Eight years later, JSU hires Harold Jackson

Cleveland

Little more than eight years ago, Jackson State was in the market for a football coach. I wrote that JSU should go back in its storied football past to move forward with its uncertain future. I suggested JSU could do a lot worse than Mississippi Sports Hall of Famer Harold Jackson. Jackson, then was 60 years old, and many folks disagreed with me, saying JSU should go after a younger coach. Now comes today’s news that JSU has hired Jackson eight years later. Here was my column from eight years ago…

Harold Jackson, one of the great legends of Jackson State’s storied football past, is interested in becoming part of the Tigers’ football future.

As head coach.

“Yes, Jackson State is my school and I’d like to sit down and talk and see what the situation is and what they have to say,” Jackson said by telephone from his Baylor University office where he works as wide receivers coach.

And then he said more.

“But I don’t want to get involved if they’re going to do it like they did it last time,” Jackson said. “I couldn’t work for the guy who ran the last search.”

That guy is Roy Culberson, JSU’s athletic director – at least for the time being. Jackson says Culberson wasn’t honest with him – or in talking to others about him – in JSU’s coaching search three years ago.

Culberson, who has been out of his office this week, has said he would not be part of the search for a new coach. You ask me, that’s tantamount to saying he won’t continue as athletic director. I mean, have you ever heard of a search for a coach that did not include the athletic director? Isn’t that what an athletic director does?

Breath of needed fresh air

The JSU football search committee, appointed by president Ronald Mason, meets today for the first time. The Tigers are looking for a replacement for James Bell, hired three years ago to raise the program to another level. He instead torpedoed it to an all-time low and was fired last week. JSU’s once-proud program is a shambles. The Tigers are 2-7 and, if you can imagine this, could easily lose Saturday at Prairie View, which hasn’t beaten JSU since 1971.

The program needs resuscitation, and one potential breath of fresh air is Harold Jackson.

I can only speak to his football expertise from what knowledgeable people in the coaching business tell me. Former NFL coaches, college coaches and NFL scouts say Jackson is a knowledgeable coach and an excellent recruiter.

I can speak to what kind of person he is from having known him for years. He’s first-class in every way: friendly, honest and loyal.

But Jackson’s most important asset – given the fractured support for JSU football – might be his pedigree. He is a Jackson State man, through and through. He’s a JSU man who went on to become one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history. Who better to rally JSU alumni and fans?

Alas, there are many potential roadblocks. As an assistant at Baylor, Jackson makes considerably more money than what JSU paid Bell. The guess here is he wouldn’t come to JSU for a pay cut – and unless he were given the wherewithal to hire quality coordinators and position coaches. Culberson, speaking at the press conference to announce Bell’s firing, said the salary likely won’t escalate much from the $85,000 Bell was paid.

If that’s true, JSU won’t hire Jackson or anyone else of his calibre.

Southern University’s Pete Richardson reportedly makes $200,000. JSU should at least be able to get up into the $150,000 range with added incentives for increased attendance, championships, etc.

Turn ears to Reed, Gorden

What follow are two more observations about the Jackson State situation:

• JSU alumni and supporters must be patient, no matter who gets hired. This isn’t going to be rebuilding; this is going to be major reconstruction. Let’s put it this way: Harold Jackson, who was one of 16 JSU players to sign professional contracts his senior year, would be shocked to see how low the talent level has sunk. Neither Bear Bryant – nor Eddie Robinson – could turn this around in one year.

• Can somebody please tell me why JSU wouldn’t lean on Jackson residents Walter Reed and W. C. Gorden for expertise in hiring this coach? Both should be part of the search committee or at least should serve in an advisory capacity. Gorden won SWAC championships on a regular basis as the JSU coach. Reed hired winning coaches at JSU and Florida A&M. Both are retired in Jackson. Both are loyal to JSU. Neither has been asked for input.

That makes no sense whatsoever to me. JSU needs to embrace, not ignore, its rich football tradition in hiring this next coach.

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Harold Jackson’s Hall of Fame bio.

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