Whistles blowing, helmets cracking and stands are packed with people yelling. Football season is well underway, and in Tallahassee, everything else is secondary.
But for two high school programs less than two miles from Florida A&M University’s campus, the university is pivotal to their coaching staff.
With 30 head coaching positions in the Big Bend area, black coaches hold four positions, two of which are FAMU alumni. Jackie Pons, Leon County school superintendent, and Leon County Athletic Director Ricky Bell, have been known for hiring qualified minority assistant coaches, who eventually get promoted to head coaching jobs.
“I feel like once a minority head coach is hired, the community in which they serve should embrace this person and give them enough time to be successful,” said Bell, who has worked at every high school in Leon County except Chiles. “Kids needs to be successful so they can feel good about themselves and have opportunities in the future.”
Everett Blakely, head coach of Rickards High School, and Ira Reynolds, head coach at Florida A&M Developmental Research School, played together at FAMU under coach Rudy Hubbard. Rickards and FAMU DRS are gateways for young black men who want to coach in the Big Bend.
“With Rickards being one of the few schools in North Florida with a black head coach, students at FAMU or any young guy that comes up saying they want to coach must have an opportunity to coach here,” Blakely said. “If I turn them away, there are very few places they can go.”
Both high school coaching staffs have many former and current Rattlers, who if not for FAMU DRS and Rickards High, may not have had the opportunity to become head coaches.
Both Blakely and Reynolds agree that it is extremely important to hire black coaches in coordinator positions and people who care for the well being of children.
“It’s never about just Xs and Os; it’s about building the individual first, individual coaches, ultimately the coaching staff, individual players and then the team,” Reynolds said.
With low grade point averages, course work not being up to par and talented kids not going to college, both coaches implemented programs to help athletes in the classroom.
DRS starting running back Richard Watson has verbally committed to Georgia Tech.
“These kids look just like you and me,” Reynolds said. “If the people that look like them don’t care enough to show the importance of the academics to prepare them for the next level, then we can’t expect anyone else to do it.”
To eliminate the problem in the NFL, Dan Rooney, owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and chairman of the league’s workforce diversity committee, implemented the Rooney Rule, which requires teams with head coaching vacancies to interview at least one minority candidate.
“There should be plenty of advertisement about the coaching position or positions that are available,” Bell said. “So people can have knowledge of the vacancies and be able to go to the schools with resume and references in hand,” Bell continued.
“From observing the last five years, I’ve noticed there are a lot of minority coaches that were assistants that have been moved up to coordinator positions both offensive and defensive,” the Leon County athletic director said. “I think that in the future you’re going to see more minority head football coaches in this area.”
With the new superintendent and athletic director in the Big Bend, more change may be imminent.
“A smart coach, black or white, will hire a person who they feel will help a program succeed,” Bell said. “The one thing about football is it’s the one sport that no matter if you’re rich, poor, black, white, everyone can come together on Friday night and cheer for one team. This game is a unifying force and it takes a diverse coaching staff and a diverse team to be successful as well.”