Thursday, January 18, 2007

Grambling hires Rod Broadway

Reigning black college champ interested in Grambling vacancy
January 12, 2007

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Rod Broadway, just off a 2006 black college national championship at North Carolina Central, is interested in Grambling State's top job.

"I'd love to talk about Grambling, with the rich tradition they have there," said Broadway, a longtime former assistant in the ACC and SEC who took over at North Carolina Central four seasons ago. "They have an opportunity every year to do what we've done here."

Broadway, 51, has just returned from the American Football Coaches Association's annual meeting in San Antonio, where Grambling athletics director Troy Mathieu met informally with several potential candidates.

He has not officially applied, but Broadway's interest in the position is evident.

"I think that's a special place," he said. "Growing up, Grambling was the marquee name in black college football. That's where it should be."

Grambling fired third-year coach Melvin Spears after a disappointing 3-8 campaign in 2006. As many as 20 applicants are hoping to replace him.

Broadway would immediately join any conversation about finalists, having fashioned an undefeated 11-0 regular season in 2006 on the way to a second-consecutive Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association title. (Along the way, his local stock skyrocketed with a 27-20 victory against archrival Southern in Baton Rouge.)

The national Sheridan Broadcasting Network crown is the first for Broadway's Division II program since the poll was begun 33 seasons ago.

And he did it with a late replacement under center. Redshirt freshman Stadford Brown was pushed into action when a senior quarterback suddenly left the program as the '06 season dawned.

"We had enough good athletes where we didn't have to ask him to win games," Broadway said. "He just needed to manage the game. We molded our offense around what he could do."

Brown led the conference with 211 passing yards per game, earning CIAA offensive player of the year honors. But Broadway's modified West Coast attack still placed great value on establishing a running game.

"I think if we can run the ball, it opens up your passing game," he said. "We like to do both."

His team set a new NCCU record in 2005, averaging of 30.8 points per game. That CIAA title was the first for the school in 25 seasons.

Asked about a larger offensive philosophy, Broadway is refreshingly upfront: "Score as many points as we can, any kind of way we can, as often as we can. That's our philosophy."

It's an approach shaped during a 1995-2001 tenure with Steve Spurrier at Florida, one that included SEC crowns in 1995-96 and 2000, and a national championship in 1996.

"When you get an opportunity to work with one of the brightest minds in football, you pick up some things," he said. "Offensively, he's sharp as a tack. You borrow some things and mold your own program."

Broadway, a native of Oakboro, N.C., graduated from West Stanly High School and went on to All-ACC honors at North Carolina-Chapel Hill, where he earned a bachelors degree in 1977 in recreation administration.

After college, he also served as an assistant at Duke (1981-94) and his alma mater (2001-02), both within 10 miles of the offices he sits in now as head coach at NCCU. But Broadway said he had no qualms about making the transition to Grambling, in the far-away piney woods of northern Louisiana.

"With the success that they have had there, and the resources, somebody can go into there with a plan and quickly get that thing where it deserves to be," he said. "I've been in this for 28 years and I've never applied for any job. But that place is a gold mine."

Broadway entered the 2006 season with an overall record of 22-10, having led NCCU to more victories in his first three campaigns than any other coach in school history. He has now won 28 of his last 31 games.

NCCU had never won 8 or more games in consecutive seasons before Broadway established a streak that now stands at three.

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Grambling gets closer to finding its man
Interviews for new football coach set to start this week
January 15, 2007

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Grambling State has entered the final stage of its search for a football coach: A series of finalist interviews.

North Carolina Central coach Rod Broadway, Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones and Grambling volunteer assistant Albert Lewis are expected to take part over the next few days — along with perhaps one more prospect.

"Grambling is what I am interested in," Lewis said, earlier in the search process. "Whatever I can do, I want to do." GSU is coming off a disappointing 3-8 season marked by controversy. That led to the Dec. 18 dismissal of third-year coach Melvin Spears, as first reported at Offensive coordinator Sammy White then began directing recruitment efforts as interim coach during this search.

Calls to Grambling athletics director Troy Mathieu were unreturned.

Over the course of its three-week search, he received close to two dozen applications from prospective candidates, including several with school ties.

Among them were: two-time GSU team captain Broderick Fobbs; former player and assistant Eddie Robinson Jr. (son of the school's legendary former head coach); Grambling product Eric Dooley, an assistant at Southern; ex-Robinson assistant Dennis "Dirt" Winston; and former Grambling defensive back and assistant Thomas Lavigne.

None apparently had heard from GSU over the weekend.

"I haven't received a call," said Fobbs, who was conducting an official visit for prospects as recruiting coordinator/offensive coordinator at Northwestern State.

Lavigne worked with Eddie Robinson Sr. during the 1982-83 seasons, and was hired by former GSU coach Doug Williams as defensive coordinator just before Williams' departure for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' front office. Lavigne left Grambling for a job at Ruston High not long after.

"I haven't talked to anybody from Grambling yet," he said. "I'm still excited to have the opportunity."

Lavigne also made coaching stops at North Carolina A&T, Southern, Tennessee State, Ole Miss and Oklahoma State.

Winston, winner of two Super Bowls with the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1970s, applied in the search that led to Spears being named GSU coach in 2005, as well.

"I didn't get an interview then, and it doesn't look like I will get one this time, either," said Winston, defensive coordinator on Robinson's final league championship team. "I don't see anyone more qualified. But even if the opportunity doesn't come, I have to believe that others opportunities are out there for me."

Broadway led North Carolina Central to the 2006 Sheridan Broadcasting Network black college national championship, the school's first since the poll began 33 years ago. NCCU was a perfect 11-0 in the regular season, capturing its second Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association in four years under Broadway.

"I'd love to talk about Grambling, with the rich tradition they have there," Broadway said this week. "They have an opportunity every year to do what we've done here."

He reportedly turned down another job after back-channel talks with Grambling heated up. Broadway — who made previous coaching stops at Florida, Duke and North Carolina-Chapel Hill — had committed to stay at NCCU until his son, a standout senior tight end on last year's squad, completed his eligibility.

Jones has led A&M to two appearances in the Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Game, including an emotional first-ever win last December. He's won 41 games over five seasons in Huntsville, Ala.

"We have a chance to continue this run, and I would love to be a part of that," Jones said, just days after Spears was let go. "But I would not rule out anything."

He was a finalist in Grambling's 2005 search, as well.

Lewis, a two-time all-conference defensive back for Robinson in 1981-82, served as a volunteer assistant last year with Spears. Lewis had a stellar 16-season career in the NFL, then was out of football for years — he worked as a horse breeder — before returning as an assistant at San Diego and NFL Europe during the 2004-05 seasons.

"I have a feel for the players, because I was with them," Lewis said last week. "Grambling is supposed to exemplify Eddie Robinson. We have to maintain that standard."

Grambling's list of applicants also included Vanderbilt running backs coach Kenny Carter — who, like Fobbs, spent the weekend playing host to a series of prospects as the program's recruiting coordinator. He had not heard from Grambling this weekend either, he said.

"You do your job while you have your job," said Carter, who interviewed last week for the vacancy at Howard, as well.

Former Tennessee State and Alabama State coach L.C. Cole, another applicant, did not return a call for comment.

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Broadway has overhaul skills
Grambling football coaching prospect helped rebuild North Carolina Central
January 16, 2007

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING — Should he get the job at Grambling State, Rod Broadway would begin in a far better place.

And would, likely, be making far better money.

Broadway interviewed Monday for the vacant position of head football coach as GSU seeks to replace Melvin Spears, who was let go on Dec. 18 after three years at the helm. The North Carolina Central head coach is one of at least four finalists reportedly set to meet with Grambling, including Detroit Lions assistant Charles "Kippy" Brown, Alabama A&M head coach Anthony Jones and Grambling volunteer assistant Albert Lewis.

Broadway arrived having taken NCCU from Division II tatters to consecutive Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association titles in just four seasons.

In the beginning, the program was so ramshackle that players were forced to share equipment. NCCU had managed just two winning seasons in the previous eight and hadn't won a CIAA crown since 1980.

Today, North Carolina Central has taken 28 of its last 31 games — including 11 in a row last year — and stands on the cusp of a move up to the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-AA.

"I was shocked; I was absolutely shocked," Broadway said of the early going. "We didn't even have enough helmets to go around. Guys would come off the practice field and they would pass their equipment on to somebody else. It might have been easier to start from scratch."

But while NCCU went 25 seasons between league titles, Grambling was capturing nine of its own. No historic Division I-AA program, except Yale, boasts a better all-time winning percentage than GSU's.

Grambling allocates roughly $4 million dollars to athletics each year, which ranks in the middle of the pack for Southwestern Athletic Conference programs. North Carolina Central, meanwhile, had to promise to double its current athletics budget in order to be considered for a proposed June transition out of Division II.

That left it to Broadway, who previously coached under Steve Spurrier at Florida, to restock the lockers and build up the previously struggling team's confidence.

A stingy defense was matched only by Broadway's high-powered, balanced offense. His team averaged 30.8 points per game in 2005, a new school record. A year later, he led the conference with 211 passing yards per game, while setting school and league records with 24 touchdown passes by a freshman.

NCCU, which had never before won 11 games, was named Sheridan Broadcasting Network's black college national champion for the first time since that poll began.

"To come from where we did, my hats off to these kids and the coaching staff, the athletic director and chancellor," Broadway said. "It takes a lot of people. But when you have a lot of people pulling for you, it's easy to succeed."

Broadway has just completed a four-year contract signed in January 2003 that guaranteed him $100,000 a year, though he reportedly has received a raise since then.

Broadway was also in the running for the Stephen F. Austin job, though he apparently pulled out to focus on the GSU opening. That position was said to pay in the $115,000 range.

Spears had a base salary of $150,000, which at the time of signing was second best in the SWAC. Incentives ramped his annual pay to nearly $200,000.

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Detroit's Brown withdraws from Grambling search
1:01 p.m.; January 18, 2007

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING -- Detroit Lions assistant Charles "Kippy" Brown has withdrawn from Grambling State's on-going search for a new head football coach.

Brown cited family issues, saying he would remain with the Lions. "I enjoyed every moment I spent in Grambling, and every one there was a class act," said Brown, a 28-year coaching veteran in the college and pro ranks. "Whoever gets that job will be very lucky."

Brown was one of four finalists to interview on campus this week, as Grambling seeks to replace third-year coach Melvin Spears, who was fired on Dec. 18. The others are: North Carolina Central coach Rod Broadway, Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones and Grambling volunteer assistant Albert Lewis.

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Grambling search now down to two finalists
2:13 p.m., January 18, 2007

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING -- A second candidate is out in Grambling State's search for a new head football coach.

Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones has reportedly received word he will not be offered the job. Longtime NFL assistant Charles "Kippy" Brown, another finalist, withdrew from the search earlier today, in a story also first reported at

Grambling is now left with two remaining finalists from its original quartet of prospects, North Carolina Central coach Rod Broadway and Grambling volunteer assistant Albert Lewis.

Jones has apparently already met with his players to inform them that he is remaining in Huntsville, Ala.

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Grambling to name Broadway as its new coach
2:52 p.m., January 18, 2007

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING -- North Carolina Central coach Rod Broadway will be Grambling State's ninth head football coach.

School officials are at work on a news release announcing the hire, to be issued simultaneously with NCCU.

Detroit Lions assistant Charles "Kippy" Brown withdrew from the search earlier today, then Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones was informed that the school would offer the job to someone else. Those stories were also first reported at

That left Grambling volunteer assistant Albert Lewis, a four-time Pro Bowl defensive back, as the only other remaining finalist.

He did not comment this afternoon, and said he would not until after an official announcement is made.

Details on a news conference to introduce Broadway were also still to come. Grambling president Horace Judson is out of town, and not scheduled to return until Friday night. That could push the announcing event to Monday.

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GSU officially picks Broadway to lead football team
5:07 p.m., January 18, 2007

By Nick Deriso
Grambling State has officially named Rod Broadway as its new football coach, two hours after broke the story.

He led North Carolina Central team to the 2006 Sheridan Black College National championship last season, and back-to-back league titles for the first time since the 1953-54 seasons.

“We are elated that Rod Broadway has agreed to take the leadership reigns of the Grambling State University football program,” Mathieu said in the release. “He’s a proven winner as a head coach and has had the opportunity to work with and learn from some of the most respected coaches on the Division I level over the past two decades. We’re looking forward to him having a very successful tenure as the head coach of Grambling State University.”

Broadway replaces Melvin Spears, who was released Dec. 18 after three years as coach. He was part of a quartet of finalists that included Detroit Lions assistant Charles "Kippy" Brown, Alabama A&M coach Anthony Jones and Grambling volunteer assistant Albert Lewis.

Prior to his tenure at NCCU, Broadway served as an assistant at North Carolina (2001-02), Florida (1995-00), Duke (1981-94) and East Carolina (1979-80). While at Florida, he was part of head coach Steve Spurrier's 1996 national championship staff.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Grambling greats: Wilbert Ellis

GSU's Ellis now a Hall of Famer
September 20, 2006

By Nick Deriso
GRAMBLING – Former longtime Grambling State baseball coach Wilbert Ellis will be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

“This is about the highest achievement in my profession,” said Ellis, known on campus these days as The Dean. “Just hearing I was under consideration, with all the great coaches that went before me, I was thrilled.”

Ellis, who retired in 2003 after serving more than 43 seasons as an assistant and then head coach at GSU, will be part of a nine-member induction class. Ceremonies will be held Jan. 5 in Orlando, Fla.

“It brought back great memories,” said Ellis, who compiled a 745-463-1 record at Grambling. “It also let’s me know that all the hard work at Grambling paid off.”

Ellis initially served 17 seasons as an assistant to R.W.E. “Prez” Jones, Grambling’s first baseball coach and its second school president. Jones retired with more than 800 wins, many of them with Ellis beside him on the bench.

“ ‘Prez’ gave me a great opportunity, hiring me as a young coach right out of school,” Ellis said. “I tell you what, when he offered me the job, I never even asked how much I would make. I was working with some of the greatest men in the world – ‘Prez’ and (former football coach and athletics director) Eddie Robinson.”

Named head baseball coach in 1977, Ellis led Grambling to a 32-19 record the following year on the strength of a pitching staff that finished second in the nation with a 2.33 earned-run average.

“ ‘Prez’ taught me well,” Ellis said. “As far as I was concerned, I was ready to go. It was a thrill from there on.”

Over the following 25 years, Ellis’ teams won three Southwestern Athletic Conference titles and five SWAC West divisional titles, while advancing to a trio of NCAA tournaments.

Several of those squads produced big-league stars with Ellis on the bench, either as an assistant or skipper.

Tommie Agee went on to help the New York Mets to the 1969 championship. He also appeared in the 1966-67 All Star games, and was named 1966 American League Rookie of the Year, while with the Chicago White Sox.

Ralph Garr, a Monroe native, would lead the National League in hitting in 1974, compiling a.353 average on his way to All-Star honors. Garr would bat .300 or better five times during his career.

Lenny Webster, drafted by the Minnesota Twins in 1985, hit .254 over 12 seasons and appeared in the 1997 AL Championship Series with Baltimore. Gerald Williams, selected by the New York Yankees in the 1987 amateur draft, averaged .255 over 14 seasons. He appeared in a pair of NL Championship Series (1998-99) with Atlanta and in the 1999 World Series against his former team, the Yankees.

Matt Alexander won a title with Pittsburgh in 1979. Courtney Duncan played two seasons after being drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 1996 amateur draft.

“I feel grateful for the opportunity to touch these players lives – all of them, whether they played pro ball or not,” Ellis said. “All those players who wore the Black and Gold made this possible. Without them, Wilbert Ellis wouldn’t an honor like this.”

Ellis served in a series of administrative roles over the years, beginning as assistant athletic director in August 1989. He was later promoted to associate athletic director and also served as the university’s interim athletic director from September 1996 to January 1997.

One of Ellis’ proudest moments at Grambling came late in his career, when he oversaw the opening a new baseball stadium. That precipitated the first night game ever played on campus, as Grambling swept the Texas College Steers on Feb. 13, 2003.

He also played host to the New York Yankees in exhibition games on campus in 1979, 1989 and 1996.

A native of Ruston, Ellis holds a bachelor’s degree in physical education from Grambling, earned in 1959, and a master’s degree from Kansas State University.

Ellis retired as the 40th all-time winningest baseball coach in Division I history. He has since worked as NCAA coordinator for regional and super regional tournaments, served on the NCAA Rules Committee for baseball and been named to head fundraising for the proposed Eddie Robinson Museum project.

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Going way back
April 13, 2006

The efforts to establish an Eddie Robinson Museum took an old-school turn for the better with the selection of Wilbert Ellis to head up fundraising.

Ellis will politely tell you that he and Coach Rob "go way back." In fact, Mrs. Robinson taught the future Grambling coach and administrator as a school boy. He then attended Grambling and eventually took a job as an assistant under former baseball skipper (and school president) R.W.E. Jones, who he followed as head coach in 1977.

Ellis, then, is one of the final remaining links to that great period in Grambling's storied history, something the Eddie Robinson Museum Board has lacked as it has struggled to duly honor Grambling's former gridiron legend.

Ellis underscored that in the simplest of ways on Thursday, when he brought along an old photo to the museum board meeting. Featured in it were Ellis, Jones (beloved far and wide as "Prez"), Robinson and former basketball coach Fred Hobdy.

"That picture brings back so many memories," Ellis said. "My motivations go back to those days. We hope to rally the school, the community, the business world and everybody around the nation to help us establish a place to experience what Coach Rob achieved."

Ellis can certainly help them get there.

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In the fast lane
May 30, 2006

Former Grambling baseball coach and administrator Wilbert Ellis is on a plane right now, headed to Norman, Okla., as the tournament director for the NCAA baseball regional.

That honor has come Ellis' way so many times, he says he's unsure now if this is his 14th or 15th in the row. But it remains an important tip of the hat to one of Grambling's last remaining treasures from the glory years.

"It's a lot of work, but it's enjoyable," said Ellis, who will oversee an event that features teams from Oklahoma, Houston, Wichita State and Texas Christian. "You get to see some great baseball, and if things go well you move on to the super-regionals and then to Omaha."

Wilbert retired after working as a baseball coach at GSU for more than 40 years, first as an assistant to former school president R.W.E. Jones and then as his successor. He led the Tigers to three SWAC titles, five Western Division titles and three trips to the NCAA tournament, even while working as an associate, assistant and interim athletics director over the years.

Once Ellis gets back, he'll jump into the resurgent Eddie Robinson Museum project, where he heads up fundraising. Ellis hasn't slowed down a bit.

And the accollades haven't either.

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Going national
Grambling's Wilbert Ellis inducted into prestigious baseball coaches' hall
January 6, 2007

By Nick Deriso
They only gave Wilbert Ellis eight minutes to make his acceptance speech.

Grambling State's former baseball coach said he could have talked for hours on everyone who touched him over a 43-season career honored Friday with induction into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

"I'm humbled with this, that they would think of me for whatever I have contributed to the game as well as to those who played for me," Ellis said.

Ellis was part of a nine-member ABCA class honored during ceremonies at the WorldCenter Mariott in Orlando, Fla. Fewer than 150 coaches have been inducted in the association's hall over the past 40 seasons. LSU's Skip Bertman (1993) and UNO's Ron Maestri (1991) are the only other members to work the bulk of their careers at Louisiana universities.

"Receiving this honor, I feel like I made a contribution at the university, and touched the lives of some guys who wore the Black and Gold," Ellis said. "It's hard to believe it happened."

The Ruston native served as head baseball coach at Grambling from 1977-2003 after working the previous 17 seasons as an assistant to Ralph Waldo Emerson "Prez" Jones — GSU's second school president and first skipper.

Along the way, Ellis compiled a record of 737-463-1 at Grambling, retiring as the 40th winningest baseball coach in Division I history. He earned five Southwestern Athletic Conference divisional titles and three overall championships. A variety of administrative roles followed over the years, including associate and assistant athletics director as well as interim AD.

"It was Grambling and I loved that university," Ellis said. "Grambling just had such a great impact on my life."

A signature moment for Ellis came late in his coaching career when he oversaw the opening of a new baseball stadium — which then precipitated the first night game ever on campus. He also played host to the New York Yankees in exhibition games on campus in 1979, 1989 and 1996.

Ellis still shakes his head in wonder at all of that, looking more than a little like the youngster who grew up dirt poor, attending the now-closed all-black Lincoln High. Back then, Ellis used rocks and a stick to play the game.

Later, under the tutelage of the late Jimmy Duncan at Lincoln, there grew in Ellis the first flowerings of what would become a lifelong dream.

"I remember a lot about it today," Ellis said. "I had this dream ever since I was 9 years old, that I wanted to be in charge of a group, that I wanted to coach."

Exhibition games against Jones' teams led to their long association. "Prez" signed him to play college ball and then hired Ellis in 1959, the same year he graduated from Grambling.

"I was so excited, I never even asked what they would pay me," Ellis said. "It was just a great honor."

He stands now as one of the last vibrant links to a period of dramatic growth for the Grambling legend, as Jones, former football coach Eddie Robinson, basketball coach Fred Hobdy and sports information director Collie J. Nicholson established the tiny school's national reputation.

Jones, Hobdy and Nicholson have all passed, while Robinson has been ailing for several years.

"They made a difference and a great impact on my life," Ellis said. "I just wanted to be like those guys. They motivated me in the profession."

Jones retired with more than 800 wins, many of them with Ellis alongside him. Grambling squads produced a series of big-leaguers with Ellis on the bench, either as an assistant or skipper — including Matt Alexander; Tommie Agee; Courtney Duncan; Ralph Garr, a Monroe native; Lenny Webster; and Gerald Williams, among others.

Several former players, as well as family members and co-workers, attended the ABCA event on Friday. Missing, however, were two key figures in Ellis' life.

His mother recently suffered a stroke, prompting Ellis to miss his first Bayou Classic in the history of that event. Ellis' wife is also scheduled for surgery today, and could not attend.

"I dedicated this honor to them all," Ellis said, stopping to fight back some emotion. His father died some 18 years ago.

Ellis has kept busy as a "retiree," working for the last eight postseasons as director of NCAA-sanctioned baseball tournaments, including several Super Regionals. He has also served since last year as the chief local fundraiser for the proposed Eddie Robinson Museum project.

Ellis has spoken with great passion on the importance of honoring Robinson, who still holds the record for Division I college football victories.

"Eddie Robinson was so humble in what he would do; he never talked about his own accomplishments," Ellis said, then widened his focus to include Jones and the other Grambling mentors he'd worked with.

"Once they touched a youngster's life, they were concerned about him more off the field than on," he said. "They were preparing them to represent our community. All of that rubbed off on me. Outside of my mom and dad, they had the most impact on my life."

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,