The Grambling State football program is in disarray. A player protest led to the winless Tigers’ Southwestern Athletic Conference game at Jackson State Saturday being canceled and possibly jeopardizing the remainder of the season.
The Grambling players are upset with the school’s athletic facilities, travel arrangements for some games and Coach Doug Williams being fired two games into the season. They failed to show up Friday for the bus trip to Jackson, Miss., where they were scheduled to be Jackson State’s homecoming opponent. Their no-show culminated a tumultuous week during which several of them walked out of a meeting with President Frank Pogue and Athletic Director Aaron James on Tuesday and boycotted practice Wednesday and Thursday.
Grambling (0-8) forfeited Saturday’s game and will be fined $20,000, according to SWAC bylaws. Jackson State went on with most of its homecoming activities, and the football team played a 30-minute scrimmage instead of facing the G-Men.
“We’re disappointed there wasn’t a football game,’’ said SWAC Commissioner Duer Sharp. “I’m sure the president and athletic director will work together to see that it doesn’t happen again.’’
Grambling officials met Friday evening in an effort to resolve the differences between the administration and the players. Grambling spokesman Will Sutton said that university officials would have no comment and players will not be available for interviews.
Grambling players listed a number of complaints in a letter obtained by ESPN. The letter described the athletic complex as being in “horrible condition’’, filled with mold and mildew on the ceiling, walls and floors. It also said that team uniforms are poorly cleaned and that has led to players developing staph infections.
The players also complained about a 14-hour bus ride to Kansas City, where they played Lincoln (Mo.) University and a 17-hour trip to Indianapolis, where they played SWAC rival Alcorn State, which traveled by air. Lincoln, a Division II program, beat the G-Men 47-34, and hasn’t won since; Alcorn beat them 48-0.
“When you have your budget slashed by 57 percent, you have to make choices,” Sutton said in a recent AP article, adding that the school would “love” to fly the team to distant road games, but that Grambling was contractually obligated to take its band, cheerleaders and dance team on those two trips. He said those obligations led to the difficult choice to put everyone on buses.
Another complaint centered on Williams’ firing. The players said the administration didn’t have plans for a competent interim coach when it fired the former Grambling All-American quarterback and Super Bowl MVP. Running back coach George Ragsdale, an unpopular choice with the players, was named interim coach on Sept. 11 when Williams was fired. Ragsdale was fired Thursday, and defensive coordinator Dennis “Dirt’’ Winston, a former linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was elevated to head coach.
Williams has said he was never given an explanation why he was fired. He has a year remaining on his three-year, $250,000 a year contract, which will be honored.