Alcorn State will rename its football stadium this weekend in honor of league legend Marino Casem, who with a record of 139–70–8 (including 86 SWAC victories) is the all-time winningest coach in school history. The Braves face in-state conference rival Mississippi Valley State at 4 p.m. Saturday.
“I really think this is an incredible weekend, to have the opportunity to honor a guy that set the foundation,” said first-year Alcorn State coach Melvin Spears, a former player under Casem. “From a pride standpoint, from just being a true Alcornite, you have to be really excited. I think our guys will rise to the occasion and understand the significance.”
Casem served as head football coach at three Southwestern Athletic Conference institutions — Alabama State, Alcorn State and Southern — but established his hall-of-fame credentials over a sterling run in Lorman, Miss., where the Memphis native coached for 22 seasons between 1964-85. He was also Alcorn State’s athletics director from 1966-86. Over that span, the Braves claimed seven conference football championships, and seven black college national crowns — including, in 1968, the first-ever back-to-back titles. In 1984, Casem led Alcorn to a perfect 9–0 regular season, finishing ranked No. 1 in the final former NCAA Division I-AA poll — the first time a black college had ever done so. He’d be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003, as well as the SWAC and Mississippi halls.
“It’s a a long time coming for a guy that had an impeccable career over here,” Spears said. “He’s done great things not only here, but every place he has gone. He’s certainly one of our pioneers in the conference — and around the country.”
Casem shares the same pride and respect in his former protege: “We ran the Wing-T, and Melvin executed the counter trap as well as anyone has run that thing for me,” Casem told me. “He might not have been as fast as the Trumaine Johnsons and the Sammy Whites that Grambling had playing that position, but he ran it as well because he knew the system. He was smart and he knew the system as well as some of the coaches. He also knew all the other positions. I knew in my innermost being that he would be a success as a coach.”
Casem, whose lengthy and highly decorated career earned him the nickname “Godfather of the SWAC,” subsequently served as Southern’s athletic director for 13 years from 1986-99, and stepped in as head football coach in 1987-88 and as an interim in 1992 — going 19–14 record (12–9 in the SWAC). As an administrator, he oversaw a history-making NIT victory at Alcorn, and helped Southern claim six of the first seven conference commissioner’s cups. He was also instrumental in the planning and design of Alcorn’s football stadium, which was initially named in honor of former Alcorn and NFL player John Robert “Jack” Spinks.
“It’s a great day,” Spears said. “I’m excited about the opportunity to walk down in that stadium and see Coach Casem’s name up on the rafters.”