Thursday, December 19, 2013
Normally, when high-profile college head football coaches get axed, the school's athletic director and, sometimes even the university's president, convene a press conference to explain the decision and allay concerns about the future of the program.
There was nothing normal about Jackson State University's handling of its decision to fire Rick Comegy, announced Wednesday morning. In this case, JSU Athletic Director Vivian Fuller issued a statement thanking the 60-year-old Comegy for his service, but offered no explanation or even a forward look at what kind of coach the school would like to hire next.
Instead, the university sent public-relations representative and former JSU football player Eric Stringfellow to a Wednesday press conference on the second floor of the H.P. Jacobs Administration Tower. Assembled news media peppered Stringfellow with questions, such as "Why would Jackson State fire a coach with an 8-1 (Southwestern Athletic Conference) record?" and, perhaps more importantly, "Where is Vivian Fuller?" and "What is the future of Jackson State football?"
Neither Fuller nor JSU President Carolyn Meyers attended the press conference and Stringfellow said neither would be available for follow up interviews. When asked about Fuller's absence, Stringfellow said she was doing her job and meeting with players.
Comegy's firing came 11 days after his Tigers appeared in their second straight SWAC championship game, which they lost 34-27 to Southern University in double overtime. That loss came on the tail end of an 8-3 season in which the Tigers won eight SWAC games and lost just one. Overall, Comegy guided the Tigers to a 55-35 record and four SWAC championship appearances, including a title win in 2007.
"This decision wasn't just about wins and losses," Stringfellow told reporters. "This is about the direction of the program. This is about our student athletes, putting them in position to be successful in the classroom and wherever else they'll be."
In recent years, Comegy at times struggled meeting goals of the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate, which is designed to ensure that student-athletes are meeting benchmarks in the classroom as well as on the field. A four-year average under 900 will earn a team NCAA sanctions.
Under Comegy, JSU went on the ascent starting in 2008, when the school's APR for the academic year was 872. JSU's APR surged to 971 in 2011-2012, a shade under University of Notre Dame University's 973 the year.
Antonio Knight, Comegy's former recruiting coordinator, will take over as interim head coach and is tasked with holding together the 2014 JSU recruiting class. Stringfellow said Knight's contract would be renewed, but the decision retaining other assistants would fall to the next head coach.
Among the characteristics Stringfellow said the university is looking for in its next coach was "recruiting locally" and "instilling discipline" in the players. A look at the current roster shows eight players from Jackson Public Schools, and five more from the greater Jackson area--a region that traditionally sends its best players to other in-state schools--Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss, all of which compete in the highest division of college football, the Football Bowl Subdivision.
While the decision was questionable, the absence of university administration was glaring. Stringfellow did not announce a timetable for finding a new coach, but listed the members of the search committee, which includes Fuller, JSU Vice President of Business and Finance Michael Thomas, JSU Vice President of Institutional Advancement David Hoard, JSU Provost James Renick, President of JSU National Alumni Association Terry Woodard, JSU Alumni Players Association Mario Kirksey and Jackson Police Chief Lindsey Horton.
Comegy will receive a $50,000 buyout from as a result of JSU terminating his contract before its expiration date, Dec. 31 2014.