Entering his seventh season as head coach at Jackson State, Rick Comegy has done it all. Won championships. Suffered losing seasons. Failed to meet expectations. Exceeded expectations.
There were even postgame tirades thrown in there, too.
Aside from Grambling State, there is no bigger pressure cooker in all of Southwestern Athletic Conference than Jackson State where seasons are considered a waste of time if the Tigers aren’t holding up the trophy come December.
The weight of that can be unnerving whose fan base constantly reminds everyone within shouting distance you don’t quite measure up to the likes of James Carson and W.C. Gorden who went a combined 172-70 while winning conference and Black National Championships along the way.
Comegy arrived in Jackson when the program was at its bleakest and darkest during a James Bell error era that produced just 10 wins in 42 forgettable contests.
“When other teams play us, we want them to [know] that we are Jackson State University. he said during his introductory press conference back in 2005. “I want these guys to play with tenacity and aggression every play.”
“When they are off the field, we want them to act like gentlemen, but on the field we want them to act like back alley boys.”
That first season under Comegy was an inconsistent one. Not quite the back alley boys Comegy promised, but not push overs either. JSU won six games that year (four less than the previous administration won in three years), but it felt like they could have squeaked out a few more, considering the bar was set so high after it has been so low. Then again, you could see — not hope for– signs of improvement.
In the second year of the blueprint, the Tigers won the SWAC East in a race that went down to the wire and beat arch rival Grambling in the championship game with a cast of characters than included a QB in Jimmy Oliver who was dazzlingly frustrating but good enough to keep JSU on the wining side of the ledger more often than not.
The Tigers would reach the title game again in 2008, but with issues at QB and on the offensive line, Jackson State clearly didn’t have a shot, losing to Grambling in the rematch. That might have been Comegy’s second best coaching job all things considered.
His most impressive was in 2011 when after being banned from the SWAC title game due to Academic Progress Rate underachievement, and his team with nothing to play for two years removed from a disastrous personal and professional 3-8 2009 season, won nine games.
When Comegy and the players could have used the reprimand as an excuse to go through the motions and plan for 2012, it didn’t happen.
But coaches aren’t measured by seasons in which they almost win or achieve moral victories. They are judged by the scoreboard. Its judge, jury and unforgiving executioner. And the scoreboard has been kind to Comegy.
Comegy is 18-7 against SWAC East opponents. That’s the best win-loss divisional record since Robert Hughes walked the sidelines. Versus rivals Grambling State and Southern, Comegy is a respectable 6-8 with three straight wins in head-to-head match ups with the Jaguars. Could Comegy have won more often, more extravagantly? Sure. The beast is never satisfied. It is the reality coaches live in no matter how much success they attain.
Under Comegy the Tigers have been relatively consistent when examining the 41-26 record.
The longest losing streak the team suffered was three games in that horrific 2009 campaign.
In Comegy’s first six years, the Tigers have ranked No. 1 in offense three of those years and in the top four in defense in 2008, 2009 and 2011.
The Tigers have finished with at least a share of the SWAC East crown three times and completed years no worse than third in any season.
Heading into the 2012, the Tigers will be among the favorites to compete for a spot in Birmingham again like every year. The hot seat never gets warm if you are Comegy. It continually burns like a raging inferno. A two-year contract extension only flames the fires.
It’s been Comegy’s ability to escape the third-degree burns that’s enabled him to be one of the best coaches in all of Black College Football for more than two decades.