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Mark Edwards: Tiff over his name brings Deion Sanders attention Jackson State needs

Deion Sanders

Jackson State football coach Deion Sanders of the NFL 100 All-Time Team is honored on the field prior to Super Bowl LIV between the San Francisco 49ers and the Kansas City Chiefs at Hard Rock Stadium on February 02, 2020. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images/TNS)

He wants to be called "Coach," but Deion Sanders is still Prime Time.

The Southeastern Conference is college football's Goliath, but by himself Tuesday, Sanders managed to hijack the sport's news cycle away from the SEC's marquee media days event in Hoover.

Sanders is appearing at the Southwest Athletic Conference football media day, which is about 15 miles up the road in downtown Birmingham. You wouldn't have known the SWAC was even in town, too, if it wasn't for Sanders.

A former NFL star, he's the second-year head coach at Jackson State and a big draw on his own. He also fully understands that nobody cares to hear hum-drum monologues about his depth chart, his school's big rival game, the transfer portal, or whatever he did this summer. Go to SEC Media Days to hear coaches do that.

Sanders needs to draw attention to his program and his school — and you're not doing that with a snooze-inducing rundown of the depth chart.

In that regard, he made a strikingly brilliant move Tuesday in a confrontation with a reporter from the Clarion Ledger of Jackson, Miss. Whether Sanders did it intentionally or not doesn't matter.

It started when the reporter called him by his first name. Sanders, who also goes by "Coach Prime," didn't let it slide.

"You don't call Nick Saban, 'Nick.' Don't call me Deion," Sanders said, according to the Clarion Ledger.

He added later, "If you call Nick (Saban), Nick, you'll get cussed out on the spot, so don't do that to me. Treat me like Nick."

The Clarion Ledger report says that after he was called by his first name a second time, Sanders got up and walked out.

Was Sanders right in what he said? Not in his characterization of Saban.

If you checked social media Tuesday, you saw scores of reporters tell of their experiences with Saban. They mirror my own: If you call him Nick, he doesn't seem to care one way or the other. He doesn't seem to worry about things that aren't that important, and whether a reporter calls you "Coach" or by your first name, just isn't that important.

Saban wouldn't have walked out, either. He famously doesn't like what he calls "rat poison." That's his word for the distraction caused by news stories that don't have anything to do with the day-to-day operation of a football team. Walking out of an interview is news, whether it's at a media day for the SEC or the SWAC.

But for Sanders? He needs all the "rat poison" he can get at Jackson State. He's not even waiting on a sale for rat poison. He's loading up his grocery cart and buying as much as he can.

The reporter didn't respect Sanders' request, and Sanders responded in a way that grabbed attention. And, at Jackson State, attention isn't a bad thing.

He was the story of the day. He got more ink in Jackson State's home state of Mississippi than Ole Miss' Lane Kiffin, who took the stage the same day at SEC Media Days. Heck, Kiffin invoked the name of Saban as well. Half the questions he fielded were about the Alabama coach.

Still, nobody's talking about Lane Kiffin.

Sanders likely wasn't that calculating. I doubt he walked out of the interview thinking excitedly, "This will get people talking."

Even so, in his short time at Jackson State, Sanders has made it clear he's not going to let others set the agenda when he does a media appearance. For example, this past spring, he forcefully called out NFL teams for not drafting players from Historically Black Colleges and Universities such as Jackson State.

It wasn't a popular point of view and an uncomfortable conversation. NFL experts said the better talent is at larger schools, but why in the world should Sanders have conceded the point? His background as a former A-list NFL star gives him a unique opportunity to be heard, and he's using it — if it can get people talking, that's a good thing, right?

He's following a piece of advice Saban gives sometimes when speaking at public events: "My dad used to say to me all the time and I say this to the players a lot: 'What you do speaks so loudly I can't hear what you say.'"

Few care that Sanders got some details wrong Tuesday, and considering the attention he brought his program, does that matter?

Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.