Alcorn State president Christopher Brown seems to be giving serious consideration to the ongoing complaints from alumni regarding first-year football coach Melvin Spears — telling Ross Dellenger from The (Jackson, Miss.) Clarion-Ledger that there is a 50 percent chance the rookie coach will be ousted after less than a year on the job.
Spears finishes the season on Saturday against in-state Southwestern Athletic Conference rival Jackson State in the Capital City Classic. The Braves are 2-7 overall, with their only victories coming against one-win Mississippi Valley State and lower-division Concordia College.
“The bottom line is, I’m an alumnus as well — no one wants to see Alcorn win more than I do,” Spears says. “The thing about it is, if you go back and look at our history, we haven’t been very successful over the last 18 years. And when you lose 17 players off a team off that went 5-6, what could your expectations be — besides just starting the rebuilding process?”
A former coach at Grambling, Texas Southern and Alabama State, Spears signed a three-year, $130,000 contract to take over the rebuilding job in Lorman, Miss. But Alcorn State, picked as runners-up in the preseason polling for the SWAC’s Eastern Division, has won just one league game in 2011.
“I don’t think anything went wrong,” Spears says. “All you can do is come in and compete day in and day out. We’ve been in every ballgame. The only one where we weren’t early on was the Southern University game. Even against Prairie View (last week’s 40-14 defeat), we were in it until the third quarter. It really boils down to just a few playmakers here and there.”
Alcorn’s slide in the standings has been mirrored in the stands, with officially reported attendance of 2,500 on Nov. 1 against Alabama A&M and then a stunning 500 for Saturday’s stumble against Prairie View. That followed news last week that Percy Norwood, president of Alcorn State’s national alumni association, has started collecting money from boosters in the hopes of raising enough funds to offset any financial hit that the school would take by firing Spears early.
There has been, thus far, little in the way of specific complaints — other than those from players who were left behind as Spears and his new staff began making changes. The most notable departure, of course, was 2010 starting quarterback Brandon Bridge who, despite a lot of preseason hype, ended up on the bench and then out of the program. Dellenger reports that Bridge is now considering a transfer to Mississippi State.
“Alcorn alumni are not going to spread all of their dirty laundry to newspapers,” one Braves booster said. “There is a whole lot more that has gone on that needs correcting. This is not about win/lose but about the livelihood of our athletic program, our student athletes and the university as a whole. … There are concerns from alumni that are not being shared and I believe rightfully so.”
Brown, the school president, framed the issues in a broader way with The Clarion-Ledger, as well: “There seems to be a great deal of contention between our alumni and this football program. It’s clear to me there is something more than wins and losses.”
Brown has created a special commission to investigate the football program’s revenue losses and the effect on Academic Progress Rate scores from roster attitrition, as well as the staff’s relationship with alumni and parents. Brown told The Clarion-Ledger that no decision would be made until the commission’s findings are presented.
“Overall, our players are matriculating to where we think they ought to be,” Spears counters. “Our foundation is set. We look forward to what’s to come here in our program.”
If he gets that chance.