No news good news for Alcorn’s Thomas

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 14, 2000

Johnny Thomas, Alcorn’s head coach, reacts to a play gone bad during the Braves’ loss to Southern University on Oct. 21. Alcorn finished 0-11, its first winless season since 1958. (The Vicksburg Post/PAT SHANNAHAN)

As the deadline for deciding Johnny Thomas’ job status approaches, the Alcorn coach is going about business as usual.

“We’re recruiting as if we’ll be here next year,” Thomas said Wednesday. “We owe that to the program.”

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Thomas has finished under .500 in each of his three seasons, but after this year’s 0-11 finish, fans and alumni began calling for his job.

At midseason, Alcorn president Clinton Bristow voiced support for Thomas. But at the end of the year, Bristow said he and interim athletic director Marino Casem would discuss Thomas’ future. Last week, Casem said “something should be done before the semester is over,” which is Friday.

Discussions with Bristow are “ongoing,” Casem said. “It’s not going to be a knee-jerk decision. It’s going to be a fair process … Whatever is done will be done fairly and in a class manner.”

Bristow did not return numerous phone messages left at his office.

Thomas said he has met with Bristow and Casem “many times” since the season ended, but he hasn’t been told if he’ll be retained after leading Alcorn to its first winless season in 42 years.

Thomas is taking no news as good news.

“We’re just continuing to do what we’re doing,” Thomas said, adding that he isn’t running into any hesitancy among recruits while his job is in limbo. “We want to be back. We have a sophomore and junior club coming back, so we should be much better.”

Meanwhile, Casem won’t say how long he will stay on as AD.

When he returned, Casem said there were “certain parameters” he would work within, but he wouldn’t elaborate.

“One can only work so long,” said Casem, who still makes his home in Baton Rouge and stays in Lorman three or four days a week.

After retiring from Southern University last year, he returned to Alcorn to take over that post for Lloyd Hill at the beginning of the football season. Hill retired as interim AD earlier this year. Casem left Alcorn in 1985 after 22 years as football coach.

Alcorn hasn’t had a full-fledged athletic director since ex-Vicksburg High coach Cardell Jones stepped down from the position in 1996, the year before he was fired as football coach after a third straight 4-7 finish.

“Some people say I was brought in here to fire and some said I was here to hire,” Casem said with a laugh. “I just came in here to help get things in gear … There were some facility and leadership problems, but those things have been stabilized.”

Casem also said one of his goals was to help make the athletic program’s budget “more competitive.”

Some alumni have reportedly cut off their support for the school in the last few months. The Braves’ most famous son, Tennessee Titans quarterback Steve McNair, wouldn’t say if he had stopped sending money to the school.

“He said he didn’t even want to talk about Alcorn,” McNair’s wife, the former Mechelle Cartwright of Vicksburg, said by telephone Wednesday night.

Casem admitted that the winless season has made fund-raising difficult.

“We have to identify new resources … and be creative,” he said. “It’s tough. You’ve got to be innovative after 0-11. It’s almost like a death in the family.”