It has long been a sore point for many college football fans that Blacks haven’t gotten the opportunity to be head coaches at elite programs. Whenever Blacks have landed plum jobs at prestigious schools in the SEC, Big 12 or Pac 12 it has been duly noted.
But Monday Alcorn State made history in a different way. They became the first team in the Southwestern Athletic Conference to hire a white head coach when president Christopher Brown announced that Jay Hopson would be their 18th and newest head coach. Hopson is a native of Vicksburg, Mississippi and a former defensive back at the University of Mississippi. He’s coached at nine colleges since 1992. He replaces Melvin Spears, who coached only one season. The Braves were a dreary 2-8 in his lone year.
“This is home,” Hopson said during a press conference that was covered by almost every major newspaper in the region, plus national outlets like USA Today. Hopson said he made the decision to accept the job because he felt that they could build something special close to his home. “We want to win championships,” Hopson said. “We have to lay that foundation. We want it as quick as we can get it, but sometimes patience is something you have to have. We have a mission and we know what our plan is to get the program where we want it to be.”
Zelmarinn Murphy, the 1966 Alcorn graduate known to players past and present as “Mama Brave” was among many supporters gathered on the lawn of Brown’s home for the announcement. “I am ecstatic,” Murphy said. “I watched Jay grow up. We were looking for someone to carry us to the next level. We think he has the contacts and the ability to do that.”
Hopson will make $150,000 a year for the next three years. He has previously been an assistant at Ole Miss, the University of Southern Mississippi, the University of Michigan and most recently at the University of Memphis. His stint there did not end well. Hopson was fired after week number two, following a 47-3 loss to Arkansas State.
Making matters even more interesting is the fact Hopson reportedly withdrew his name from the process after being named one of four finalists only last month. He cited Brown’s vision for the university and the football program as the reason he changed his mind.
“What a lot of teams do in a year, we have to do in two months,” Hopson continued. “We have a lot of work to do, we realize that.” “The candidate won every round of the interview and he was supported by each group (of the selection committee),” Brown said. “Naysayers could only comment on his race.” While acknowledging that there were some “missteps” in the process, Brown said that ultimately it was an easy decision to make (hiring Hopson).
“I think the Lord leads us to where he wants us,” Hopson concluded. “The Lord kept pulling me back to Alcorn and Dr. Brown.”
Hopson said he will have to operate in “fast forward” because a lot of time has already been lost on the recruiting trail, both in terms of players and also in terms of finding assistants. He plans to assemble a staff as quickly as possible and also meet with players and recruits.
Since the heyday of Steve McNair, Alcorn’s fortunes have plummeted. Their last strong season was a 7-3 record in 2003. Besides his troubles on the field, former coach Spears had some ugly incidents and clashes with players during his time at the school.
Of course, Hopson had his own problems last season. He left the University of Memphis after being told by then coach Larry Porter he was going to be reassigned. His defense had given up more than 100 points at that time.
But Monday, everyone was looking to the future, and anxious to forget about the past, both the immediate and the state’s ugly history of racial conflict that made the Al