Donald V. Watkins
Will Deion Sanders Be Auburn’s Next Head Football Coach?
By: Donald V. Watkins
Copyrighted and Published on November 6, 2022
An Editorial Opinion
I will say out loud what close observers of Alabama’s higher education scene are saying privately -- "Deion Sanders will not be Auburn University’s next head football coach."
Is Sanders qualified for the Auburn head coaching job? Yes.
Does Auburn need Sanders’ extraordinary talents as a head football coach? Yes.
Is Deion Sanders a good fit for Auburn? The people who run Auburn football do not think so.
Take a good look at Auburn University’s Board of Trustees. Read their backgrounds. I know the personal and professional histories of the trustees.
I was the lead plaintiff's attorney who successfully sued Auburn University in Knight v. Alabama to desegregate its board of trustees, faculty and staff, and student body (until 1994 when I became a board member at Alabama State University). Don’t take my word for it. Read the U.S. District Court's 575-page opinion for yourself.
This higher education desegregation case was litigated in the courts from 1981 to 2005. It dragged on for more than two decades due to massive resistance to court-ordered desegregation from Auburn University and the other historically white colleges and universities in Alabama.
A couple of factors have doomed Sanders' chances of getting the head coaching job.
First, I must excuse the three African-American members of Auburn's Board of Trustees. None of them has the juice on the Board to get Deion Sanders hired as Auburn’s head football coach.
While Quintin P. Riggins serves on the Board, so does Zeke Smith -- his boss at Alabama Power Company. Riggins also serves as the lead trustee on the Board’s Athletics Committee. His role on the Committee is more symbolic than powerful.
Elizabeth Huntley is a civil litigation attorney with the Birmingham law firm of Lightfoot, Franklin & White, which has deep ties to Auburn University.
And, Tim Vines is the President and Chief Executive Officer of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama, which is a top executive position at a non-profit, private company.
The three black trustees are good people, but they do not run the Auburn Board of Trustees.
Second, the trustees who control the Board also own and operate their very successful companies. They are Jimmy Raines, James Pratt, Raymond J. Harbert, and Wayne T. Smith. These trustees, along with Zeke Smith, shoulder the financial burden of raising the money necessary to buy out the contract of a fired head football coach at Auburn. Zeke Smith can tap Alabama Power's money for the benefit of Auburn University from numerous sources.
Whether in private business or in his role as a trustee, none of these men has ever had to co-exist with a successful, confident, African-American man like Deion Sanders, who has earned his fame, media presence, economic prowess, and power.
At this stage in his life, Deion Sanders is not beholden to anyone. Very few black men in America have attained Sanders' degree of economic independence and clout.
These trustees are very comfortable around blacks -- as long as they do not seek to control the engine that drives academics, finance, business, and sports at Auburn University.
Deion Sanders is successful as a man and as the head football coach at Jackson State University because he has achieved dominance in all of these zones.
Based on their histories in the state, I do not foresee these trustees surrendering their absolute control over Auburn football to any black man of Deion Sanders’ stature and independence.
End of story.