Gary “The Flea” Harrell Was The Yoda To Deion Sanders’ Skywalking Transition Into College Coaching

Gary “The Flea” Harrell is one of Deion Sanders’ most trusted confidants. The Colorado Buffaloes assistant head coach and running backs coach is someone Coach Prime has entrusted to be his right-hand man. Harrell has a ton of experience as a head coach and assistant, and that was something that Sanders leaned on heavily as he made the decision to take the head coach job at Jackson State in 2020. 

Gary “The Flea” Harell Helped Deion Sanders’ Start In Coaching

In an interview with the Denver Gazette, “The Flea,” as he’s affectionately known, described to reporters the advice he gave Sanders. 

(Getty Images)

“He just wanted to know some of the ins and outs as far as how to go about it, some of the things structure wise, organization wise, some of the things to expect and through that conversation, we built trust,” Harrell said. “That’s how I was able to join him on his first endeavor at Jackson State. We do a lot of scheduling together. Coach Prime is almost like your wife, you’ve gotta almost know when to be around him, you’ve gotta know sometimes when he in that mood, don’t be around. He’s a different guy. We just work well together.”

As Harrell stated, Sanders isn’t the easiest to deal with, but he seems to have found the formula needed to handle the very demanding Pro Football Hall of Famer.

Sanders’ Trust For Harrell Runs Deep

Harrell has been with Sanders since he first arrived at Jackson State, and from the beginning he’s been the unofficial second-in-charge. He quickly earned the trust of Sanders, which is why when Sanders was hospitalized with life-threatening foot and ankle issues, he left Harrell to run the Jackson State program. 

During that time Harrell went undefeated and led the Tigers with the same iron fist that Sanders has. Harrell has proven himself to be trustworthy and loyal, and that is why he’s here in Boulder as his assistant head coach. 

“I would not be here if not for the trust and loyalty I gave him along the way,” Harrell said. “Everyone knows when he had to go out based on the injury, I was fortunate enough to continue that path for the four or five games and I think the way I went about it and kept things on track the way he would and just keep the chemistry of the players and the coaches, I think that enter a long way. For this level, I think that’s something that he knew that he needed as far as having good people around you. That’s what he thrives on.”

Is Harrell Setting Himself Up To Be A Head Coach Again?

While Harrell is happy to help Coach Prime build his program at Colorado as he did at Jackson State, he also wants to be a head coach again. Harrell, a former Howard Bison standout and HBCU legend, was head coach of the Bison from 2011-16. Although the stint wasn’t all that successful, Harrell has proved since then that he deserves another shot to lead his own program. And being under someone like Coach Prime can’t do anything but enhance that.

“I’ve been coaching for about 22 years and in this business, you need someone that can take you places you probably can’t get to on your own,” Harrell said. “I knew I had a special guy when I met Coach Prime. I knew he was going places based on some of the things that we implemented in a short time span at Jackson State. Do I want to be a head coach again? I definitely do, but just the right situation, and timing.”

If Coach Prime is half as successful at Colorado as he was at Jackson State, Harrell might not be the only coach from Sanders’ staff who’ll have a chance at leading his own program. 

Back to top