By Tyler Horka,
The Associated Press,
TC Taylor and Otis Riddley looked at each other with wide-eyed amazement.
The two Jackson State assistant coaches knew their lives were going to change significantly because of the man everyone was gathered to see at the Lee E. Williams Athletic and Assembly Center Sept. 21. Taylor and Riddley were still in awe as their new boss stepped out of an SUV that had been driven onto the floor of the arena.
Their new boss, of course, is Pro Football Hall of Famer Deion Sanders.
“I kind of looked at TC and was like, ‘For real?’ It was surreal,’’ Riddley said. “You go from being just an everyday football coach, and now, you’re working for one of the most known people in football, period. You got a lot of people looking at what you’re doing, and the level of respect that comes with working for someone like that goes without being said.’’
The spotlight by assuming his new role as JSU’s head coach has come with plenty of fanfare for everyone involved. He has made appearances on countless TV and radio shows. He has shined a positive light on historically black colleges, specifically Jackson State.
Riddley still has to pinch himself sometimes when he fires up his laptop and it’s Sanders he sees on routine Zoom calls. Taylor simply laughed when asked how recruiting has changed at JSU since Sanders was named the program’s new coach.
“It’s a lot easier,’’ Taylor said.
It hasn’t all been easy, though.
Taylor and Riddley have not been bombarded with media appearances. They have tried hard not to get too caught up in the glitz and glamour Sanders has naturally brought to the program. Instead, they’ve been busy making sure the program is in good shape when Sanders arrives on campus on Dec. 1.
“It’s been too hectic to enjoy,’’ Riddley said. “It’s been a whirlwind.’’
“On a day-to-day basis, I’m just trying to make sure things are up to par when he gets in here and we’re ready to go as a football program,’’ Taylor added.
Even recruiting isn’t as easy as Taylor originally made it out to be. While Sanders has been blitzed by the media, Taylor and Riddley have received too many messages from prospective players than they can count. Making sure they pick out the right ones for the program has been paramount.
“You have to sift through a lot of guys to make sure you’re getting the ones that not only fit what coach Prime wants, but what fits Jackson and Jackson State’s culture as well,’’ Riddley said.
Taylor and Riddley are the only two assistants Sanders retained from Jackson State’s previous coaching staff. Riddley said he was nervous when he learned Sanders was getting the job because he didn’t know if he would be a part of Sanders’ vision or not. It was a huge relief for him when he was informed that he would indeed be included in that vision, but he also knew it meant it was time to get to work.
Taylor did too.
“You can’t just go to a guy like Deion Sanders and tell him how good of a football coach you are,’’ Taylor said. “You have to prove it to those types of guys. That’s what myself and coach Otis talked about. We’re going to show our value.’’
Taylor and Riddley are both Mississippi natives. They know the lay of the land in the Magnolia State much better than Sanders does, and that knowledge will be invaluable once Sanders officially starts his duties in a few weeks.
“I want to make sure he understands the city, understands where he’s at and what’s going on here and there,’’ Riddley said. “I want to make sure when he steps into that office, there is a level of comfort so he can focus on what he needs to focus on, and that’s ball.’’
“And also making sure he has a good understanding of the players,’’ Taylor added. “He doesn’t know these kids. This is his first time being around them. That’s a big thing for me and coach Otis, making sure he gets acclimated with the guys.’’
Sanders has already made it clear to the players what he wants from them. It’s nearly time for that to start manifesting on the football field. Once it does, Taylor said he anticipates his alma mater being a force in the game for years to come.
That’s the expectation.
“That’s why he’s here,’’ Taylor said. “He’s going to expect the team to play hard for four quarters. He’s told them that. They understand that. The expectation is through the roof. You’re playing for a guy who has excelled at all levels. They know once he gets here they’re going to have to bring it.’’