The Bethune-Cookman-Ed Reed marriage “in principle” was finally annulled, painfully and embarrassingly.
Reed, the Pro Football Hall of Famer and former star at the University of Miami, will not be the university’s next football coach. Official word of the cancellation came Saturday when the university released a statement effectively announcing the end of a 25-day craze.
The Reed fiasco is the first casualty of a historically black college football program in the post-Deion Sanders era. Bethune-Cookman was looking to catch lightning in a bottle like Jackson State did with Sanders; instead, the university now has an egg on its face. What the school quickly discovered is that Reed is not Sanders, and Bethune-Cookman, who joined the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) two seasons ago, is not Jackson State.
I knew there was trouble in heaven shortly after the university released an upbeat but restrained announcement on Dec. 27: “Bethune-Cookman University Athletics has reached a tentative agreement with the Pro Football Hall of Famer Ed Reed to be its 16th head football coach. ”
Typically, the announcement of a new coach is quickly followed by an introductory press conference. In the absence of such a schedule, I contacted the school’s sports information director to request an interview with Reed.
The response: “Unfortunately, at this time, we are unable to connect Coach Reed for interviews as he and the university continue to finalize his hiring.”
A week later, I followed to see if there were any updates. The response: “No updates at this time. You’ll know as soon as we do.
I asked a follow-up question: “Is Ed Reed officially on staff?” Is he on time?
The response: “The contract process is still ongoing at this time.”
Soon after, Reed’s frustration with the process — and the university — began to boil over into public view as he made several social media posts about the state of the institution and its dissatisfaction with its future bosses.
In a January 15 Instagram Live VideoReed said: “First [Sanders] was not mistaken in what he said. All HBCUs need help because of the people who run them. Broken mindsets here.
Reed followed that up with an Instagram Live full of profanity video in which he brushed off criticism for his comments, claimed players had been cleaning up trash around the Bethune-Cookman sports facility and claimed: ‘I should leave – I’m not even under contract to do that .”
He later issued an apology, but it was too little, too late. By then, the university had no doubt realized that it had hired the wrong person (if only in principle). The time had come for a cancellation.
In an extraordinary 15-minute video on Saturday that showed Reed speaking to players and their parents (and which included an appearance by Sanders), Reed said he was an agent of change but that the 119-year-old institution “wasn’t ready for the change”. ” and forced him out. Later that day, Bethune-Cookman released a statement confirming that she no longer wanted Reed as head football coach.
Bethune-Cookman University was founded in 1904 in Daytona Beach, Florida by a young black woman named Mary McLeod Bethune. Originally called the Daytona Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls, the school has gone through several incarnations as it has grown. In 1923 the school merged with the Cookman Institute in Jacksonville, Florida and became co-ed, and in 1931 the school’s name was changed to Bethune-Cookman College.
There’s something to be said for selling the university and its legacy rather than relying on a charismatic force of nature like Jackson State did with Sanders. Reed and Sanders are as different as day and night.
Sanders is the charismatic dual-sport star who has played in both a Super Bowl and a World Series. He maintained a high profile as a television analyst and coach at his Prime Prep Academy. Jackson State has deep roots in the SWAC and has produced dozens of professional football players and four Hall of Famers.
Reed was a standout player at the University of Miami, had a Hall of Fame career with the Baltimore Ravens, and had a brief coaching stint with the Buffalo Bills. At the time of his interaction with Bethune-Cookman, Reed had been a member of the Miami Hurricanes’ support staff for three seasons.
Sanders used his success at Jackson State to catapult himself into a job at the University of Colorado. Bethune-Cookman would have been Reed’s first opportunity to coach Division I football. Hopefully, it won’t be his last.
For Reed, the lesson learned may be that he needs to become more strategic, more political and diplomatic if he wants to be head football coach. Being a Hall of Fame player doesn’t automatically qualify someone to be a great coach. The lessons for Bethune-Cookman – and by extension black academia – are more radical.
For starters, stop chasing after famous coaches. Find someone with great coaching chops. There are plenty of NFL assistants and assistants in major college programs eager for the opportunity to become head coaches. Most have not played at historically black colleges and universities. Greater emphasis should be placed on identifying applicants who understand and respect the history and legacy of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).
Last year, my alma mater, Morgan State University, hired Damon Wilson to replace Tyrone Wheatley as head football coach. Wilson played at Bowie State University, spent several years as an assistant in several HBCU programs, and became Bowie’s head coach in 2009. He won several Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association championships at Bowie and remained there until he accepted the position from Morgan State.
No one knows if Wilson will make it, but as Sanders has repeatedly told Jackson State, there are exceptional coaches in the HBCU universe.
Jackson State has been beaten in back-to-back Celebration Bowl games, in 2021 by South Carolina State, coached by Buddy Pough, and last month by North Carolina Central, coached by Trei Oliver.
When I was a football player at Morgan State, our coach, Earl Banks, got the team together before practice and talked about how important it was for a black coach from a white institution to understand HBCU culture. He had been an All-Big Ten guard at the University of Iowa, and he often spoke of the isolation he felt as one of the only black players on the team. Banks began his coaching career at Maryland State, now known as the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, before coming to Morgan State as head coach in 1960.
Banks said it was important for those who came from white institutions to HBCUs to understand the culture, understand what they were getting into, and respect those who had spent most of their careers in HBCUs. It was important to avoid the condescension and impatience that often surfaces when things don’t change as quickly or go as smoothly as in white institutions, and to avoid the “savior mentality.”
I have no doubt that Reed has a good heart, and his heart was in the right place when he pursued Bethune-Cookman’s work. He probably hadn’t done his research and might have thought that just being a Hall of Famer was enough preparation to take on a rebuilding project at Bethune-Cookman.
The folks at Bethune-Cookman also miscalculated: They thought they were making a Deion Sanders move. The school received some publicity, but I doubt that was the type of exposure she had in mind.
In the weeks to come, Bethune-Cookman will likely be singled out and guessed at, with the powers that be wondering, “What were we thinking? The president should ask his leadership team, “Who thought that was a good idea?
Hopefully, as the school progresses, a lesson has been learned: proceed with caution and wisdom. You are looking for a football manager, not a celebrity. Don’t fall into Deion’s trap.
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