Jackson State faces uncertain offseason

Published 9:14 am Monday, November 30, 2015

JACKSON — As Jackson State’s marching band played its way down the corridor outside an interview room at Veterans Memorial Stadium early Saturday evening, the football team was putting the finishing touches on a tumultuous season.

The Tigers lost to archrival Alcorn State 14-10. It was their third loss in a row, and the final game of a 3-8 season, their second in a row with a losing record. There will be a new head coach next season, either current interim coach Derrick McCall or someone else, and a new direction for the program.

Saturday’s game, then, was a swirl of emotions for the Tigers — gratefulness that a difficult season was over, optimism for a fresh start, and the bittersweet feeling that comes at the end of every year.

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“Those guys have done everything I and these coaches have asked them to do. They have stepped up to the challenge in the situation we went through this year,” McCall said of his players. “It takes courage, it takes perseverance, and it takes understanding moreso than anything, to understand that this is a business. This is a business decision, and it’s nothing that they’ve done wrong. We just have to help them understand that that’s a part of life. We have to keep moving, we have to keep fighting, we have to keep going. They bought in to it and we just kept working and trying to get better.”

McCall was promoted to head coach after Harold Jackson was fired in early October. Jackson State had a 1-4 record at the time and recovered to win two of the first three games under McCall.

That was followed by a three-game slide to end the season, although two of the losses were to Alabama State and Alcorn State by a total of nine points.

McCall wasn’t sure what the future holds for him within the program. He’s been on JSU’s coaching staff for eight years in a variety of positions, and played quarterback for the Tigers from 1979-82.

He said he was thankful for the opportunity to lead the program, even if only for a few weeks, but also said he’d understand if the administration decides to bring someone else aboard for next season.

“It’s just been a pleasure to serve in this capacity. It’s a dream come true for me. I’m an alum of Jackson State, and to have an opportunity to have the helm as a head football coach, it doesn’t come lightly,” McCall said. “I do understand that hundreds, maybe thousands of applications are coming in. I can’t worry about that. This is a gem. This is the mecca of black college football. We’ve been that way for a long time. We will be back.”

McCall’s players said he deserves a shot at the full-time job. When asked if they’d want him for a coach, defensive linemen Keontre Anderson, Javancy Jones and Teddrick Terrell nodded in unison and didn’t hesitate to offer up their support.

“When Coach McCall took over, every coach stepped up,” said Terrell, a senior who had eight sacks this season. “They knew they had somebody who was going to be on them and push them. That made the coaches step up their game, and everything started coming on. So I think they should bring all of them back.”

McCall said he hasn’t been given a timeline for when the administration will make a hire or give him word about his future with the program. For now, he said, he plans to plow ahead with the business of bringing the Tigers back to prominence.

Jackson State has won 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference championships, but none since 2007. It did win or tie for the East Division title six times in seven years form 2007-13 before slumping under Jackson the last two seasons.

This is the first time Jackson State has had back-to-back losing seasons since 2003-05.

“The state of Jackson State football is that blood is still flowing through our veins. As long as you’ve got a life, as long as you’ve got blood running through your veins, we can turn this thing around,” McCall said.

The key to rebuilding the Tigers, he added, begins today when he and his staff hit the recruiting trail. The plan is to recruit plenty of in-state talent to cultivate the next generation of champions.

“We’ve got to get out there and find the ballplayers that fit this program. The ballplayers that fit the things we want to do offensively, defensively and special teams. Once we do that, you’ll see Jackson State back on top. We’re not going away. We’ve just got to get out there and find some missing pieces,” McCall said. “We’re going to saturate the state of Mississippi, get out to every county in the state of Mississippi trying to get players. There are a lot of players in the state of Mississippi. We’ve just got to go out there and find the ones that fit Jackson State University.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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