, Sanders said, “I finally just got on my knees and gave it all to the Lord.”
I didn’t pay much attention to Sanders after his football career ended. While working as an NFL Analyst, Sanders started coaching youth football in 2012 and in 2017 was hired as an offensive coordinator at a high school.
It wasn’t until he was hired as the head coach for Jackson State University in 2020, that I started paying attention to the man now named “Coach Prime.” When I ran across a few of his videos on YouTube, Sanders was no longer the man I remembered decades ago. He was motivating, honest, and most importantly mission oriented. He exuded character and leadership, and he was dedicated to making a difference where he was.
I watched in awe over the course of months where he changed that football program to a powerhouse in their league, and their undefeated season this year propelled Coach Prime as the head coach of Colorado.
If you would have told me 20 years ago, I would be using Deion Sanders as an example for us all to follow, I would have questioned your mental stability but today, that is exactly what I’m going to do.
Here are the five lessons that leaders can learn from Coach Prime:
It doesn’t take long listening to Coach Prime that he operates with a clear mission and vision. Jackson State wasn’t exactly a powerhouse football program. Their facilities looked more like an average high school and the $300,000 annual salary essentially meant that Deion was losing money by having to give up much more lucrative jobs outside of coaching. But Sanders was on a mission. He wanted to shine a light on Historical Black Colleges, and he wanted to ensure that those athletes got the same respect and success as others. He brought in multi-million-dollar sponsors, enhanced facilities and recruited athletes that were committed to huge programs.
How did he do this in such a short time?
Coach Prime knew his mission and he never wavered. He didn’t get distracted, and he certainly didn’t listen to the trolls.
Law Enforcement Leaders can learn a lot from this.
Law enforcement doesn’t put enough energy into the power of motivation. We send out e-mails, we make demands, and we just expect employees to get the job done. That’s not how Coach Prime works. His leadership style is relational. He knows the kids, he knows their parents and he knows exactly what they need to succeed. Some kids need encouragement; others need a kick in the pants; and the only reason Sanders knows what motivates each player is because he knows them.
Law enforcement is facing a ton of hurdles today but if we treated our employees like people rather than a payroll number, we’d be amazed at what could happen.
College coaches are running scared right now. With the transfer portal staring at them, many are afraid to hold kids accountable but not Sanders. A quick glance at his talks will tell you that he isn’t playing around.
If you are going to play for Coach Prime, you will be held accountable to just about everything. Good cops just like good kids, actually want this accountability and we would be serving them better by holding the line a little more.
Criticism always comes with success and Sanders is getting his fair share right now. After committing to bringing awareness to Historical Black Colleges, his new job with Colorado has some in the media questioning him. Some media personalities even questioned if he was still black after leaving Jackson State? Not only is some of this criticism flat out racist but it’s not consistent with how every other coach is treated. Coaches take jobs all the time and to question Sanders is ridiculous but then again, I’m talking about the media.
It’s not the criticism that law enforcement leaders should be paying attention to but how Sanders is dealing with it….he’s not.
Sanders rightfully ignores the idiots and stays on mission. If any profession can be looked at to see the destruction that paying attention to crazy people can cause, it is law enforcement and it’s time we follow in Coach Prime’s footsteps. We need to ignore anyone and anything that has nothing to do with our mission of crime fighting and get back to real police work.
I have been screaming for years that law enforcement has to get away from the corrupt media. If you engage with clowns, you become one and that is exactly what we do when we permit a media outlet to tell our story. Coach Prime knows this all too well and he has taken his message into his own hands. Check out the YouTube Channel, ran by his son, if you want to see how it’s done. I suspect at Colorado; he will have even more resources to expand his messaging but it’s important to understand that the only way you will get the accurate message to the public is if you do it yourself.
Plenty are questioning if Coach Prime will have success coaching Power 5 Football in Colorado. Why would premier athletes go to a school that won one game this year? Why would they pass up the SEC or Alabama or the west coast to play in Boulder, Colorado?
They will do it for one reason….LEADERSHIP.
Law enforcement has had this wrong for a long time and our communities are paying a steep price. We think recruiting is about pay, benefits and that new phenomenon called a signing bonus. We think those fancy videos or websites will convince others to join. They haven’t and they won’t.
When the Five Star Recruits commit to Colorado, they will be giving up other schools with nicer facilities, bigger donors, and the potential to make millions. And when this happens (it already is), it’s because Coach Deion Sanders is a leader. They know that if they do what he tells them, he will support them, he will defend them and he will make them better. Recruiting is about leadership and the sooner law enforcement figures that out, the better.
The Power of One
In my seminars, I talk about “The Power of One.” It’s the power that every individual leader has to change everything. I could certainly give you multiple examples but what we are seeing from Deion Sanders is exactly this. Coach Prime is a force to be reckoned with. He will not be deterred; he will not be discouraged and he will not stop until the mission is complete.
You can doubt me, but I challenge you to just watch and see what happens.
Travis Yates is a commander with a large municipal police department and author of “The Courageous Police Leader: A Survival Guide for Combating Cowards, Chaos & Lies.” His risk management and leadership seminars have been taught to thousands of professionals across the world. He is a graduate of the FBI National Academy and Doctoral Candidate in Strategic Leadership.