Commentary: HBCUs and their athletic departments are benefiting from former professional players and coaches

Commentary: HBCUs and their athletic departments are benefiting from former professional players and coaches
December 15
12:05 2021

By Dr. James B. Ewers Jr.

There seems to be an avalanche of support these days for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). These schools are getting more press than at any time before now.

There is not a day that goes by that you don’t see a story about an HBCU. If you are a supporter of HBCUs, this is welcomed news.

HBCU alumni associations are gaining more leverage and more members, too. People without HBCU ties also want to know about our schools and our traditions.

They are asking: what is the attraction? What makes these schools so special?

Why in past months have we seen philanthropist Mackenzie Scott giving billions of dollars to HBCUs? There are probably multiple reasons for her generosity.

I am just happy that it is happening.

Many of us graduated from them and we can spend hours talking about our time in class and on the block. Those memories will be with us forever.

Like some of you, I was a student-athlete at an HBCU. Those experiences, too, I will always cherish. Being on the road, eating in other college cafeterias, and winning championships were all a part of my HBCU experience.

All the coaches at my HBCU were good people. They were solid citizens.

Now, because of this popularity surge, HBCU athletic departments are riding a wave of increased visibility. Former professional athletes are now seeking to coach at these institutions. I believe they have some strong yearning to be a part of this kind of campus life.

Most recently on Dec. 10, Hue Jackson became the football coach at Grambling State University in Louisiana. This past football season, he was the offensive coordinator at Tennessee State University. Eddie George, former professional football player, is the coach at TSU. Coach Hue Jackson has over 30 years of football coaching experience. In his opening press conference, he talked glowingly about Grambling State Tigers’ James “Shack” Harris and Doug Williams. Both are NFL legends and are in multiple halls of fame.

Maybe this hiring of Coach Hue Jackson will return the Tigers to their glory days. We can never forget Coach Eddie Robinson and the success he had there. If you are a past or present football player at Grambling State University, you know the name, Eddie Robinson. In a respectful and admirable way, his name and contributions are probably a part of new student orientation.

Hue Jackson may be able to do at Grambling State University what Deion Sanders is doing at Jackson State University. Let us cheer Coach Jackson on as he climbs that mountain called success.

While Coach Jackson is the latest coach going to an HBCU, there are others as well. Tyrone Wheatley (Morgan State University), Greg Ellis (Texas College), and Sean Gilbert (Livingstone College), are former NFL players who said “yes” to HBCUs.

The HBCU football season is winding down now except for the Celebration Bowl and the HBCU Legacy Bowl. The Celebration Bowl will be in Atlanta on Dec. 18 and it pits Jackson State University against South Carolina State University. The HBCU Legacy Bowl will be held on Feb. 19 in New Orleans. It will feature the best players from HBCUs and the game will be televised on The NFL Network.

Both will be great games, so get your tickets right away before they sell out.

HBCU basketball season has started and former professional basketball players are in the coaching ranks. Here are just a few of them: Elaine Powell (Langston University), Kenny Anderson (Fisk University), Gawan “Bonzie” Wells (LeMoyne Owen College) and Cynthia Cooper-Dyke (Texas Southern University).

The coaching scene will see more pro athletes going to HBCUs. This is only the beginning and that is good news.

James B. Ewers Jr., Ed.D., is a former tennis champion at Atkins High School in Winston-Salem and played college tennis at Johnson C. Smith University, where he was all-conference for four years. He is a retired college administrator. He can be reached at

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