Once upon a time, Morgan State was one of the pillars of HBCU football. Morgan State President Dr. David Wilson is well aware of this, and he wants the Bears to reach for those heights again. On Wednesday, Wilson announced the formation of a committee that hopes to help bring Morgan State back to gridiron process. The group has been dubbed the “Return To Greatness Steering Committee.”
“We owe this to our students, alumni and supporters of our football program,” Wilson said. “Morgan State University has a celebrated history of excellence in the classroom and in athletics, and it is time that we reclaim our legacy of greatness on the gridiron.”
Notable names on the committee will include former MSU and NFL stars Raymond Chester and Willie Lanier as well as former Morgan State defensive back and New York Times columnist Bill Rhoden.
Before Jake Gaither’s Florida A&M squads or Eddie Robinson’s Grambling teams made any noise, Morgan State was perhaps the preeminent black college football of the first half of the 21st century. MSU’s football dominance started in the 30s under the direction of legendary coach Edward P. Hurt. The Bears completed 11 perfect seasons under Hurt, helping Morgan win 11 CIAA titles in a 15 year span from 1930 to 1945, including a league record five-consecutive championships.
The Bears experienced a resurgence in the 1960s under Earl “Papa Bear” Banks, winning five CIAA titles, including four in a five year span. Those teams included NFL greats like Willie Lanier and Chester, both members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
How dominant were the Bears? They left the CIAA over 40 years ago and still hold the record for most championships in the conference history.
That history not withstanding, Morgan left the CIAA for the MEAC in 1970 and promptly won the first title of that conference’s history as well, adding another one in 1979. Since then, however, the Bears have yet to win another conference title.
The Bears have not only failed to win a conference crown, they’ve struggled to stay competitive. Morgan struggled through decades of losing seasons before current head coach Donald Hill-Eley came along in 2002. While Hill-Eley’s teams have fared better than their predecessors, his teams have gone 54-69 during his tenure, he was reportedly close to being fired at the end of the 2012 season.
In the school’s media release, Wilson outlined his reasoning for forming the committee.
“A successful athletic program can have a major impact on the university community from boosting enrollment to generating revenue,” Banks said. “More importantly, it builds community and sustains pride in the University.”
The committee hopes to submit its recommendations by early fall.
At a time when many fans and students in the HBCU community have resigned their football teams into little more than pre-and-post halftime entertainment, it’s encouraging to see a program reach for more. And while easy answers are likely to be in short supply, simply making the effort is the first step in making that goal a reality.
Editor’s Note: Morgan State recorded one winning season from 2013 through 2021, winning a share of the MEAC title in 2014.