Another big-name coach is gone from the world of Black College Sports as Grambling dismissed Hue Jackson from their football program Tuesday, leaving the Tigers to search for another leader who can restore the “G” and glory to a program that remains the standard for HBCU football.
Jackson, a brilliant offensive mind with lackluster showings running NFL teams (Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns), finished with an 8-14 mark in two seasons at Grambling, which was enough for the university’s administration to pull the plug.
Jackson is the latest in an alarming trend of name-brand coaches and personalities charged with elevating an HBCU athletics program only to leave with minimal success or in total disgrace.
Former Maryland star and NBA veteran Juan Dixon was fired in March from Coppin State’s men’s basketball program, known more for his unflattering relationship skills on Real Housewives of Potomac and a catfishing scandal than wins.
Women’s basketball legend Cynthia Cooper-Dyke retired as Texas Southern’s women’s basketball coach in 2022, ahead of reports of sexual harassment and bullying during her second tenure.
In the interest of fairness, Deion Sanders’ brief tenure at Jackson State was successful (two SWAC titles and Celebration Bowl appearances). Eddie George just led Tennessee State to its first winning season since 2016, so there’s a chance it could work. But even Sanders’ and George’s success were and is not without conflict.
Sanders’ megachurch pastor personality and abrasive demands wore thin with school traditionalists, while outside-the-box people praised his urgent and, in some cases, unrealistic agenda. George recently sparked a lengthy debate about support when he vented his disappointment with low attendance figures and engagement at Nissan Stadium, where he starred for many years as the Tennessee Titans’ franchise running back.
Splash hires are not unique to HBCU sports (or PWIs, for that matter), but they appear to be the flavor of the month for stakeholders who believe that a widely known name will revive dormant programs, increasing funding and resources along the way.
For every Deion Sanders and Eddie George (and even those two have caveats), there’s a Juan Dixon, a Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, and an Ed Reed, who didn’t even make it to fall practice before having his Bethune-Cookman football job offer rescinded due to outlandish behavior.
There’s no denying that HBCU sports could use a shot in the arm in terms of success and building programs. Still, it’s important to note that the people we consider GOATs – Eddie Robinson, Clarence “Big House” Gaines, John McClendon, Jake Gaither, etc. – built their names and programs from the ground up.
There was no coming from pro sports or serving as a PWI assistant for them. They started at HBCUs and ended at HBCUs. Our administrators and athletic directors should be looking for people who don’t view HBCUs as a stepping stone to their next great job or an ego boost should they do what hasn’t been done at the school in years or ever. Look for coaches who believe in the program, the school, and the culture; things will change for the better soon.
So, while everyone wants a splash hire to come in and save HBCU sports from a life of mediocrity, splashes don’t keep a reservoir full. And when that water dries out, it’s very difficult to replenish the reservoir when so much has already been taken out.