By Mark F. Gray
When announcing former NFL running back Tyrone Wheatley as their new head football coach, Morgan State pushed all the chips into the center of the table. Great poker players are stoic when gambling that the hand they are holding is enough to win. If the pot is great enough and you win, it’s time to cash out then keep things moving.
Morgan’s athletic director Ed Scott did a masterful job bringing an NFL assistant to a program that has been an afterthought for generations. The history and legacy of the “Golden Bears” under legendary figures such as Eddie Hurt and Earl Banks live in the archives of college football lore. However, there aren’t too many people around who remember the days when Morgan’s program was a destination for premiere athletes and coaches that were looking to make a name for themselves.
If this hire proves successful and the Bears win a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship it will open doors to new opportunities for Wheatley to begin his ascent back to the major college ranks or to the NFL. Morgan, like most HBCU jobs, is a stepping stone opportunity for coaches such as Wheatley to make a name for themselves instead of creating a legacy.
In one of his last major acts as MSU’s athletic director, Floyd Kerr hired Lee Hull from Randy Edsall’s staff at Maryland. It worked to perfection in Hull’s first season where he took Donald Hill-Eley’s team and coached them to their first MEAC title in 30 years. It didn’t matter that they shared the title with four other teams. The complicated five-way tie meant the Bears represented the MEAC in the NCAA’s Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) Playoffs.
The pride in the program was palpable and seemed to restore faith in generations of Bear fans who never thought they would ever see winning football in northeast Baltimore again. Hull was expected to be the man who would ignite the memories of Banks with a program that would contend for conference championships consistently.
Unfortunately, it never happened.
Two years later Hull packed his furniture in a new version of the Mayflower moving trucks and went to work for the Indianapolis Colts as wide receiver’s coach. He left the program on academic probation and they haven’t had a winning season since. Hull cashed in on his immediate success and for the last three years Morgan has been led by two coaches with extended interim tags: Fred Farrier and Ernest Jones.
Hull personifies the dilemma that HBCUs now face when trying build a program these days. There is an unspoken acceptance amongst coaches with the pedigree of Wheatley. You don’t coach at Black colleges too long or you’ll be stuck there. If Scott is on his A-game he has already recognized that as soon as the ink dried on Wheatley’s signed contract there had better be a game plan ready for his departure.
After earning a stellar reputation as one of the nation’s top recruiters, Wheatley probably has a pipeline of talent that could change the fortunes of the program over the next 24 months. He will be able to sell recruits having played for the New York Giants, coached at Michigan and most recently with the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
Morgan would be foolish to look at this as a long term relationship. It will never be a marriage. At best they can only hope it’s an extended fling that leads to another championship ring before Wheatley’s gone.
This article originally appeared in The Afro.