Before Sunday, Tennessee State University’s spring football season had gotten minimal coverage and scant attention. But that was before the news surfaced that former Tennessee Titans star and Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George was going to be. the next Tigers head coach, and that the final home game of the spring season was also going to be longtime head coach Rod Reed’s finale. Suddenly the Tigers were a hot media item. While nothing was said about it during the ESPN + telecast other than at the game’s conclusion a fitting tribute was paid to honor Reed for his long service to TSU, stories were all over the place online about the move.
Everyone from ESPN to Sports Illustrated and a variety of national, regional and local publications were weighing in on the news. TSU football was suddenly a story, and the publicity furor continued on Monday, when the official TSU announcement was made. The wave of attention was very similar to what Jackson State enjoyed when the news of their hiring Deion Sanders as the new head coach a few months ago surfaced.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is that George was even interested in the job. He’s been very active since his NFL retirement, doing everything from acting to being a college football commentator on Fox Sports 1, as well as being involved in different roles with Montgomery Bell Academy and the group seeking a Major League baseball franchise for Nashville. However nowhere in there has there been any football coaching activity, unless you count being a mentor to Derrick Henry and a vocal cheerleader at Titans games.
The skeptics (and they are out there) are labeling this nothing more than a publicity stunt. After all, their lament goes, major college athletic programs don’t turn to novice coaches if they seriously want to improve their fortunes. Why not go get a career football coach, a young and hungry offensive or defensive coordinator from an HBCU, and give them a chance is their question.
That’s certainly a legitimate strategy, but the counter is TSU is in an unusual position. As an HBCU in the OVC’s biggest market, they are competing for attention with the NFL, the NHL, the SEC, and now bigtime auto racing, to say nothing of MLS and the return of minor league baseball (with the possibility still there of an MLB team down the line). Going for someone widely known in football circles but otherwise an obscurity might make great sense from a strictly tactical standpoint, but from the viewpoint of garnering needed attention and exposure, it’s hard to top selecting one of the biggest names in the entire region to be your new head football coach.
TSU’s problem also far exceeds nuts and bolts football. They needed someone to bring some excitement, trigger renewed interest among the faithful and generate fresh attention from those who seldom if ever follow HBCU football. Whatever else one wants to say about the Sanders hiring, Jackson State is now being followed nationwide, something that was far from the case before. TSU is now on the radar for every website, sports talk show, and columnist around, at least for the foreseeable future.
No, the Tigers can’t count on the positive publicity for this lasting forever, and George’s staff picks will be critical, as will the team’s ultimate performance on the field. Having just viewed all seven of the spring games, the Tigers’ offense needs lots of work, especially on the passing end. But again, time will tell just how good a head coach Eddie George becomes.
For now, his hiring has given TSU the kind of attention and exposure HBCUs constantly seek and seldom receive, especially in major media markets. Now what happens from here will be crucial.