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  • Willie Jeffries

    I know this is a little old (2002), but a good read.

    Div. I-A coaching pioneer Jeffries has only one regret
    COMMENTARY: FOOTBALL: THE BIG PICTURE

    By DAVID HAUGH
    Irish Sports Report
    Former Wichita State and South Carolina State head coach Willie Jeffries kept his eye on last Saturday’s Michigan State-Notre Dame football game.

    AP File Photo/PHIL COALE

    As America's first black college football head coach in NCAA Div. I-A, Willie Jeffries counted on some culture shock when Wichita State hired him back in 1979. His new home state of Kansas contained some small towns, after all, in which the number black families could be counted on one hand.

    So Jeffries anticipated awkward moments like the time he spoke in rural Newton, Kan., at a "Buffalo barbecue,'' and the host told the crowd not to worry because, "they did prepare fried chicken and ribs,'' for Coach Jeffries. Or the time a TV producer told Jeffries not to bite his consonants so hard, because it sounded like he was trying to sound too smart.

    "I had to have my subject-verb agreement perfect, I had to be friendly, cordial,'' Jeffries recalled. "When it comes down to an African-American coach, as opposed to a white coach, you have to have it all. I was watched closer, because I was black. Sure I was.''

    He expected as much from alums, fans and media. But not players.

    Yet what happened one night in the living room of a teen-age recruit in what he considered one of America's most progressive cities, Philadelphia, floored Jeffries. The young man, who was white, told Jeffries he couldn't play for a black head coach.

    "His mom and dad were sitting right there and he said, 'I like you, coach, but I've only played for white coaches and never played under an African-American before, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with it,' '' Jeffries recalled. "So I said, 'Thanks for telling me. I'm happy to find out now instead of on fourth-and-one.'

    "His mom and dad fell to the floor laughing."

    Now that was funny.

    But this isn't: When Notre Dame's Tyrone Willingham and Michigan State's Bobby Williams took the field last Saturday at Spartan Stadium in front of a national-TV audience, half of the four black head coaches among the NCAA's 117 Div. I-A football programs were on display.

    That's 3.4 percent of all head coaching jobs -- in a sport in which 46.4 percent of the athletes are black, according to the Center for Sport in Society at Northeastern University.

    All this 23 years after Jeffries thought he had opened the door so much wider.

    In some ways last Saturday was celebrated by the Black Coaches Association. But celebrated in a way infamy is celebrated; with uneasy smiles.

    "The fact that two coaches of African-American descent will go against each other this weekend is significant, but it also points to a shortcoming in our system, and that is disappointing,'' Willingham said in the days leading up to the game with his alma mater.

    Added Williams, who talked around the subject: "It shows how far we've come in college football.''

    Yet exposes how far the sport still has to go.

    Jeffries, 64, now retired and working as a fund-raiser at South Carolina State after his second coaching stint at the school where he won 128 games, echoed both men's ambivalence in his office in Orangeburg, S.C.

    "This is a great day to have two African-American coaches of major, major programs -- it's like Algebra class, this is major squared -- in a game that will get this type of recognition,'' Jeffries said.

    But. . .

    "I don't have one bone of racial hatred in my body,'' he added. "(But), yes I still do feel some resentment about it, I can't help it.

    "I'm so happy those two guys (Willingham and Williams) are in programs in which they can win. But I know how the system works. We've done a lot of things in America to try to help this, but the system (in college football) still hasn't changed for black coaches. ... It's racial. Most of the athletic directors making $150,000 with perks don't want to go out on a limb, and that's 50 percent of the problem.''

    Among the other 50 percent, Jeffries takes a share of the blame himself.

    "I surely didn't think that 23 years later, there'd only be four, and I do feel a little responsible that it's not more,'' Jeffries said. "I felt there would have been a preponderance of coaches if I had done better.''

    After starting out 1-9, Jeffries led Wichita State to a 4-7 record before going 8-3 and beating Kansas in his third season. That got the attention of Army, which invited Jeffries to interview. He spent three days on the West Point, N.Y., campus and expected to get the offer -- and then a revelation about an NCAA probe into his WSU program changed Jeffries' career.

    Turns out a Wichita State assistant had provided a ride for a player from Dallas to the first day of fall camp, and news of the NCAA's investigation scared Army away. Interest in Jeffries waned, and after a 4-7 record the following season that preceded a change in college presidents and athletic directors, Jeffries resigned with two years left on his contract. He took over the program at Div. I-AA Howard University, he says, "on my own accord.''

    Last May in Indianapolis, Jeffries was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award for the two black college national titles he won at Howard and South Carolina State. As well as for the history he made at Wichita State.

    Bobby Williams, who stayed in the hotel room next to Jeffries, thanked the old coach for making his dream possible.

    Jeffries was gracious, but told Williams the same thing he would tell Willingham. And the same thing he would tell Fitz Hill at San Jose State, and Tony Samuel at New Mexico State and every other black man who becomes a head coach at this level.

    Thank him by winning.

    "They tell me I opened the door for those two (Williams and Willingham),'' Jeffries said. "I don't know about that. But I do know that they're the first two who have had a long enough stick to fight with. ... I was fighting with a toothpick against guys with two-by-fours.''

    The pain lingers, 23 years later. But it helps Jeffries to know that his pain somehow made it possible for the type of gain to be celebrated last Saturday in East Lansing.

  • #2
    Too bad we can't give another African American the chance to coach a college football team.

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    • #3
      What was the guys name that wanted to be the Gene Stephenson of Shocker Football? He was an African American right?

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      • #4
        I was at that KU/WSU game. I was very proud and stormed the field with the other Shocker faithfull, players and coaches. The KU crowd didnt leave they just stood there stunned. That was the birth of one of my fav WSU t-shirts. WU Shock holding 2 jhwks by the neck with the words When will they learn?. One jhawk for football one for b ball (Battle of New Orleans)

        :goshocks: osterwu: osterwsu: 8) 8)
        I have come here to chew bubblegum and kickass ... and I'm all out of bubblegum.

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        • #5
          The reason I felt that this article is important to those of us that want football is because we have to understand where WSU football was. Jeffries is a great coach and the 2nd winningest in WSU history, but chose to leave with two years on his contract. Ron Chismar came into WSU after a being the offensive coordinator at Arizona State that won the Fiesta Bowl over OU and finished ranked 6th in the nation. He never could get it going either. Our biggest win is over KU and they have very little tradition in football. Beating KU is only big because we sucked so bad for so long.
          Bringing football back must be done as a well funded and well planned undertaking. To really compete we must have at least 30 million in the bank and support of the community, students and administration. We had really good people running our program, but the fans and alumni failed to fund and support it. We can't do that again and expect different results. I believe that we can have football again, but we have to have the funding to do it and I don't see that happing right now. I wish that I was wrong. We don't want a coach using a toothpick to battle guys with two-by-fours again.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by shocky
            The reason I felt that this article is important to those of us that want football is because we have to understand where WSU football was. Jeffries is a great coach and the 2nd winningest in WSU history, but chose to leave with two years on his contract. Ron Chismar came into WSU after a being the offensive coordinator at Arizona State that won the Fiesta Bowl over OU and finished ranked 6th in the nation. He never could get it going either. Our biggest win is over KU and they have very little tradition in football. Beating KU is only big because we sucked so bad for so long.
            Bringing football back must be done as a well funded and well planned undertaking. To really compete we must have at least 30 million in the bank and support of the community, students and administration. We had really good people running our program, but the fans and alumni failed to fund and support it. We can't do that again and expect different results. I believe that we can have football again, but we have to have the funding to do it and I don't see that happing right now. I wish that I was wrong. We don't want a coach using a toothpick to battle guys with two-by-fours again.
            the KU win was Jeffries biggest win. We did beat Okahoma State in the late 70s at home, and that was really sweet. I also remember the time Willie and company almost knocked off the Tennessee Vounteers on their home field in front of 90,000 plus stunned fans (we lost on a late 4th qtr field goal). I hated to see Willie go. I really think he could have had a competitive program for many years, but he did get caught up in the NCAA investigations too close to the time that the BBall team had its issues.. Prince McJunkins and Jumpy Geathers - WoW!
            Kansas is Flat. The Earth is Not!!

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