When Roman Banks set out to find a replacement for legendary Southern baseball coach Roger Cador two months ago, he put together a list of criteria for what the program needed. At the top of the athletic director's list was landing a coach who could revitalize the team and lead it out from under NCAA sanctions and back to national relevance.
On Tuesday, Banks said the man he thinks is the best fit is Kerrick Jackson, a first-time head coach with no ties to Southern who was last an assistant coach at Missouri before serving as an agent for the past two years.
Jackson did not hold back at his debut news conference, saying his expectation for the program is winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship on a regular basis again.
“The one thing I think we can all look to, and I want our players to understand, is Jaguar pride,” Jackson said. “You’ll hear that over and over and over again. It’s very simple. I believe it’s personal responsibility and delivering excellence.”
Jackson's biggest hurdle is the lingering cloud of NCAA sanctions. Given unsatisfactory Academic Progress Rates, Southern remains under the NCAA's thumb, which means Jackson will not have a full practice schedule, nor full use of scholarships. The Jaguars will be ineligible for the postseason for at least his first season.
Jackson and Banks said the new skipper is fully aware of the situation and that Jackson has a plan to turn the program around. While an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator at Missouri, Jackson was part of a program that twice topped the Southeastern Conference in APR.
“I assured (Banks) that APR won’t ever be an issue for baseball as long as I’m here,” Jackson said. “Our guys are going to understand, when we start talking to them from a recruiting standpoint, you’re here to go to school. You’re here to get a degree. If you’re here to play baseball only, don’t come. This isn’t a baseball factory. This is an institution of academic learning, and that has to be your focus.”
Banks said having a coach who understands the NCAA's rules and regulations was the most important issue he faced in his first high-profile hire as full-time athletic director.
Even though Jackson has never held a head coaching position, Banks said Jackson's experience as a recruiting coordinator gave him confidence in his ability to navigate the complexities of college athletics.
Jackson’s contract was not finalized with the Southern University Board of Supervisors as of Tuesday, but the deal will be for two years with an option after that.
“This hiring wasn’t on a level playing field,” Banks said. “All that we’ve gone through with baseball as it relates to the NCAA, there’s a piece that’s called corrective actions that, as athletic director, I have to be responsible for. That legislation governs the expectations of what the new baseball program looks like. Going on those principles, we couldn’t come in and say, ‘Here’s the job; now take it to a new level.’ We had to identify a candidate that had a lot of qualities, foremost in athletic compliance.”
Jackson praised Cador, saying he would not be at Southern if it weren’t for Cador’s success — not only for the Jaguars, but for HBCUs and college baseball as a whole. Cador — now director of athletics advancement, a new position that takes advantage of his fundraising and people skills — was not at Tuesday's news conference, citing a fundraising meeting taking place at the same time.
Cador said he was not involved with the hiring process despite Banks saying he would be during Cador’s retirement news conference but added that he wasn’t concerned with the distance.
“I was not involved, and that was probably good,” Cador said. “I want people to know the baseball program doesn’t belong to Roger Cador. It belongs to Southern University and the state of Louisiana. For me to not be part of the process was not really an issue. I’m sure (Jackson) will do a good job. I hope he gets the kind of support he needs. I want the players who are returning to work hard and show leadership that will help him be successful on and off the field.”
Jackson is somewhat familiar with Louisiana; he was an assistant coach at Nicholls State in the mid-2000s. Banks cited Jackson’s playing days at Bethune-Cookman and his familiarity with the challenges that HBCUs face as factors in his decision.
Southern held in-person interviews with about 15 applicants, including those from the college and local high school ranks. The past week was spent deciding among three finalists, one of whom was Dan Canevari. Canevari, a crucial assistant in Cador’s final few seasons, will not be on Jackson’s staff.
Assistant coach Elliott Jones will stay on as the presumed second-in-command as Jackson searches for a third coach to round out the staff. Jones was hitting coach under Cador and handled day-to-day operations during the transition. He did not interview for the head coaching position.
“Just to have the relationship with the players I’ve had the last couple years, it’s going to be very important,” Jones said of helping Jackson in the transition. “It’s going to be a new environment for him, a new community, and I think our relationship has already been set in stone over the last few days. I look forward to it and accept the challenge. I think it’s going to be a great journey ahead.”