LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Southern coach Dawson Odums struggled to keep his voice from breaking as he answered questions following his team’s 47-40 win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Saturday.
It had been a difficult 24 hours, he said. His team was about to return to Baton Rouge short one beloved member. Dr. Debra Fountain, née Brown, Southern’s unofficial team psychologist, died in Southern’s team hotel Friday afternoon.
Fountain was 63. The crowd at War Memorial Stadium observed a moment of silence midway through the contest to pay respects.
“It’s been very difficult,” Odums said. “I think there have been some challenges mentally. I can’t really say where they were mentally today. It’s been difficult for me, but I’ve been trying to be strong for them and be there for them.”
It happened after Southern returned from a team walkthrough Friday at War Memorial Stadium. Fountain was found unresponsive at Southern’s team hotel. Paramedics rushed her to the nearby University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences hospital but were unable to revive her.
Odums decided not to make any of his players available for interviews Saturday because of what they observed Friday.
“When you witness it, it’s tough,” Odums said. “It’s tough.”
Fountain, who was pursuing a third doctorate degree at Southern’s Nelson Mandela School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs, had served Odums as a volunteer since he took over full-time in 2013.
She was well-liked by the members of Southern’s football program. Odums described her as a person who could relate to the social issues the football players faced and help navigate them through it.
“I call her ‘The Brain Trust,’ ” Odums said. “She’s the mental coach. So many young people have so many issues and problems that you and I probably can’t begin to sit down and understand.
“These guys have been through so much before they even got to me. To have somebody to be able to put that into perspective and to still keep them mentally locked in and on the right path, it’s very beneficial to us and our staff.”
Odums said Fountain would know something was amiss with one of his players just by looking at their mannerisms.
“They carry their burdens on their shoulders, and it makes it difficult for them to progress in a society when they hold on to so much,” Odums said. “She was able to pull that out of them and get them back on track.”
Fountain was a regular on Southern’s sidelines, whether it was at the end of a practice or on game day.
She traveled with the team and prepared motivational presentations for them the night before game days.
“Being around this team was everything to her,” Odums said. “She loved every individual that was a part of it, and I know they feel the same about her. We are going to miss her dearly.”