By Steven J. Gaither
A year ago, North Carolina Central and Morgan State were programs searching for a head coach. Both programs went with first-time college head coaches Jerry Mack (NCCU) and Lee Hull (Morgan State).
Today, those two programs, along with North Carolina A&T, Bethune-Cookman and SC State, are MEAC Champs. Yes, that’s right. Five teams finished 6-2 in MEAC play, sharing the conference crown.
Morgan State will take the MEAC’s automatic bid to the FCS playoffs, as it can now be called MEAC Champs for the first time since 1979. NCCU claims its first MEAC crown since 1973 and its first conference title since winning the CIAA in 2014. Both teams finished 7-5 overall, 6-2 in the MEAC, but a 21-20 win by Morgan on Oct. 18 proved to be the difference.
Bethune-Cookman, A&T and SC State were expected to be in the mix from the start of the season. BCU and SC State were both coming off FCS playoff appearances, while A&T has shown steady improvement under Rod Broadway since he took over the program in 2011.
Morgan and NCCU? They were predicted to finish at the bottom of the MEAC as their young coaches were tasked with rebuilding programs that had been in disarray the previous year. NC Central spent 2013 with an interim coach after Henry Frazier was arrested following a domestic dispute, while Morgan State tried to fire coach Donald Hill-Eley a year before it was actually able to.
Hull and Mack are part of a group of first year coaches that have made a big impact on black college football in 2014. Grambling’s Broderick Fobbs and Winston-Salem State’s Kienus Boulware also belong in that group as Fobbs has led Grambling to the brink of the SWAC Championship while Boulware led WSSU to its fourth-straight CIAA Southern Division title.
Fobbs, a Grambling alum who played under Eddie Robinson, is the only one among this group to graduate from an HBCU. Mack started his college career at Jackson State, but played his final three years at Arkansas State. Boulware went to North Carolina and spent more than a decade as an assistant at several HBCUs before taking over at WSSU. Hull had no experience at an HBCU prior to taking over Morgan last winter.
Both Hull and Mack beat SC State’s Buddy Pough, the MEAC’s longest-tenured coach.
This quintet, along with Virginia State’s Latrell Scott, Hampton’s Connell Maynor and Bethune-Cookman’s Brian Jenkins and others, have the future of HBCU football looking very bright.