Turnover, SWAC; touchdown, MEAC
By Craig Haley, FCS Executive Director
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The potential postseason bowl game between the two FCS conferences for Historically Black Colleges and Universities has yet to come to fruition.
But, oh, is the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference ahead of the Southwestern Athletic Conference on the scoreboard this offseason.
Most glaring is the fact that the head coaches of two of the last three SWAC champions have bolted their programs to take over struggling MEAC programs.
The buzz that comes from bringing in a new head coach is always profound and the MEAC has five programs building off such momentum. The biggest additions are at North Carolina Central with Henry Frazier Jr., the 2009 Eddie Robinson Award winner who led Prairie View A&M to the SWAC title that season, and North Carolina A&T with Rod Broadway, formerly head coach of Grambling State's storied program. The leader of the SWAC's 2008 championship squad did an about face on the Tigers last week after telling them he would not be leaving the program for N.C. A&T.
Also in the MEAC, former Winston-Salem State head coach Kermit Blount is regarded as a big hire for Delaware State. Add in new head coach Gary Harrell at his alma mater, Howard, and Steve Davenport at Savannah State, and the five programs that went a combined 9-46 last season are hoping for quick dividends.
Rod Broadway did an about face on Grambling State last week after telling them he would not be leaving the program for N.C. A&T.
Meanwhile, in between the departures by Frazier and Broadway, the SWAC also saw Earnest Collins Jr. relinquish the head coaching duties at Alcorn State to take over at his alma mater, Northern Colorado. It's a move that doesn't sting as much as the other two, however.
The hits that the MEAC has enjoyed this offseason are of a different variety than the hits endured by the SWAC. The MEAC already has a broadcasting package with ESPN and has many of its campuses in decent markets such as Hampton, Va. (Hampton), Norfolk, Va. (Norfolk State), Tallahassee, Fla. (Florida A&M), Baltimore (Morgan State), Daytona Beach, Fla. (Bethune- Cookman), Greensboro, N.C. (North Carolina A&T) and Washington, D.C. (Howard).
The MEAC also is coming off a season in which a first-year head coach, Brian Jenkins, led Bethune-Cookman to 10 straight wins to open the season and had his Wildcats accompany South Carolina State to the FCS playoffs, giving the conference multiple participants for the first time since 2003. With Buddy Pough having built a power at South Carolina State and the legendary Joe Taylor building Florida A&M's fortunes, the MEAC now has a wealth of strong coaching minds set to square off this fall.
The SWAC, whose champion, Texas Southern, sidelined its quarterback, Arvell Nelson, on the eve of the conference title game because of questions about his eligibility, seemingly will find a way to rebound.
Prairie View filled its head coaching vacancy with Heishma Northern, Frazier's top assistant, and Alcorn State brought in Melvin Spears Jr., who preceded Broadway as Grambling State's head coach for three seasons from 2004-06. Many people at Grambling State want the current coaching search to focus on Doug Williams, the Super Bowl-winning quarterback who followed Grambling State coaching legend Eddie Robinson for six seasons from 1998-2003. He appears open to discussing a return to his alma mater.
Interest from SWAC alums remains high. The conference's off-campus "classic" games drew seven of the top 10 crowds in the FCS this season, including the national high of 61,879 for the Magic City Classic between Alabama A&M and Alabama State in Birmingham.
But the SWAC must find a way to react to this tough offseason - perhaps pump more money into its coaching salaries and facilities. It's surprising when not one, but two head coaches of winning programs in one conference depart for two of the worst programs in a rival conference.
The MEAC and SWAC have a challenge game to open the season. This season, Northern will make his coaching debut at Prairie View against Bethune-Cookman. It's possible their two conference champions will soon be meeting in the postseason in the much-discussed Legacy Bowl.
The SWAC already has the lucrative Bayou Classic (Grambling versus Southern) and the conference championship game, so the possibility of the Legacy Bowl appears to be the MEAC's call because the conference, like the SWAC, would be giving up its automatic bid to the FCS playoffs. A decision is expected in the near future, perhaps next month.
At this point of the offseason, though, there's no doubt which conference is ahead on the scoreboard.