My opinion

FAMUans deserve better
transparency in head coach search

Vaughn Wilson

Since the Jan.1 announcement that Willie Simmons was stepping down as head football coach of the Rattlers, the Rattler nation has been in a whirlwind.  

Barely two weeks after winning the HBCU national championship in the Celebration Bowl, a wrench was thrown into the pot.  Simmons’ exit, though expected, was seen as a failure to engage him long before the end of the season.

In my mind, I knew after the University of South Florida game that most likely no one else would beat the Rattlers.  In my opinion, that is when the negotiations with Simmons should have begun.  Others have expressed to me when FAMU defeated JSU, it should have begun.  This would have allowed for a much larger fundraising campaign and stakeholders could have at least doubled the amount raised without question.

Simmons always takes the high road.  That is one reason Rattlers love him.  He would take the blame for anything that went wrong with the program, while we knew some were obviously not his direct fault.  His character as a coach endeared him to those who were charged with supporting him.

Some have wondered why he did not get the “Coach Prime” treatment when he left.  It’s because he was a standup guy the entire time and involved himself down to the smallest levels of FAMU and the Tallahassee community.  He wanted to fit in, not make FAMU fit him.  Don’t mistake this statement as a diss to Sanders.  I was a fan of him as a player at FSU, in the NFL, at JSU, and now at Colorado.  He is amazing at everything he does and I’m here for it.

Near the end of December, the VP and Director of Athletics Tiffani-Dawn Sykes reached out to the Rattler Boosters and FAMU National Alumni Association with requests for funding a “coaches compensation” fund.  She reportedly requested $30,000 from the Rattler Boosters and $25,000 from the FAMU NAA.  Within 48 hours, both requests were filled.

If there was a wrong time for this request, two weeks after an added trip to the Celebration Bowl and less than a week after Christmas, folks had basically planned out their disposable income for the remainder of the year.  It was a bad time to ask for donations.  Add in that FAMUans had sold out the SWAC Championship game two weeks prior to the trek to Atlanta at prices above normal game pricing.  This season was a strain on resources, but the Rattler nation stepped up at every turn in a big way.

Lo and behold, the Rattler nation showed out.  Over $140,000 was raised in a span of about 48 hours by the FAMU NAA and the Rattler Boosters confirmed their input of an additional $30,000.  Over the last few years under the direction of Selvin Cobb, the Rattler Boosters have exhibited a level of direct support to the program unseen before.  FAMU alumni, friends, and fans donated exponentially higher than what was requested. 

As a graduate of FAMU’s School of Business and Industry, attaining a goal that fast without significant effort on her part is symbolic of not knowing the market value FAMUans placed on the coach.  When I heard the number on the FAMU NAA call, I felt it was ridiculously low and it would not help solve the impending problem.

FAMUans SACRIFICED!  We spent money most likely allocated to something else to cover this expense.  Even when it was reported that we were over the number, we kept giving.  That’s what Rattlers do.

Unfortunately, since then we have been given not a single update.  Not a single correspondence of any substance from the person who asked us to sacrifice.  Curtis Johnson and the FAMU NAA have given updates frequently to the amount raised, coupled with notes of gratitude for stepping up.    

We are left with piecing together information from parties not certain of its validity.  There has been no timetable announced, no course of action discussed, and growing tension between the supporters and AD/VP Sykes.  Can you blame folks?  They put in their hard-earned money and have zero to show for it.  Was there even a thank you from FAMU Athletics posted?  I don’t recall.

Sykes is the leader of the department, its CEO.  All CEOs are expected to work as a proxy for the stakeholders. Without communication after a big ask is certainly justification for frustration among the stakeholders.  Meanwhile, with no information, folks are gathering and posting their own information…credible or not.  With everyone’s anxiety at an all-time high, friction is building and building, and it can 100 percent be blamed on poor communication between the FAMU Department of Athletics and its die-hard supporters.

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