The culture of FAMU athletics


Fans look on in excitement as the Rattlers rush the field before a home game.
Photo credit: Ahmon Lott

With the departure of athletic director Milton Overton, Florida A&M University (FAMU) Athletics has been left in a peculiar place. With the department having a reputation for underachieving, questions of where the department is headed, now that Overton has moved on to Kennesaw State University (KSU), have arisen.

On the brink of announcing the financial plan for the new all-sports facility, Overton accepted the same role as athletic director at KSU.

In an interview with the Tallahassee Democrat this past October, Overton said he was leaving to get closer to his family.

“My dad passed away two months ago," Overton said. "It really changes your life perspective. I realized I really need get closer to my kids.”

In recent years the school’s athletic program has been known for underachieving compared to their Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) counterparts.

Football and basketball are the most profitable programs on FAMU’s campus, but have yet to determine a consistent formula to win. The football program has managed to only win 45 percent of their games over the past 10 seasons, while the men's basketball program has not won a conference title or made an NCAA tournament appearance since 2007.

Vaughn Wilson, assistant athletic director and head of sports information was honest about the current climate of FAMU’s athletic programs.

"Historical data will show our struggles, academic sanctions, and post-season bans which all hurt recruiting,” Wilson said.

Despite the unfortunate circumstances of many athletic programs on campus, analyzing the numbers reveals that the narrative of underperformance does not apply to every program.

FAMU’s cross country team just won its sixth consecutive conference title in Oct., while the softball program won its fourth straight conference championship this past year. In addition, the baseball team has asserted themselves, not only within the conference, but on a national level as a talented well coached team. Led by head coach Jamie Shoupe, the Rattlers’ baseball team won the MEAC championship in 2015, earning division titles in consecutive years for the first time in school history.

FAMU is taking the necessary steps to improve the culture, such as hiring John Eason as the interim athletic director and Robert McCullum as the new head basketball coach.

Eason is a graduate and former player at FAMU and brings over 20 years of experience to the table.

McCullum is a former assistant coach at the University of Oregon, and brings years of knowledge to the program.

"It's very challenging, but I am confident we can get the job done,” McCullum said.

“It won't happen overnight, but given time, we will make progress."  

With his adoption of a balanced athletic department budget, Eason has something to be optimistic about. The budget was last balanced over 10 years ago. Overton was also responsible for creating “The Investing with Champions” campaign which grossed over $750,000 of revenue for the school.

Eason also inherited the plans for the new all-sports facility. The building is expected to cost around $9 million featuring three different levels, adding 2,000 end zone club seats for home games and providing classrooms for the use of the university.

The building will serve as an immediate facelift for the athletic department, equipping them with an elite asset for recruiting. For the Rattlers, their main goal is to attract premiere athletes and scholars. In order to do so they have to provide them with the necessary resources of a Division I program.

The blueprint has been drawn for a successful future, it is now up to administration, coaches and players to create an infectious winning culture that will set FAMU up for years to come.