Deion Sanders didn’t become a Pro Football Hall of Famer and arguably the best cornerback of all-time by resting on his laurels.
Following an outstanding 2021 season which saw his Jackson State Tigers win their first SWAC title in 14 seasons, play in its first Celebration Bowl and capture the program’s first 11-win season, Sanders was happy but not satisfied.
Being a former offensive coordinator who got explosive results at Trinity Christian High School, Sanders wanted more from his offense. Under the direction of his son Shedeur, the 2021 SWAC Freshman of the Year and Jerry Rice Award winner, the offense was solid but lacked pace and innovation.
Sanders, wanting a more explosive and quick attacking offense reached out to current Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach, who’s recognized as the master of the up-tempo spread offense known as “Air Raid.”
Sanders spoke about the move during last Sunday’s spring game on ESPN.
“We’ve gotta move the ball, be a lot more creative,” Deion insisted.
“Who do you go to? A guy like Mike Leach, and say, ‘Gimme three guys you think can do the job.’ …. Brett won it out. He’s been doing a phenomenal job.”
Great to have my friend stop by from just down the road. pic.twitter.com/BPKefhujVB
— Mike Leach (@Coach_Leach) March 29, 2022
When Sanders says Brett, he’s speaking of first-year Tigers offensive coordinator Brett Bartolone, who actually comes from the Mike Leach tree.
Mike Leach: The Mad Scientist
Bartolone played for the “Mad Scientist” in college at Washington State. The 5-foot-10 wideout appeared in 17 games between 2012-2015 and produced 63 receptions for 488 yards and four touchdowns.
The past two seasons as a rising superstar in coaching, the young OC helped groom Nevada quarterback Carson Strong into an NFL prospect.
As for Leach, he was also the mastermind behind those Texas Tech Red Raiders offenses with Kliff Kingsbury (Arizona Cardinals head coach) and Graham Harrell at QB. Leach had the Red Raiders ranked as high as No. 2 in 2008, following an upset of No. 1 Texas on Michael Crabtree’s last-second touchdown grab.
Based on his track record with mostly two-three star athletes, it was a brilliant idea for Sanders to reach out to Leach about reshaping his offense.
Bartolone Has Right Temperament To Lead Offense
Coaching under someone as demanding as Sanders can have its drawbacks at times, but in the end, Sanders’ passion produces results for the betterment of the entire program. On the other hand, Bartolone is even-keeled and cool under pressure. That’s vital for JSU, which now wears the crown of the hunted in the SWAC.
Bartolone’s approach will be great for the development of Shedeur into an NFL prospect. With all the weaponry at his disposal — from No. 1 overall recruit Travis Hunter to top-50 barnburner recruit in Kevin Coleman. The 6-foor-5 Malachi Wideman returns with his 12 touchdown receptions from a season ago, so “BB” has the pieces to put it on defenses weekly.
The Tigers will be in attack mode in this “Air Raid,” and they’ll be looking to score every play.
Bartolone and Deion aren’t complete opposites. The offensive coordinator doesn’t lack any confidence and is expecting to obliterate record books.
“You can expect us to score a lot of points,” Bartolone told reporters. “We’re going to be prepared, and to put it quite simply we’re going to do stuff that the defense doesn’t like to do. We’re going to play fast, we’re going to play super confident and we’re going to attack the defense.”
Bartolone Will Use Spread To Run Under Defenses: What’s Air Raid?
One huge component of the “Air Raid” attack is it spreads the defense thin by using the entire width of the field. For a unit that struggled to run-block and open holes for the Tigers’ running backs last season, this wide-open passing scheme will immediately boost the running game. The box will be a lot cleaner for backs. As far as play-calling goes, teams won’t know if it’s run or pass because the formations look the same in this offense.
Deion Sanders relieved his former offensive coordinator group of its duties and handpicked Bartolone for the job. Probably gave him a decent bag too. Sanders came under some criticism from a few pundits questioning his hiring of Bartolone, an Italian guy, to coach at an HBCU, but Deion insists he’s hiring the best people and connecting with the best businesses regardless of race or how they play politically (See his deal with Bar Stool, Pepsi, AFLAC etc).
With all of these factors playing alongside the huge expectations for JSU to take it up another notch, its safe to say Bartolone begins his tenure on the hot seat.
When you analyze Deion’s thought process and the source he tapped to help his make the decision, the hire looks genius. Now the Tigers need to perform at a high level in the scheme. If that happens, expect back-to-back trips to the Celebration Bowl as SWAC champions.