Nine of the 10 Southwestern Athletic Conference football coaches on a teleconference with the media Monday morning summarized their recently completed spring practices.
The league’s three new coaches — former LSU assistant Michael Haywood (Texas Southern), Fred McNair (Alcorn State) and Tony Hughes (Jackson State) — talked about their impressions of the talent they inherited and the transition to a new coaching staff.
Generally, the veteran coaches — ranging from Arkansas-Pine Bluff coach Monte Coleman, the dean of SWAC coaches as he prepares for his ninth season, to second-year coaches Willie Simmons of Prairie View and Brian Jenkins of Alabama State — talked about the latest steps in their building or rebuilding projects.
But Southern coach Dawson Odums was left to talk about being unable to conduct spring practice for a second consecutive year. The Jaguars have been forbidden from conducting the normal 15 spring practices in order to complete previous NCAA sanctions.
On top of that, Southern learned last week that the latest round of insufficient Academic Progress Rates will cost it spring practice in 2017, and it will be ineligible for the 2016 Celebration Bowl, which matches the champions of the SWAC and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
“I broke the news to them in a team meeting that we can’t go to the Celebration Bowl,” Odums said. “They understand, and they have a strong mindset. They know we can’t worry about things we can’t control, and we focus on what we can work on and doing the maximum we can with that. That approach has gotten us this far.”
Southern also faced a postseason ban in 2013 and 2014, though the Celebration Bowl didn’t exist. North Carolina A&T defeated Alcorn State in the inaugural game after last season.
The Jaguars won’t be able to make up the time lost during the spring, but they will return to equal footing with their SWAC counterparts when they return to campus to start summer workouts June 6.
“We’ll have eight weeks of skills and drills,” Odums said. “Hopefully we can continue to build and be a competitive team in the fall.”
Odums said he has decided to eliminate the handful of two-a-day practices that he usually includes in preseason camp.
“We open with two Division I teams (Louisiana-Monroe and Tulane),” Odums said. “I want to get to the gate as healthy as possible. I think we have a good team coming back.
“We have enough players who have been through it and several all-conference players coming back.”
Southern brings back four first-team all-SWAC players in running back Lenard Tillery, guard Anthony Mosley, cornerback Danny Johnson and return specialist Willie Quinn. It returns two second-teamers in quarterback Austin Howard and defensive end Aaron Tiller.
The Jaguars have new coordinators in offensive line coach Chennis Berry, who had been co-coordinator before Chad Germany left for Jackson State after last season, and former N.C. A&T assistant Trei Oliver, who was brought in so Odums could relinquish the defensive coordinator duties.
“They have some talent to work with,” Odums said. “It’s all about playing together and having the right mindset.”
In the meantime, the Jaguars are finishing up the semester, having had added time to focus on schoolwork.
“We’re working on doing what we need to do to make sure our APR scores are where they need to be,” Odums said.
Prairie View’s Simmons, whose team was able to resume practice this season after being banned from having it last year, said he doesn’t expect any one player to be able to replace former Glen Oaks High star Johnta’ Hebert.
“What he did last year was nothing short of phenomenal,” Simmons said. “You don’t expect one player to average more than 200 all-purpose yards per game.”
Texas Southern’s Haywood, who coached at LSU from 1995-2002, is a head coach for the first time since he was at Miami of Ohio (2009-10).
Hughes, former Mississippi State assistant head coach, is Jackson State’s fourth coach in four years.
McNair, brother of former Alcorn and NFL star Steve McNair, was promoted after four years as an assistant under Jay Hopson, who led the Braves to the past two SWAC titles before accepting the head coaching job at Southern Mississippi.
Grambling coach Broderick Fobbs welcomed a handful of transfers from FBS programs, including former Ole Miss quarterback DeVante Kincade.
Mississippi Valley State coach Rick Comegy said former McDonogh 35 defensive lineman Khalil Young had a good spring and “woke up” after a disappointing season as a junior last year.
Follow Les East on Twitter, @EastAdvocate.