A good thing comes to Fred McNair, a Brave who waited

Fred McNair, center, is flanked by Alcorn president Alfred Rankins, Jr., left) and athletic director Derek Horne.
Fred McNair, center, is flanked by Alcorn president Alfred Rankins, Jr., left, and athletic director Derek Horne. (Photo by Elwin Williams)
Rick Cleveland
Rick Cleveland

Hall of Famer Willie Richardson, as Blue as a Jackson State Bengal can be, was not the first guy I expected to see at an Alcorn State press conference to announce Fred McNair as the school’s new football coach.

But there Willie Richardson was waiting in line to shake McNair’s hand.

“Why am I here?” Richardon asked rhetorically. “I’ll tell you, I’ve known Fred for years. He’s a good guy, a really good guy. And here’s the thing, so many times people never get the opportunity they deserve. Life can be cruel that way. Today, Fred gets what he deserves. This was a long time coming for him and I’m glad to see it happen.”

A throng of Alcorn supporters gathered in the main arena of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum amid purple and gold banners and balloons to see one of the Braves’ greatest football heroes become the school’s head coach.

Introduced by Alcorn athletic director Derek Horne, McNair called his promotion from assistant head coach to head coach “a dream come true.”

Later, he admitted, there were many, many days he wondered if he would ever get the opportunity. He never gave up.

“This I my school,” he said. “This is what I’ve always wanted to do.”

McNair got the opportunity when his friend and boss, Jay Hopson, left Alcorn for the head coaching job at Southern Miss.

Tueday afternoon, Hopson took time out of his whirlwind schedule to applaud McNair’s hiring.

“Fred is an excellent choice to be the head coach at Alcorn. He is an outstanding coach and person.”

McNair has deep Alcorn roots. He was recruited by the legendary Marino Casem and then coached by Theo Danzy. He was the original “Air” McNair, followed by his brother, the late, great Steve McNair, who rewrote college football’s record books before going on to NFL stardom. Brother Tim also was a star receiver for the Braves.

Long-time Alcorn supporters will tell you Steve had nothing on Fred when it came to arm strength and passing ability.

“If you put videos of them throwing side-by-side, you couldn’t tell the difference,” said Henry Tucker (Alcorn Class of ’66). “Fred’s arm was every bit as strong. Now, he couldn’t run like Steve, but who could?”

Cedric Bush was a running back when Fred McNair played quarterback. He remembers Fred being played at wide receiver as a freshman because Alcorn was so stacked with quarterbacks.

“But then when he was a sophomore, quarterbacks either got hurt or couldn’t do the job and Danzy gave him a shot,” Bush said. “Well, that was that. I remember his first pass, over the middle to Milton Barney. It was beautiful. You could see it right off. That was the beginning of the Air McNair legend. By the end of that season, he was Air McNair and we were a passing team.”

Bush recalled Fred McNair as a student of the game, even as a young player.

“You could see greatness in him,” Bush said.

McNair became a record-setting Arena Football League legend before coming back to Mississippi to coach in high schools (Mount Olive and Collins) and as a college assistant (Millsaps and Alcorn).

Always, he says, he dreamed of becoming the head coach at his alma mater.

Tuesday, that dream came true.

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