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ASU hires Hopson as head football coach

New Alcorn State head coach Jay Hopson speaks at a press conference introducing him as head coach Monday afternoon on the ASU campus. Hopson, a former Ole Miss defensive back, most recently served as defensive coordinator at the University of Memphis from 2010-11. (Photo courtesy of Alcorn State)

LORMAN — New Alcorn State head football coach Jay Hopson didn’t downplay the significance of being the first white head football coach for a Southwestern Athletic Conference school, but he said black and white were not the most important colors at ASU.

“Some of my best friends in the coaching business are black,” Hopson said. “I don’t see it as white or black — we’re purple and gold.”

Hopson was introduced as the 18th head football coach at ASU Monday afternoon on the school’s campus. He brings with him approximately 20 years of coaching experience, having most recently served as defensive coordinator at the University of Memphis from 2010-11.

ASU President M. Christopher Brown II called the hiring a historic appointment, and said the school must embrace a spirit of diversity.

“Today’s historic appointment as the first SWAC school to appoint a non-black as head football coach will require us to walk hand in hand to disrupt the naysayers wedded to the racist past,” Brown said in his opening speech introducing Hopson as head coach.

Hopson had actually withdrawn his name from consideration for the ASU head coaching position, but Hopson said Brown convinced him to give it a shot — with a little help from a higher being.

“I believe in Dr. Brown’s vision for this university, and the more I prayed about it — I think the Lord leads us where he wants us,” Hopson said. “As I continued to pray, the Lord kept pulling me back to Alcorn and Dr. Brown.”

For Hopson, the hiring was a homecoming of sorts, since the former Ole Miss defensive back grew up in Vicksburg, less than an hour from ASU’s campus.

“I have many friends that are Alcornites that grew up in Vicksburg. This is home for me, and it’s a good situation for me and my family, and I’m just happy and proud to be here,” Hopson said.

“Being home always is good. I have many friends in Natchez, too — I grew up on (U.S.) 61. It’s a comfortable fit for me and my family.”

Hopson’s most recent coaching stint was as defensive coordinator at the University of Memphis in 2010 and 2011 before being let go just two games into the 2011 season.

Hopson also served as linebackers coach from 2008-2009 at the University of Michigan. He was defensive coordinator at Southern Miss from 2005-2007 and served as defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator at Ole Miss in 2004.

ASU was set to announce its new football coach following the team’s spring game April 28, but no announcement was made. The school then announced that the hire would happen sometime during commencement week May 7-11, but that didn’t materialize, either.

Brown said the delay in the decision was to take every step to ensure that the new coach would have the necessary funds to be able to run a successful program.

“My call with most of the coaches in the pool (of candidates) was, we can make it work, whatever you give us,” Brown said. “But Coach Hopson was like, ‘No, I can’t do that. If I don’t have it, we won’t be able to be successful.’”

Brown said ASU has historically been near the bottom of the SWAC in terms of coaching compensation.

“I think with this next year our coaching contract and football expenditures will put us in the middle of the SWAC, which means we’re moving in the right direction.”

The hire was met with much fanfare by at least one Alcornite. Former ASU student Cameron Jenkins said he challenged Brown to diversify the school before he graduated May 12.

Jenkins said the hire will bring the necessary fanfare to get Braves fans excited again.

“The first thing you have to think about is energy,” Jenkins said.

“This is the same thing that Dr. Brown brought to the campus a little over a year ago. That energy, it goes so fast throughout the student body, and it does the same thing with the fans, alumni and administrators, and that’s the same kind of energy that builds the university, so you can’t go wrong.”

Jenkins said hiring a white head coach at ASU is a push forward for the school’s future.

“Diversity means a lot, not just for Alcorn, but for the state of Mississippi, as well as our nation,” Jenkins said. “It’s been happening ever since we became a nation. It’s important for the university that we push forward toward the future, and this is a step in that direction.”

With the hiring process over, Hopson said he will turn his attention to getting to know his players — whom he had yet to meet before Monday’s press conference — and building his staff of assistant coaches.

“We can go to work, and the issues at hand are getting with the players here at summer school and getting on the road and recruiting,” Hopson said. “Of course, we missed spring recruiting, so we have to catch up there, and just getting new coaches in, that’s step one.

“We’ve got to go in fast-forward, because we have to do in two months what a lot of teams do in a year.”

Hopson replaces Melvin Spears, who was fired in February following a 2-8 record in his first season as head coach.