Alumni turning up heat on football coach Thomas

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2001

LORMAN – Attendance at Saturday’s basketball games versus rival Jackson State will likely be higher than usual, but Alcorn officials undoubtedly wish it were for a different reason.

A protest rally and march organized by the Alcorn National Alumni Association is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday in response to university president Dr. Clinton Bristow’s decision to retain head football coach Dr. Johnny Thomas after a winless season.

Mat Thomas Jr. (no relation to the coach), the association’s treasurer and former chairman, said more than 10,000 letters were sent to alumni urging them to attend the rally.

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&uot;It’s time to rally the troops to the aid of the school,&uot; he said. &uot;We’re asking them to pay their dues and have their voices heard.&uot;

Coach Thomas has won only eight games in his three years as head coach, a trend that could damage the school’s reputation, Mat Thomas said. Bristow announced Dec. 20 that coach Thomas would remain in charge of the football program.

&uot;We’re concerned that the president’s decision was not made in the best interest of the university,&uot; Mat Thomas said. &uot;It not only impacts recruiting in football, but our overall image.&uot;

Bristow has said coach Thomas should be lauded for his commitment to academics, and the higher grades among football players since he was named coach.

&uot;He was hired as a coach, not a teacher,&uot; Mat Thomas said. &uot;We can hold our own academically, but we’ve cut trails in athletics, as well. That area is not up to our standards under our current leadership.&uot;

With budget cuts looming – including possible cuts in the athletics department – another subpar season could hurt the school financially, as well, Thomas said.

&uot;A winning season could help generate revenue,&uot; he said. &uot;But a season with no wins isn’t going to draw any crowds.

&uot;I seriously don’t understand where (Bristow’s) headed,&uot; Thomas said. &uot;His decision makes no logical sense; it makes no economic sense; it makes no educational sense. If you can’t draw from those three things, it just don’t make sense.&uot;

In a short written statement, Bristow addressed the situation saying, &uot;I respect their right to disagree and continue to seek common ground.&uot;

Alcorn director of public relations Ralph Payne elaborated. &uot;I think once meaningful dialogue takes place, we can find some mutual things to agree upon,&uot; he said. &uot;I think both parties are concerned about the school, and this is just a bone of contention we need to get past.&uot;

While weather may play a factor, the evening basketball games may aid the rally’s success, he said.

&uot;I’m a realist,&uot; he said. &uot;We’re looking for thousands, but we’ll be happy with 1,000. We want mostly a show of individuals – a peaceful, dignified march.&uot;

The committee will put some muscle behind Saturday’s show of support by withholding funds raised at the alumni Mid-Winter Conference until the matter is resolved – a sum that could amount to more than $100,000.

But Payne hopes the conference will also allow a more diverse group of alumni to express their opinions and open up lines of communication.

&uot;Hopefully there will be a time for discussions,&uot; he said, &uot;and for healing.&uot;