Black college football, like the rest of the NCAA, has had its share of iconic coaches over the years. From Jake Gaither and Eddie Robinson to John Merritt and Earl Banks, their legacies continue to live on long after they’ve coached their last game.
But who are the new coaches who could one day find legendary status themselves? Here are five candidates worth keeping an eye on.
Broderick Fobbs, Grambling
Coaching at Grambling in the black college football world is akin to coaching at Alabama at the FBS level. The Ghost of Eddie Robinson still looms large over the program nearly 20 years after he coached his last game. And while the program has been fairly successful since then (Grambling has won the SWAC Championship Game six times since 1999), by the time Fobbs was handed the reigns, the brand had been diminished by ego and bravado as much as it had by dwindling resources.
Enter Fobbs, one of Grambling’s own who played under Robinson. The former running back re-ignited the program and its fan base last season when it finished 7-5 and was a Bayou Classic win away from a SWAC Championship appearance.
Winning is considered a birthright at Grambling, so they won’t be satisfied with simply being in the hunt for long. Still, Fobbs’ team seems to have everyone in northern Louisiana eyeing trips to Houston (SWAC Championship) and Atlanta (Celebration Bowl).
Dawson Odums, Southern
Odums is no stranger to HBCU football. The Shelby, NC native played his college ball in the CIAA with North Carolina Central in the late 1990’s. He spent time at Clark Atlanta, Bethune-Cookman and North Carolina A&T before coming to Southern as an assistant in 2012.
Odums has been wildly successful in his two full seasons as the head coach, winning the SWAC Championship in 2013 and returning to the championship game in 2014. Winning is a way of life at Southern and Odums seems to have acclimated himself very quickly.
Latrell Scott, Norfolk State
Norfolk State’s 63-13 loss to Rutgers in its season opener may look like just another money game blowout from the final score, but there was so much more there. NSU actually led 7-0 early in the game and trailed just 21-13 at halftime. Given the fact that Norfolk State hadn’t scored in any of the first three meetings between the teams, it was something to build on, due in large part to the new head man in charge.
Scott played his college ball under legendary Joe Taylor at Hampton, where he won three titles (one CIAA, two MEAC) as a tight end. He worked his way up the coaching circuit with stops in the ACC and SEC before taking over at FCS Richmond at the age of 34. He led the Spiders to a 6-5 record in one season before resigning after a DWI arrest.
He relaunched his career at Virginia State, leading the team to back-to-back CIAA Northern Division titles and the 2014 CIAA Championship, guiding the school to its first-ever Division II playoff win.
After revitalizing VSU, Scott looks to do the same for its MEAC counterpart.
Jerry Mack, North Carolina Central
When North Carolina Central tabbed Jerry Mack to lead its program in late 2013, many folks weren’t quite sure what they were getting. At the time he was hired Mack was just 33-years-old and was given the task of picking up the pieces left after the previous coach, Henry Frazier, was dismissed just weeks ahead of the 2013 season and paving the way for the fledgling FCS program to take a step back.
Mack started his collegiate career in the SWAC, playing for a Jackson State team that included future first-round NFL Draft picks Rashard Anderson and Sylvester Morrison. He finished his career at Arkansas State and then began a coaching career that would take him to Delta State, Jackson State, UAPB, Memphis and South Alabama before getting the head job at NCCU.
It didn’t take Mack long to make an impact at NCCU, as the team upset North Carolina A&T in the regular season finale to finish 6-5 with a share of the MEAC title. Mack’s impact on NCCU was felt last Saturday when it beat St. Augustine’s 72-0 after needing double overtime to beat the Division II squad the season prior to Mack’s arrival.
Lee Hull, Morgan State
Once one of the great programs in black college football (Morgan State still has the most CIAA football titles even though it left the league in 1970), Morgan State was mired in a three-decade long championship drought when it hired Lee Hull in late 2013.
It didn’t take long for the former Maryland assistant to leave his mark in Baltimore. The Bears went 7-5 during Hull’s first season, winning a share of the MEAC title for the first time since 1979. Morgan State won the MEAC’s automatic bid, getting its first-ever invite to the FCS Playoffs.
Hull and his staff have their work cut out for them this season as the team will be without several starters, including All-MEAC running back Herb Walker Jr. after they were ruled academically ineligible.