Swift search for FAMU football coach down to five candidates

Quarterback Jeremy Moussa hoist the SWAC championship trophy after FAMU beat Prairie View for the title last December.
Photo special to the Outlook

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook Staff Writer

A search to find the next head coach for FAMU’s football program has been moving at warp speed.

A committee that was commissioned five days earlier decided Sunday on five candidates, whose names were sent to athletic director Tiffani Dawn Sykes and President Larry Robinson, Ph.D. The next step in the process is expected to be interviews with the candidates, which could conclude quickly.

The haste to hire a coach is due to the rapidly approaching National Signing Day on Feb. 7. The vacancy was created when former head coach Willie Simmons resigned Jan. 1 to join Manny Diaz’s staff at Duke as a running backs coach.

Within a week after Simmons’ departure, several outlets reported that Sykes seemed poised to recommend Shawn Gibbs, current head coach at Division II Fort Valley State University, for the hire. However, he was given a contract extension to remain coach of the Wildcats.

A Board of Trustees meeting that seemingly was intended to bring Gibbs’ name for approval instead turned into a detour. The BOT last Tuesday recommended forming a search committee to work with Sykes’ recommendation of a search firm.

The committee is made up of stakeholders, including the National Alumni Association and other support groups.

No names were devulged during Sunday’s meeting. The five candidates who advanced for consideration were identified publicly only by a number. The unanimous choices were numbers 14, 16, 18, 34 and 45.

Donald Palm, Ph.D, chairman of the search committee and FAMU’s chief operating officer, asked the group to keep the names under wraps to avoid having to restart the search.

Only candidates 14 and 16 were on the original list presented by Renaissance Search and Consulting, which was hired to work with the search committee. RSC has a client list that includes other universities and professional sports teams.

The list started with five recommendations from which only two made the cut.  

Four of the original candidates recommended by the firm have coaching experience in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, RSC’s Vice President of Athletics Adam Gordon, told the committee. The Rattlers dominated the SWAC this past season, winning the East Division, the overall conference title and later the Celebration Bowl for the HBCU national championship. 

Before settling on the names that moved on to the next round of the hiring process, members of the search committee engaged in a robust discussion about who should be the next coach. Committee members had access to the names and professional background of each applicant.

Curtis Johnson, president of FAMU’s National Alumni Association, pleaded with the group to select names that fit the FAMU profile.

“There is a culture and one thing I know about leadership and culture is that when someone comes in, even people that may be there,” Johnson said, “there is a shift and sometimes that shift can cause untimely delays and concerns.”

Johnson went on to say he wants to see “a coach that can relate to young players. That’s paramount. We have to have someone that understands how to coach our current athletes. That’s important to me.”

Kelvin Dean, the only player on the search committee, mentioned three coaches on the list that could be a good fit for the program. That resonated with Curtis Taylor, president of the F-Club, who said he’s heard the same sentiment from other Rattlers.

“I think they speak very loud and clearly of what their position is,” Taylor said. “We have to listen to them because they’re going to be the ones out there running the ball, kicking, catching the ball, running the plays in the hot sun.”

Members of the committee were also concerned about preferred salaries mentioned by a few of the original five candidates. Johnson and board member Lisa LaBoo were concerned that a coach might settle on a salary, turn out to be a winner who walks away on the first offer that’s better than what they might make at FAMU.

A salary scale wasn’t mention but Simmons was on a contract that paid him $300,000 annually, making him the highest paid FCS coach in Florida. 

Members of FAMU football coach search committee

FAMU Search Committee: Donald Palm, Ph.D., committee chair; Selvin Cobb, Rattler Boosters President; Kelvin Dean Jr., FAMU football player; Eddie Jackson, 220 Quarterback Club President; Curtis Johnson Jr., FAMU National Alumni Association President; Lisa LaBoo, FAMU Foundation Board of Directors Chair; Kyla Ligon, FAMU Student Government Association Representative; Ebenezer Oriaku, FAMU Faculty Athletic Representative; Curtis Taylor, Rattler F Club President.

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