Mississippi usually is last in everything, but not this year. The state has to rank No. 1 for its fascinating list of college football coaches.
Jackson State’s recent hiring of Deion Sanders is pretty big news by itself. The Tigers are getting an NFL Hall of Famer who parlayed his football career into a television job that has kept him in the spotlight.
This is the first coaching job for Sanders, so we’ll find out next spring how he does as a program manager and recruiter. But Sanders, who said he wants to be called Coach Prime as an echo to his “Prime Time” nickname, is sure to bring a little extra attention to Jackson State and the Southwestern Athletic Conference. That’s a good thing for all the small-college Football Championship Subdivision schools.
Mississippi will know that Sanders and the Tigers have arrived when “ESPN College Gameday” arrives for a broadcast from Jackson. For now, Sanders must share the stage with other high-profile coaches in the state.
The hot property after last weekend’s Southeastern Conference openers is Mike Leach. Mississippi State recruited him away from Washington State in the offseason, and the move paid immediate dividends as the Bulldogs knocked off defending national champion LSU in Baton Rouge — an upset that no one expected.
Leach won with graduate student transfer quarterback K.J. Costello from Stanford, who appears to be a fine fit for the coach’s system. Costello’s 623 passing yards against the Tigers set an SEC single-game record, and his 36-for-60 day included five touchdown throws. Hopefully he didn’t peak in his first game for Mississippi State.
Over in Oxford, new coach Lane Kiffin didn’t fare as well against Florida. Ole Miss played the highly regarded Gators well for most of the first half, but Florida pulled away and left town with a 51-35 victory.
The Sporting News credited Kiffin for making Rebel football entertaining, including a “Weekend at Bernie’s” cardboard cutout homage in the stands. The Rebels kept up with the Gators in yardage if not points, reinforcing Kiffin’s reputation as an excellent playcaller.
The game indicated that Kiffin has the potential to make Ole Miss football fun again, though it will take time for big victories to arrive. Ole Miss may not have the talent to keep up with SEC West big boys like LSU, Alabama and Auburn. While waiting for better days, their coach is sure to keep things entertaining.
The situation is different at USM, where coach Jay Hopson resigned unexpectedly three weeks ago after a season-opening loss to South Alabama. An assistant, Scotty Walden, has taken over in the interim. At age 30 he is the youngest Football Bowl Subdivision coach in the country.
Walden is seen as a rising star with a talent for offense, but the Golden Eagles have struggled so far and are 0-3. USM will decide at the end of the season whether to stick with Walden or look for someone with more head coaching experience, as Ole Miss and Mississippi State did.