Hopson’s hire hinges on W-L record

Published 12:01 am Sunday, June 3, 2012

It’s really not a black and white issue.

While Alcorn State University certainly made waves Monday afternoon by announcing the hiring of Jay Hopson as its 18th head football coach, the real issue for ASU is how long it will be before No. 19 replaces No. 18.

Hopson is the first white head football coach at a Southwestern Athletic Conference, and the significance of that cannot be disregarded.

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When ASU President M. Christopher Brown II visited Natchez April 24, he mentioned the need for the university to aid in the work of racial reconciliation.

“(Racial reconciliation) is the ability of us to really understand the humanity of all the persons of southwest Mississippi,” Brown said that day. “We will have to give up, accept and concede our past history.”

With the hiring of Hopson, the school has taken a step in Brown’s stated goal of racial reconciliation. Make no mistake, Brown and the university should be commended for it.

But all of that will be a moot point if the ASU football program has not taken a significant step forward in the next few seasons.

Hopson is the fifth person to have the title of head football coach at ASU in six years, dating back to the firing of Johnny Thomas in 2007. Since then, only Earnest Collins left on his own terms. The other two, Earnest Jones and Melvin Spears, were fired after just one season.

With so much turnover in such a short amount of time, it’s been virtually impossible for the ASU players to have any level of consistency. Players have gotten used to one coach’s way of doing things, only to have to start over the next season. Of the five coaches ASU has had in six years, only Collins lasted more than one year, coaching in 2009 and 2010 before departing for his alma mater, Northern Colorado.

The Braves’ program cannot afford another short-term coach. Hopson has to bring stability to the program, and he has to bring wins. If he doesn’t, any goodwill his hiring brings in terms of racial reconciliation will mean little to the ASU fanbase and the powers-that-be at the university.

At the same time, the powers-that-be and the fans are going to have to show Hopson and his staff some patience. He’s arriving without having gone through offseason workouts and spring training with his team. Hopson is basically going to have to cram in as much as he can in a very short amount of time. Given the limited number of workout days in the summer and fall, that’s no easy task.

If the Braves struggle in Hopson’s first year, they cannot give into the temptation to throw Hopson to the wolves. He needs several seasons to get his system in place and to recruit his own players. That’s going to take much longer than this summer and fall.

Brown, I believe, understands this. It’s why Brown made sure to hire someone he believes brings good character to the program. In Hopson’s own words, “The character of your team will define the success of your program.”

Hopefully for Alcornites, the Braves will have an abundance of character going forward.