Spears (who, you’ll remember, arrived on the eve of the 2011 National Signing Day) has seen his rebuilding team struggle to a 2-6 overall record, but four of those losses came by just one score. In fact, the Braves — despite essentially missing a year of talent infusion — have been consistently competitive.
Alcorn just needs to learn how to close out games: It jumped out to a one-score early lead against Grambling, was ahead 20-10 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff after two quarters, tied Alabama State 10-10 at the half, and was tied 14-14 through three quarters last week against Alabama A&M. Each of those contests, however, ended up as losses.
“Our team is playing very hard in every ballgame,” Spears told me. “We just need to make a few more plays to do the things we want to do. The gameplan is in tact. We still need a few more really good young players to get over the hump. That’s just the way it is.”
Spears, who played for Alcorn legend Marino Casem, returned to his alma mater after second-year coach Earnest Collins left for Northern Colorado. He was part of a group of finalists that included fellow former Alcorn football players Fred McNair, the brother of the late Steve McNair, and Dwayne White.
Spears’ honeymoon didn’t last long: The Alcorn State University Alumni Foundation has somehow already begun an effort to have him removed, releasing a letter this week outlining a goal to raise $130,000 by Dec. 10 — to be used as a warchest to buy out Spears’ contract.
Again, I say: Already?
Did anybody — even the loyalists who make up any university alumni foundation — think Alcorn was going to overcome years of mediocrity (to put it mildly) and rush past entrenched SWAC East powers like Jackson State, Alabama A&M and Alabama State … in 10 months? One of those three programs has advanced to every one of the 12 Southwestern Athletic Conference Championship Games ever held. Alcorn State, meanwhile, last claimed a league crown in 1994, when members of the current team where in grade school — and five years before the title match was created.
The letter reads, in part: “We began this year with tremendous anticipation and expectations of a great season for Alcorn athletics. Alcorn hired new coaches in football and basketball, recruited a great class of student-athletes to complement those returning players, and alumni support was strong. However, the football program has turned disastrous. The relationship between the football coaching staff and parents of some student-athletes has been volatile.”
Turned disastrous? This is an instutition that, at one point, was going through head coaches like other programs go through Gatorade.
Who can forget former Alcorn athletics director Darren Hamilton firing Ernest T. Jones and his entire staff in December 2008 — then, days later, reinstated Jones’ assistants? Lawsuits, inevitably, ensued. Collins, one of the reinstated, ultimately signed a one-year contact as head coach in March 2009. Two years later, of course, he was gone.
Then there’s the letter’s last sentence, which underscores the Alcorn alumni group’s loud complaints about the departure of former starting quarterback Brandon Bridge — a standout last year who never meshed with the Spears and Co.
What in the wide, wide world of sports is going on around here? Have we gotten to the point where a new hire doesn’t even get a year to reshape a program with his own vision — even one that has woefully underperformed for a very long time? Can these boosters actually find no better use for $130K at tiny Alcorn State — a program that doesn’t even have sweatsuits for its football team, with winter upon us — than to buy out a coach who has yet to finish his initial campaign? Finally, are football staffs now clearing depth-chart changes with the alumni?
I hope not.
All of this seems so premature that you have to wonder if there is something else going on. Does this amount to sour grapes from boosters who backed one of the other finalists for the Alcorn coaching position? Or has Spears, in the flurry of activity associated with taking over at that disastrously late date, not shaken the right hand yet?
Spears, for his part, has kept his focus squarely on the field.
“We got here a day before recruiting,” Spears said, “and I thought the staff did a great job of bringing in some outstanding individuals. But there is a learning curve, and we need to keep building toward our goals. That’s all I can be concerned with right now.”