As 2023 replaced 2022, another pro football Hall of Famer took over the reins at an HBCU. This one didn’t generate the headlines that came with the decisions of Deion Sanders and Eddie George to take the head coaching jobs at Jackson State and Tennessee State, but it’s got the potential to be every bit as important to the long-term future of HBCU football.
Ed Reed was one of the greatest safeties in modern NFL history. Reed was a game breaking figure for the Baltimore Raven from 2002-12 and finished his career in 2013 with the Texans and Jets. Reed was such a dominant force at his position that the Pro Football Hall of Fame inducted him into Canton in 2019 in his first year of eligibility.
Last Tuesday he accepted the job at Bethune-Cookman College. He becomes the school’s 16th head coach.
Bethune-Cookman, which is located in Daytona Beach, Florida, is a member of the SWAC. The Wildcats finished 2-9 last season, including 2-6 in conference play. It is Reed’s first stint as a head coach. His previous job came at his alma mater, the University of Miami,. There he was hired in 2020 to serve as the football team’s chief of staff, an advisory role to head coach Manny Diaz.
Of course the Sanders hire became the most controversial story of the year among HBCUs when he decided to leave JSU with one year left on his contract for the University of Colorado. A lot of hard feelings and tough words have been passed since then, with many in the HBCU community viewing Sanders as at best deliberately deceptive, and at worst an outright liar and manipulator who initially was urging Black athletes to return to HBCUs, but was only viewing the JSU job as a stepping stone.
Eddie George’s second year at TSU was a rough one. His team finished 4-7 overall, 2-3 in the OVC, and there was significant disappointment that there was a slight dip from the first year’s 5-6 record. Perhaps the greatest disappointment was the lack of a consistent offensive scheme, and the inability of the Tigers to build from a midseason winning streak that had temporarily pushed them into a tie for first in the OVC. They were unable to sustain that though, There will be greater expectations in George’s third year. Fans want to see major improvement and at minimum a winning season.
By contrast, Reed comes into the situation at Bethune-Cookman with virtually no expectations. But the hope is he will not be considering the job only as a launching pad for a future Power 5 position. HBCU football actually enjoyed a banner year in 2022. They led the FCS in average attendance, and the Celebration Bowl was carried on CBS-TV.
While the way Deion Sanders departed left a lot of bad tastes in folks mouths, a couple of the ideas he advances are worth exploring. One is establishing a series between HBCUs and the Ivy League. Another is the possibility of more HBCUs getting invitations to lower tier bowl games.
Both should be thoroughly explored. The future of HBCU football is too important for potentially good suggestions to be ignored simply because the person who made them opted to leave a job before his contract ended.