The 2014 football season in Black college football began a youth movement among coaches. Four coaches with three or fewer years experience leading programs won or shared their conference’s championship, and three others had their teams knocking on the door. The youth movement had its most dramatic impact in the MEAC.
First-year coaches Jerry Mack of North Carolina Central and Lee Hull of Morgan State led their squads to a share of the conference crown in a wacky race that ended in a five-way tie. Their teams were picked to finish seventh and eighth, respectively, in the preseason poll by the nine-team conference’s coaches and sports information directors.
Morgan State earned the conference’s automatic FCS playoff berth – the first in school history – by virtue of its record against the other tied teams. The Bears suffered a 46-24 first-round loss to Richmond. In his first year, Latrell Scott took Virginia State to unprecedented heights. The Trojans made their first-ever Division II playoff appearance and defeated Long Island University-Post after winning their first CIAA championship since 1996. After starting the season 0-2, the Trojans reeled off a 10-game winning streak.
Alcorn State completed a meteoric return to prominence under third-year coach Jay Hopson, the first white football coach in the 94-year history of the SWAC. Hopson led the Braves to the SWAC championship and the Black College National Championship for the first time in 30 years. The Braves, 2-8 the season before Hopson took over, were among the top offensive units in the FCS. They were No. 2 in FCS schools in scoring (44.1 points a game), No. 5 in rushing offense (285.2) and No.8 in total offense (493.1).
Grambling State coach Broderick Fobbs didn’t win a conference championship in his debut season, but he did an impressive job nonetheless. The G-Men finished 7-5 – the most victories for them since they were 8-5 in 2011 and won the SWAC title – after winning only two games in 2012 and ’13 combined. The 2013 season was a train wreck as Grambling legend Doug Williams was fired as coach two games into the season, and team members boycotted practice and refused to make a road trip to play Jackson State in protest of the firing and conditions at their facility.
Fobbs, a former Grambling running back and team captain, righted the ship. The G-Men came within one play of winning the SWAC West championship. Ultimately they came up short to Southern in the Bayou Classic losing 52-45 when the Jaguars stopped them inches from the end zone as time expired. Southern’s victory in the Bayou Classic gave second-year coach Dawson Odums his second consecutive West Division championship after replacing Stump Mitchell on an interim basis two games into the 2012 season.
Odums led the Jaguars to the 2013 SWAC title in his first season as permanent head coach. Winston-Salem coach Kienus Boulware had some king-sized shoes to fill when he took over for Connel Maynor, who guided the Rams to three straight CIAA championships and the same number of Division II playoff appearances. The Rams failed to keep their streaks alive, but Boulware proved to be a more than adequate replacement for Maynor. He led Winston-Salem to their fourth straight CIAA Southern Division title and 9-2 record.
“These young coaches are coming in and making a mark, which I think is fantastic,’’ says ESPN college football commentator Charlie Neal. “They bring new ideas, not that the older guys like (North Carolina A&T Coach Rod) Broadway and (South Carolina State coach Buddy (Pough) don’t know what they’re doing. They’re being challenged by the ideas these young coaches are coming up with. It makes it the game better; it makes it more exciting for the fans.’’
“They did a nice job,’’ South Carolina State coach Pough said. “They bring different approaches and infused a kind of excitement. That keeps interest up. You have to be on your Ps and Qs.’’
The 2014 season was also highlighted by several record-setting individual performances.
Howard senior quarterback Greg McGhee became the MEAC’s career leader in total offense with 10,168 yards. McGhee led the MEAC in passing yards with 2,338 yards, and he was fourth in rushing with 847 yards for conference-high 3,235 yards. South Carolina State senior defensive tackle Javon Hargrave tied the FCS and MEAC single game record with six sacks against Bethune-Cookman.Hargrave was third in the FCS with 16 sacks and fourth in tackles for loss with 23.5.
Other top individual performers included: * Alcorn State junior quarterback John Gibbs Jr., the 2014 SWAC co-Offensive Player of the Year, who was the only player in FCS or FBS to throw for more than 2,000 yards (2,482) and rush for more than 1,000 yards (1,006). *
North Carolina A&T sophomore running back Tarik Cohen, the 2014 MEAC co-Offensive Player of the Year, who led the MEAC rushing yards per game for the second straight season (121.8), topping the 1,000-yard mark for the second time with 1,340 yard, and led the MEAC in scoring with 96 points on 16 touchdowns.
* Alabama State senior running back Malcolm Cyrus, the 2014 SWAC co-Offensive Player of the Year, who led all Black College runners with 1,662 yards and was No. 6 in FCS.
The 2014 season produced a number of games with fantastic finishes.
* South Carolina State and Bethune-Cookman played beat the clock in their Oct. 25 MEAC showdown in Orangeburg, S.C. South Carolina State led 14-7 with 50 seconds remaining when freshman quarterback Calvin Giles-McClary fumbled the center snap at the Bulldogs’ three-yard line. Bethune-Cookman defensive back Donald Smith scooped the ball up and scored to tie the game. Bethune-Cookman, ranked No. 1 among HBCUs at the time, squibbed the ball on the ensuing kickoff and South Carolina State recovered it at the Wildcats’ 49.
Adrian Kollock, who didn’t start at quarterback because of an injury and hadn’t played in the contest, replaced Giles-McClary and connected with wide receiver Austin Smith for the winning touchdown. Austin Smith was surrounded by two defenders when he caught the ball but managed to break free. He eluded three more would-be tacklers and dove into the end zone.
* Edward Waters defeated Pikeville 49-48 in equally bizarre fashion on Sept. 13, The Tigers won on a 46-yard Hail Mary pass from quarterback Tyler Mahla to Devion Lewis as time expired after trailing 35-7 in the fourth quarter. Mahla’s heave tied the score. Christopher Miglioranzi’s winning PAT was anything was anything but automatic. The Tigers were penalized 15 yards for excessive celebration following Lewis’ touchdown, Edward Waters ended the game with 35 unanswered points.
* Southern eked out a heart-stopping 52-45 victory over Grambling in front of a crowd of 57,852 as the Bayou Classic returned to relevance. Grambling trailed by 21 points three times, the last coming with 10 minutes remaining the fourth quarter. Somehow, the G-Men, trailing by seven points, found themselves with the ball inside Southern’s one-yard line with first-and-goal and seconds remaining.
Quarterback Jonathan Williams put Grambling in position to send the game into overtime with a 12-yard scramble that was reviewed by officials who determined he was down before he got into the end zone. Southern emerged with the win the Jaguars stonewalled Williams on a quarterback sneak as time expired.
* Tuskegee staged late-game rallies in back-to-back games en route to its second SIAC title in three years. The Golden Tigers trailed Miles 27-13 with 9:51 left in the third quarter in their showdown for the SIAC West championship. They scored 22 points in the fourth quarter and won 48-33. The following week, the Golden Tigers squandered a 14-point first half lead against Albany State in the conference championship game and trailed 41-38 with 1:46 remaining in the game.
The Golden Tigers drove 64 yards in 11 plays and scored the go-ahead touchdown on fullback Michael J. Thornton’s three-yard touchdown run with 38 seconds remaining, and they added a safety for a 47-41 win that secured their second straight Division II playoff berth. Tuskegee ran out of comebacks in their first-round playoff loss to West Georgia 20-17 after trailing 13-0 at the half.
No season would be complete without drama in the coaching ranks, and the 2014 season had its share.
The intrigue began at Alabama State, where Athletic Director Melvin Hines asked Coach Reggie Barlow to resign following the Hornets’ 28-21 loss to Southern. The loss was the fourth in a row for Alabama State, the preseason pick to win the SWAC East Division title. The losing streak included a 37-36 loss to arch-rival Alabama A&M in the Magic City Classic after the Hornets led by 13 points in the third quarter, and it came on the heels of a four-game winning streak that saw the Hornets beat Tennessee State which was No. 1 among HBCUs at the time.
Barlow had been given a contract extension before the season started, but the school’s Board of Trustees voted to rescind the deal prior to the Hornets’ season finale. Barlow’s contract was not renewed when the season ended even though Alabama State finished the year 7-5, giving Barlow five consecutive seasons with at least seven wins and a 49-42 career record in eight seasons. The streak is the longest in school history.
Florida A&M coach Earl Holmes didn’t last until the end of the season. Athletic Director Kellen Winslow pulled the plug on Holmes, a Florida A&M Hall of Famer who grew up in Tallahassee and went on to play in the NFL, four days before the Rattlers’ homecoming. The move upset Florida A&M alumni as well as Rattler players. Florida A&M Trustee Torey Alston called the timing of Holmes’ dismissal “culturally incompetent.’’
Al Lawson, a former long-time Florida state legislator and Florida A&M basketball player, said Winslow should be fired. Team members marched from the field house to Winslow’s office to voice their displeasure. Winslow attempted to disperse the group and asked, “Don’t y’all have a book to read?’’ Winslow later apologized publicly for his behavior. However, the Board of Trustees voted 6-3 to sustain the Athletic Oversight Committee’s vote of no confidence in Winslow.
Former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips, Alcorn State offensive coordinator Willie Simmons and Corey Fuller, the Rattlers secondary coach who replaced Holmes on an interim basis, are the finalists for Holmes’ old job.
Other coaching moves:
* Benedict fired James Woody after compiled a 10-26 record in three and a half seasons. The Tigers were 4-6 each of the last two seasons.
* Lane’s Malik Hoskins resigned following a 1-8 record in his first season after succeeding Derrick Burroughs.
* Norfolk State’s Pete Adrian retired after 10 seasons. Adrian ended his career with a 54-60 mark and is No. 2 on the Spartans’ career victory list. The Spartans had gone 2-19 in the two seasons before Adrian took over in 2005. He led them to four winning seasons from after having none since 1996 including three straight from 2009-11. The highlight of Adrian’s career was Norfolk State’s 2011 MEAC championship and FCS playoff appearance as the Spartans were 9-3.
* Prairie View A&M fired Heishma Northern and named Bubba McDowell interim coach. Northern was 19-25 in four seasons, including 5-5 in 2014.
* Saint Augustine’s fired Michael Costa and hired Michael Morand, who replaced Michael Costa on an interim basis after the first game of the season, a 41-19 loss to Indiana (Pa.). Costa was 39-63 in 13 seasons. Morand led the Falcons to three wins in their final nine games a third-place finish in the CIAA Southern Division with a 3-7 overall record.