New coach must repair fan base

Published 12:30 am Sunday, December 16, 2007

Flash back to a few months ago.

The Alcorn State Braves were mired in a horrendous slump, having lost their first five games and gone through three quarterbacks.

The fans were restless and angry. They called for then-coach Johnny Thomas to be fired.

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Things continued to get worse for Alcorn and Thomas.

A two-point win over an 0-11 Texas Southern team did little to satisfy the fan base as did a truly ugly victory over Mississippi Valley State.

Twenty-two thousand-seat Jack Spinks Stadium sat mostly empty on game days, and after a loss to Jackson State in the Capital City Classic, it seemed like Thomas’ dismissal was eminent.

Now fast forward to Tuesday morning in the Windsor ballroom at the Marriot Hotel in downtown Jackson.

Ernest Jones preached new life into Alcorn. The former Alcorn player and running back coach for the University of Cincinnati may be just what the Braves need.

The ballroom was filled with Alcorn supporters who responded to everything the charismatic Jones had to say, especially the Braves winning the Capital City Classic next season.

As stoic and laid back as Thomas was, Jones is the opposite, a young energetic coach who has already injected enthusiasm into a fan base that had soured on the previous administration.

Waldo James, a 1952 graduate of Alcorn who attended the press conference was impressed with the fire and brimstone speech the new coach gave to the masses.

“I like the way he talks,” James said. “I hope everything goes according to his plan.”

Alcorn graduate, class of 1966 Willie B. Brown, who was decked out in an all-purple suit, including his bowler hat, also said he was impressed with the new coach, but wanted to see how he would react when things didn’t go his way.

“He’s got to go through the trials and tribulations,” Brown said. “I want to see him go through that and see how he fights for his team and players.”

James said in order for Jones to help heal a fractured fan base, he needed to quickly reach out to the alumni and let them know they are important to the success of the program.

“He needs to let us know he wants to work with the alumni,” James said. “He will get the alumni’s support if he gives us the respect. We didn’t always have that with the previous coach.”

For his part, Jones has already started working to restore the confidence and faith of the fan base, calling for them to pack the stadium and become the 12th man for the program.

Jones said working with the alumni would be one of his priorities once he started in his new position.

“I want to hear from them,” he said after the press conference. “I want them to feel like they are an important part of the program, and I plan to do that. I want them in the stands.

Jones is on the right track to restoring the pride and enthusiasm of a fan base that was short on both in the 2007 season.

However, he, as well as everyone else, knows the only way to keep the fans happy is to deliver on his promise of a SWAC championship.

That, more than any other, will keep the fans coming to the games and being that 12th man Jones is calling for.

Jeff Edwards is the sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3632 or