College football is special because of its tradition and history. Sure, major Power 5 conferences like the SEC and Big Ten have plenty, but Historically Black Colleges and Universities are in a league of their own. Of course, there's the game itself, but it's a fact that the marching bands are the most electrifying entertainment in the whole sport. Throw in the chants, cheers and longstanding history, and HBCU football absolutely has a sacred place in collegiate athletics. However, HBCU football and the best HBCU football coaches haven't received the recognition it's deserved.
Coaches like Oliver Pough, who had led the South Carolina State Bulldogs for two decades and won the 2021 Celebration Bowl in Atlanta. Even furth back, there's Billy Nicks and his Prairie View A&M Panthers. Nicks is commonly referred to as HBCU's answer to "Bear Bryant." But HBCU football has gone relatively unnoticed by the general public for years, but that's begun to change as former legends return to teams like the Morgan State Bears and the North Carolina A&T Aggies.
That is until former All-American Deion Sanders started making big moves at Jackson State University. Sanders took over the Tigers program in 2020 and turned them into conference champions in his second season. He kept the momentum going when he flipped the top recruit in the class of 2022, cornerback Travis Hunter, to JSU from his alma mater Florida State. Don't be surprised if more high school football players follow in Hunter's footsteps to HBCU schools. What we have seen are more former players returning to HBCUs to wear the headset.
Recently, Bethune-Cookman and Ed Reed's relationship fell apart. Eddie George recently took over the reins at Tennessee State. Eddie Robinson, not the Grambling State legend, also returned to his alma mater to become the head coach at Alabama State. As did Larry Scott, who leads Howard University.
Coach Prime was building a solid program at Jackson State before heading off to Colorado, but what about his predecessors? The HBCU coaches who enjoyed prospering tenures long ago. They deserve their time in the HBCU Sports spotlight, too.
Jeffries built one of the best HBCU programs of the '70s at South Carolina State. He won two Black college football national titles (given to the best HBCU teams in the country) and five MEAC titles before taking the head coaching job at Wichita State in 1979, where he became the first Black head coach at a predominantly white Division I school. He spent five years in Kansas and had a four-year stint at Howard. Then, he returned to South Carolina State in 1989 and won his third national championship in 1994.
Jeffries was deservedly inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2010.
Winning followed Broadway wherever he went. The legendary head football coach won at least one Black college football national championship at North Carolina Central, Grambling State and North Carolina AT&T. He retired in 2017 with an impressive 127-45 career record.
Eddie Robinson led the Grambling State University football program for 56 (!) years. From 1941-1997, he accumulated 408 wins against 165 losses and produced several NFL players, including Doug Williams, the first African-American quarterback to win a Super Bowl.
Since Robinson left Grambling State, the Tigers coaching staff has seen some turmoil and a plethora of assistants getting jobs at other schools. The 2022 Celebration Bowl was won by Trei Oliver and the North Carolina Central Eagles, who spent three years as an assistant at Grambling State.
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Known as "The Gunslinger" (all-time nickname), Cooley was the mastermind behind the aerial oriented "Satellite Express" offense that helped put Jerry Rice on the map. Cooley's overall coaching record isn't going to turn heads. He by far had his most success at Mississippi Valley State and Arkansas Pine-Bluff, where he won 69 games over 11 seasons, but he came out of retirement twice and put up more losses than wins at Norfolk State and Paul Quinn.
That being said, Cooley was well ahead of his time with his offensive thinking.
Bill Hayes is a #NC ? legend + trailblazer with a resume that includes being the first Black coach at Wake Forest as well as one of the first Black coaches in the #ACC. He is also the winningest coach at both Winston-Salem State + North Carolina A&T. #BlackHistoryMonth #HBCU pic.twitter.com/pqUOJ2d8up
— Iconic Heroes (@IconicHeroesHQ) February 2, 2022
Similar to Broadway, Bill Hayes produced championship results at multiple schools. At Winston-Salem State, Hayes won four CIAA conference championships. He then took the job at North Carolina A&T, where he won two national championships and three MEAC titles. Over his 27-year career, he complied 195 wins.
Before his head coaching career, Hayes was a running backs coach at Wake Forest, making him one of the first Black coaches ever at the NCAA Division I level.
The HBCU's best coaches had great names. The best belongs to Marino Casem aka "The Godfather." Casem won seven -- yes, seven SWAC tiltles -- and four national championships over his 22-year tenure at Alcorn State. "The Godfather" was also the athletic director while coaching the football team. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
Casem is also responsible for a solid coaching tree that includes current Florida A&M Rattlers head coach, Willie Simmons.
MORE: Nation's No. 1 Recruit Makes Historic Commitment to Deion Sanders' HBCU Program
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