Monday, January 01, 2007

The time that ... Willie Jeffries came to Grambling

Jeffries moves toward GSU AD job
ULS board approval gives S.C. native, football coach one last step toward new post
December 3, 2004

By Nick Deriso

GRAMBLING -- Long-time coach and administrator Willie Jeffries is one step closer to being Grambling State University's new athletics director.

His proposed appointment, as first reported at, was approved Thursday during a 1:30 p.m. meeting of the University of Louisiana System board's joint athletic and finance committee. A final vote by the board was scheduled for today in Natchitoches.

The 67-year old would come to GSU after serving as South Carolina State University's director of athletic fund-raising since retiring as the school's coach in 2001. He served as athletics director from 1990-92.

Asked by Carl Shetler, the chair of the committee, what it takes to be an effective athletics director, Jeffries said: "The mission of athletics is the same as the overall mission of the university - to provide a quality education. A rising tide raises all boats. Athletics can be a beacon for academics and vice versa."

Jeffries also said he is a stickler for NCAA compliance, and plans to strictly adhere to all rules
set by that governing body, the Southwestern Athletic Conference and the university.

A native of Union, S.C., Jeffries would replace Al Dennis, who was fired on the first day of new president Horace Judson's tenure last July 1. Jeffries and Judson were in meetings until late Thursday afternoon and unavailable for further comment.

Jeffries is best known as a racial pioneer, becoming the first black to coach on the NCAA Division I level when he took over at Wichita State University in 1979. But his coaching career spanned four decades - 19 of which he spent at South Carolina State University, his alma mater. He also coached at Howard for five seasons.

"Willie Jeffries had a long and successful career coaching football," said Robert L. Brown, a 1994 graduate of Grambling State. "I don't know if he has the background to be an athletics director but I hope and trust Dr. Judson knows what he's doing."

Jeffries, who earned a civil engineering degree in 1960, coached at SCSU over two stints - between 1973-78 and 1989-2001. During the first tenure, Jeffries compiled a 50-13-4 record with five Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles.

Committee member Elsie Burkhalter noted his deep ties to South Carolina and asked Jeffries if he intended to relocate and stay awhile in Grambling.

"I'm not going to buy a graveyard plot," Jeffries said, "but we are going to stay for a while."

The candidate appeared Thursday morning on a revised agenda for the ULS board's joint athletic and finance committee. GSU's proposal was not on the ULS Web site Wednesday night.

The committee moved forward a proposed salary of $90,000 for Jeffries, "comparable to director of athletic positions at other institutions with similar size budgets as Grambling's," according to the committee's executive summary. He would begin work Jan. 3, 2005.

South Carolina State's football team faced GSU with some regularity over the years, including consecutive seasons between 1983-90. Jeffries' most significant victory over former GSU coach Eddie Robinson was a 31-27 win in the 1994 Heritage Bowl.

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GSU sports ready for Jeffries' style
December 4, 2004

By Nick Deriso

GRAMBLING -- Those who have worked closest with new Grambling State University athletic director Willie Jeffries hold him in high esteem.

"He's the best man I know … a straight-shooter, a no-nonsense guy," said South Carolina State University coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough.

Pough played for and later replaced the former coach who at age 67 is leaving a quiet administrative position at SCSU to re-enter the high-profile and high-speed world of athletics at GSU.

Jeffries was confirmed Friday by the University of Louisiana System board at a meeting in Natchitoches.

A native of Union, S.C., Jeffries replaces Al Dennis, ired on the first day of GSU president Horace Judson's tenure on July 1. Director of athletic fundraising at SCSU, in Orangeburg, S.C., Jeffries served as the school's football coach for 19 years and athletics director for two.

"With my being involved with fundraising, I learned that I wanted to do more," said Jeffries, slated to begin work at GSU on Jan. 3. "I was excited by the opportunity to come to Grambling, with the great name it has, especially in athletics.

"That helps you recruit students, and then academics benefits, as well."

Jeffries noted GSU's football legacy - a record that includes 20 Southwestern Athletic Conference titles - but also mentioned recent championships by the men's and women's cross country teams and women's soccer team, along with a runner-up performance in women's volleyball.

He said he is committed to success beyond football.

"We're going to be sure to adhere to Title IX," said Jeffries. "We want to give all of the sports an equal chance to succeed."

Pough said Jeffries will benefit Grambling in another critical area.

"Coach may be the best fundraiser we've ever had," Pough said. "He can build relationships and encourage people to support that university. He's a strong enough personality that people enjoy being around him.

"People migrate to him. That translates into good giving. Grambling is getting a steal. I'm actually surprised they were able to lure him away."

Clarence Moore, a 1976 Grambling graduate involved with the search that brought in Judson, is eager to meet his school's new athletics director.

"I will trust the administration and its decision on having chosen the best man for the position," said Moore.

Jeffries was the first black football coach on the NCAA Division I-A level in 1979 at Wichita State.

Jeffries, who earned a civil engineering degree in 1960, coached at SCSU over two stints - winning five Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championships. He compiled a 50-13-4 record from 1973-78, then returned in 1989 and led SCSU to a 78-64 mark over 13 seasons.

He served as both football coach and athletics director for two seasons, but found the workload prohibitive.

"After two years," Jeffries said, "I had to give up one of them."

Jeffries also coached at Howard University in Washington D.C., where he won a sixth MEAC title and the Bisons' first ever.

He faced former GSU coach Eddie Robinson several times, including a 1994 South Carolina State win in the Heritage Bowl.

"First of all, I knew a lot about Grambling," said Jeffries. "The administrative team on board now just influenced me greatly, the style of operation and the way they do things."

After working at the high school level, Jeffries began his college coaching career as an assistant at North Carolina A&T under Hornsby Howell in 1968. He then joined Johnny Majors' staff at Pittsburgh in 1972, where he served as an assistant for one year before returning to South Carolina State in 1973.

Jeffries' overall coaching mark was 179-132-6, with a record of 128-77-4 at his alma mater. He also sent a number of players into the NFL, including Donnie Shell, Orlando "Zeus" Brown, Jumpy Geathers, Harry Carson, Robert Porcher, Chartric Darby, Dexter Clinkscale and Anthony Cook.

Jeffries was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the 2002 Black Coaches Association and was featured on ESPN's "SportsCentury" as part of Black History Month that same year. A powerful speaker, he was featured at former GSU coach Doug Williams' first football banquet and at the SWAC's season-opening media event in 2002.

Also in the running
Grambling State University received board approval on Friday for the appointment of Willie Jeffries as its athletics director. Other reported finalists:

· Troy Mathieu, assistant superintendent for athletics for the Dallas Independent School District. A Lake Charles native, he was executive director of the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans from 1993-96 and was an applicant for the SWAC commissioner job.

· Clarence Underwood, who served as assistant athletics director, senior associate AD and then AD at Michigan State between 1990-2001. He also served as the deputy commissioner of the Big Ten. Underwood still works for MSU as a consultant.

· Wilbert Curtis Williams, former athletics director at Alabama State, Albany State and Elizabeth City State. He's now a department head at Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

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New GSU AD brings own light touch
January 24, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING -- New Grambling State athletics director Willie Jeffries could be forgiven if he took a workman-like attitude about his first days on campus.

There was much to be done, not the least of which was hiring a football coach - a figure that has always played an enormous role in the school's public persona.

"When I first got here, it was tough," said Jeffries, a long-time coach at South Carolina State. "There were concerns to be addressed with each of the 18 sports. People had problems here or there. It's been a busy first part of my tenure."

Yet Jeffries, quick with the compliment or joke, remade a usually staid process in his own easy-going image.

A Thursday news conference to introduce Melvin Spears as GSU's successor to Doug Williams was punctuated by laughter, most of it created by something Jeffries said or did. His opening remarks centered on a well-timed memory of coaching legend Eddie Robinson.

"You all remember Coach Rob carrying that briefcase," said Jeffries, who faced Robinson many times over the years. "All the young coaches thought if they carried one, they'd win as many games as he did. But -"

Here, Jeffries paused for effect.

"They didn't do that."

Jeffries even brought a yellow flag, similar to the ones carried by game officials, that he said he'd throw if things went too long.

Moments like that are familiar to South Carolina State coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough, who played on Jeffries' first team at SCSU and later succeeded him on the bench.

"Everybody he's come in contact with has been impressed with Coach over the years," Pough said. "People enjoy being around him."

Approved by the University of Louisiana System board on Dec. 3, Jeffries arrived on campus a month later. He had been SCSU's football coach for 19 seasons, athletics director for two, and director of athletic fund-raising since 2001. Jeffries was also the first black to head a Division I-A program, coaching at Wichita State in the late 1970s.

That legendary career was surely helped along by Jeffries' personal likeability.

"There's a reason Coach Jeffries has been able to do all those great things: He's a great man," Spears said. "He makes the tough calls, but he's still got a way of making people feel comfortable."

Spears got into the spirit of things late during Thursday's event.

Asked about next year's Bayou Classic, he said: "We're not in the business of predictions. But one person who was talking the other day said it best: For 57 years, we 'Robbed' them. For six years, we 'Doug' them. Hopefully, for the next 20 years, we'll 'Spear' them."

Once again, laughter rang out. Jeffries, smiling broadly, was clearly in his element.

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First-year GSU AD Jeffries to resign
September 28, 2005

By Nick Deriso

GRAMBLING - Grambling State University athletics director Willie Jeffries will resign from the school Friday after less than a year on the job.

"I am leaving because of personal situations involving my family," said Jeffries, who became GSU's fifth athletics director last January after a long tenure in athletics at South Carolina State. "I just felt it would be much better to be in South Carolina."

Jeffries, 68, declined to elaborate on the family situations.

He first revealed his plans to leave in talks with South Carolina news reporters after a speaking engagement - something Jeffries told GSU president Horace Judson that he regretted in a meeting Tuesday.

"The articles that quoted me as saying I was leaving when I had not had a chance to make the president knowledgeable of it, that was something I needed to apologize for," Jeffries said. "I had to go in and apologize and straighten that out."

Three separate newspaper articles over the weekend quoted Jeffries as saying he would leave GSU when his one-year contract is up on Jan. 3, 2006.

As word spread through the Internet and online message boards, Jeffries cut short his trip and returned to GSU to sort through the issue with the school's administration. He met with Judson on Monday and again Tuesday.

By the time Jeffries emerged, his last day at Grambling had been moved up to this week.

Judson, in a news release Tuesday afternoon, said: "It is unfortunate that he is leaving. For the short time he was here, Coach Jeffries made a strong contribution to our athletic programs. We are as sad to see him go as we were delighted in having him come. We wish him and his family all the best."

Jeffries replaced Al Dennis, who was fired on July 1, 2004 - Judson's first day on the job. Dennis had served for four years, following such GSU legends as Robert Piper and Fred Hobdy into the AD chair.

Jeffries is best known on the national level as a racial pioneer, becoming the first black to coach on the NCAA Division I level when he took over at Wichita State University in 1979. But his coaching career spanned four decades - 19 of which he spent at South Carolina State University, his alma mater.

That long relationship with SCSU and the town of Orangeburg, S.C., continued with regular visits back home throughout his nine-month tenure so far at GSU.

Jeffries' most recent trip, last week to speak to the Orangeburg Touchdown Club, was covered by two newspapers, The (Orangeburg, S.C.) Times and Democrat and The (Columbia, S.C.) State.

Writers Bob Gillespie of The State and Thomas Grant of the hometown Times and Democrat both had direct comments from Jeffries saying he will leave GSU when his one-year contract expires.

Jeffries, who was hired on Jan. 3, 2005, is quoted by both as saying: "I think we've accomplished what we needed."

He said on Tuesday that local reporters simply overheard comments about leaving.

"I was talking to one of my high school classmates," said Jeffries. "He kept asking me when I was coming back. I mentioned that we would be back soon - not knowing that one of the reporters was getting a scoop. I wouldn't have discussed that without talking to the president of Grambling."

Gillespie, who has covered Jeffries for nearly 30 years in South Carolina, stood by his story on Tuesday. Grant did the same.

Jeffries reiterated that he regretted the way the news leaked out.

"I know it caught (President Judson) by surprise, and I deeply regret that it happened," said Jeffries. "All of my days at Grambling have been good days. Everybody has been fair. I felt good about being at Grambling, because it's going in a positive direction. I wish Dr. Judson and the entire Grambling family the best."

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Jeffries couldn't shake South Carolina ties
September 30, 2005

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING -- His greatest successes, the six Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles and two Black National Championships, came in a most unexpected place.

Willie Jeffries took over at South Carolina State five years after one of the seminal moments in the torrid fight for racial justice in the 1960s, the Orangeburg Massacre.

Policemen fired into a crowd of protesters at the segregated All-Star Bowling Alley on campus that Feb. 8, 1968, killing three students and injuring 27 others. The nine patrolmen responsible were charged, but all were acquitted.

Even so, the Orangeburg area was home to Jeffries, and he's always been fiercely loyal to it.

Over years, and then decades, this similarly congenial coach would forge ahead in the deeply embedded footsteps of Grambling State's Eddie Robinson, winning games and lifelong friends from both the local white and black communities.

He did it with likeable banter, a hard-nosed style of coaching - and a playbook so conservative that he once said he "didn't even pass on the interstate."

But Jeffries also accomplished something that Robinson didn't. He left for a time to travel in Division I-A circles - including stints at Pittsburgh and Wichita State.

That said, he always came back to his native South Carolina.

Just as he will again.

Jeffries abruptly resigned after published reports from his home state last week revealed that he would leave - less than a year since taking over as athletics director at GSU.

The return shouldn't come as any surprise, only the time frame.

Twice Jeffries was offered a position with the Atlanta Falcons while coaching at SCSU in the late 1970s, but he always seemed reluctant to leave Orangeburg.

Maybe, as with Grambling, that's because it didn't work out the same when he was away.

Accusations of recruiting violations dogged Jeffries 25 years ago, first at Wichita and then in his next stop at Howard.

These alleged missteps, back then, were usually chalked up as another in the struggles of old-fashioned black school administrators who hadn't quite caught up with the big business that college football had become. Robinson, who Jeffries faced often and admired always, had some of the same problems.

Each time Jeffries eventually returned, perhaps was destined to return, to South Carolina State.

Just as he will again.

In fact, Jeffries' quick tenure at Grambling has a ringing sense of familiarity. The only thing that changes in this storyline is the ever-shortening time away.

He graduated at SCSU in 1960, then returned in 1973 to coach. He left in 1979 for I-A, only to come back in 1989. He arrived in Grambling only nine months ago.

He'd resign after making the mistake with those hometown reporters of telling too much - too much about his own fatigue at taking this job and too much about the inner workings of the institution.

His colloquial sensibilities let him down, and left damaging impressions.

Jeffries mentioned, for instance, "a financial crisis involving auditing woes" at Grambling, quoting Judson as saying that "we almost closed the school last year."

GSU was, in fact, cleared through consecutive audits in 2002 and again in 2003 by the Southern Association of Colleges of Schools, a review board that originally placed the institution on probation in 2001. All of those irregularities came before Judson took over.

There was much more, including talk of leaving when his contract was up - something Jeffries hadn't informed his boss about.

It was almost like he was stuck in those days when local reports didn't immediately vibrate across the World Wide Web. As if this wouldn't get back.

What was he doing in South Carolina anyway? Sure it was Grambling's bye week, but the Tigers' next trip was to Dallas - a key alumni and recruiting base - to play Prairie View A&M.

Talks were on-going on where the Bayou Classic, GSU's signature cash-cow rivalry game, would be played since the Superdome has been damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

Basketball season is just weeks away.

He apparently couldn't resist the emotional tug of South Carolina.

Still, there was never any question about Jeffries' open-hearted enthusiasm at GSU, about his upbeat attitude, about his easy way with a turn of phrase.

So short a stay has certainly robbed us of hundreds, maybe thousands, of one-liners and throwback talltales. I'll miss that.

Jeffries' going-away at Grambling was different than what would eventually resemble a kind of coronation upon leaving as coach of South Carolina State in 2001.

Back then, there was a trio of Willie Jeffries Days in Maryland, Virginia and, of course, in Orangeburg. Atlanta and Columbia bestowed keys to the city. He was grand marshal of the SCSU homecoming parade.

Former players, like NFL stars Robert Porcher and Jumpy Geathers, chipped in for a Taurus - painted Bulldog burgundy, of course, after the school he always loved first.

This time, today, there will be less fanfare. And, perhaps there shouldn't be.

Not because the people of northeastern Louisiana didn't love Jeffries. It's just that his loyalties
were, and clearly are, bound up in his own history.

At one point one of those articles from last week says Jeffries referred "to S.C. State as 'we.'"

I don't know if he ever really left.

NICK DERISO is sports editor at The News-Star, 411 N. 4th St., Monroe, La. 71201. Contact him at 362-0234 or at

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Grambling State's next step
September 30, 2005

Grambling State athletics director Willie Jeffries is returning to South Carolina today, where he led the S.C. State football team over two stints.

The last time Grambling was without an athletics director under president Horace Judson, after Al Dennis was let go in the summer of 2004, vice president of finance Billy Owens handled much of the duties. School officials are now mulling an interim or temporary replacement, with an announcement coming as early as next week.

The 2004 search took five months, and other finalists included:

· Troy Mathieu, assistant superintendent for athletics for the Dallas Independent School District.

· Clarence Underwood, a former AD at Michigan State who also served as the deputy commissioner of the Big Ten.

· Wilbert Curtis Williams, former athletics director at Alabama State, Albany State and Elizabeth City State.

Among those with GSU ties to be mentioned were former women's basketball coach Patricia Bibbs, Alabama State athletics director Patrick Carter, former school president Steve Favors and Laronica Conway, assistant commissioner of the Southeastern Conference.

- Nick Deriso,

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