Posted on June 18, 2012

Historically Black University Emphasizes Color of New Football Coach

Mike Tierney, New York Times, June 18, 2012

The hiring of a football coach at Alcorn State stretches the definition of news. The revolving door to that particular office has spun almost nonstop since 2008, slowing eight times for someone to exit or enter.

The latest appointment, though, was different. When Marvin Aikerson, a retired school administrator in Atlanta and a 1970 graduate of Alcorn, heard about it, he phoned his brother, who works in the university’s cafeteria, for confirmation and details.

“He was quick to say, ‘And the coach is white!’ ” Aikerson said.

Alcorn plays in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, which is made up of historically black colleges and universities, and has never had a nonblack head football coach in the program’s 92-year history. That changed last month when Jay Hopson was hired by Alcorn, whose football team was 2-8 last season and has struggled in the years since quarterback Steve McNair became a star there in the early 1990s.

For the extended Alcorn community, and for historically black colleges and universities in general, this was news of a stop-the-presses variety.

“I was kind of shocked at first,” Aikerson said. “I support it. We want a team that’s outstanding, and color has no bearing.”


Conventional thought does not suit Alcorn’s president, M. Christopher Brown II, who led the hiring process and focused on Hopson from the beginning. {snip}

Brown, who had hired a white man to be Alcorn’s first officer of diversity, attended integrated schools with black principals while growing up in Charleston, S.C.


The race of a coach is rarely mentioned by a university when it announces a hire, but Alcorn emphasized Hopson’s. {snip}


Alluding to Alcorn’s two other white head coaches in tennis and golf, and the fact that nearly 9 percent of the student body is white — high compared with other historically black colleges and universities — Brown said, “As demographics change and students can make different selections on where to go to school, we have to be conscious of the kind of campus we offer them.”

No alumni objected directly to Brown, but he did detect enough murmured grumbling during the winnowing of applicants — mainly from older members of the Alcorn community who remembered more prejudicial times — to say that “2 percent or less” disapproved of a white coach.


Another H.B.C.U., Savannah State, hired a white football coach in recent years, but that ended in a public fight between the two sides.

The coach, Robby Wells, announced his resignation after the 2009 season, his second at the Georgia university, then filed a lawsuit that claimed he was fired for racial reasons. Wells received $240,000 from a settlement in which the university denied the accusations.