South Carolina State University is supposed to be replacing Buddy Pough as head football coach in the near future. In the meantime, he’s had another duty added on to his plate as interim director of athletics.
Keshia Campbell, a former SC State basketball star, has resigned from her post as acting director of athletics. She held that post for nearly 15 months after Stacy Dailey was fired in 2022.
SC State President Alexander Conyers has chosen Pough to take over in the interim role ahead of Saturday’s homecoming game against Howard University, according to WIS 10.
Sources indicate to HBCU Gameday that Conyers and Campbell were far apart on details of a potential deal to make her the permanent AD, however, money was not the only issue involved.
Pough announced at the beginning of the season that this, his 22nd-season at the helm of his alma mater, would be his last. He effectively gave administrators a three-month head start on searching for its next leader.
Thursday’s humbling 62-28 loss to defending HBCU national champion North Carolina Central on national TV means that SC State will need a Christmas miracle to play beyond the Nov. 18 season-finale at Norfolk State.
Now it will have to do so with the man it is looking to replace as the top person in the department of athletics — at least in name.
A history of South Carolina State football coaching searches
Coaching searches are fairly rare at South Carolina State. Only four men have coached the program since 1973, when a young Willie Jeffries was hired to take over for Oree Banks after a successful stint at North Carolina A&T.
Inheriting a 1-9 team, Jeffries went 50-13-4 in his first stint at SC State, winning five straight MEAC titles from 1974 to 1978 after being hired in 1973. He left for Wichita State after the 1978 season, but SC State wasn’t without a coach for long. Bill Davis was elevated to head coach in early 1979, with a young Buddy Pough as one of his assistants. Back-to-back losing seasons in 1984 and 1985 forced Davis to resign, opening the door for a new search.
That search included then-Bethune-Cookman head coach Larry Little and Notre Dame assistant Bishop Harris, but ultimately the job went to a 32-year-old Alcorn State assistant named Dennis Thomas. Thomas, who would later take over as Hampton AD and eventually commissioner of the MEAC, lasted three seasons. By the end of 1988, a new search was on.
This search included assistant Larry Thompson, Citadel assistant Richard Wilson and Virginia Union head coach Joe Taylor. But SC State went back to the future, bringing Jeffries back home from Howard University after his time at Wichita State ran out. He would spend the next decade into the new millennium guiding his alma mater to a 78-64 record over the next decade, claiming the 1994 MEAC title.
With Jeffries on the way out following a 6-5 season in 2001, the search for his successor included names like Rick Comegy and L.C. Cole, but the gig went to Pough, a former offensive tackle who played alongside Donny Shell and Harry Carson.
“The president’s search”
All Pough has done is come in and surpass Jeffries, winning 149 games to date to go along with eight MEAC titles and the 2021 Celebration Bowl, taking down Jackson State. He’s also kept South Carolina State alive as a football factory in an era where HBCU NFL stars are increasingly fewer and further between.
“He’s been here side by side with me through those overall,” Pough said of Jeffries. “We were back and forth between when he was coaching and when I was away and back and all that kind of stuff. So it’s been a lot of fun being a part of this, I guess made the program since 1973-ish, something that neck of the woods.”
Now the school will be looking for a new AD as well as it looks to make a program-defining hire. Generally, the football coach answers to the AD who answers to the president in terms of athletics hierarchy. But maybe that won’t matter as much as many people think it would.
Sources tell HBCU Gameday that Renaissance Search Consulting has been hired to help facilitate the coaching hire. That search began earlier, but is now all but paused according to our sources, who indicate that President Conyers has been heavily involved.
“Even if they hire the new AD,” the source stated, “it may not affect the head coach because it’s the president’s hire.”
Benedict College head coach Chennis Berry has been thought to be the front-runner for the prestigious job. He’s turned the private Columbia, SC -based HBCU into a top Division II program, and many believe he can have a similar impact in Orangeburg when Buddy’s last ride is over.
Once coach with whom the search firm has reached out to certainly thinks Berry is the lead candidate to replace Buddy Pough.
“I’m interested, “ the coach said, “but I think it’s Chennis Berry’s job to turn down.”
Pough has been gracious in being celebrated by other MEAC schools since announcing his retirement, but he’s been focused on his team. When asked about whether or not he and Jeffries have spoiled the South Carolina State faithful, he chuckled and admitted it’s definitely possible.
“We’re kinda like the Pittsburgh Steelers. You know whoever gets the job you know we expect them to have the job for at least 10-15 years. One of those Mike Tomlin and rest of those guys kind of a deal. So we like to think that we have a stable kind of operation where you get in here and we support you. We really get an established program going in a direction that you can, you know, build something really special.”
“So hopefully we can find a guy,” Pough said. “I think they’ll find somebody to come in here and continue the legacy.”
The clock is ticking on multiple fronts in Orangeburg.