In the FCS Huddle: SWAC can help Alcorn State give coach a push

Is it 2013 yet?

They hardly are words Southwestern Athletic Conference officials want to be uttering in January, but the troubled situation with Alcorn State football already is making 2012 feel like 2011.

And, quite simply, the embarrassment of 2011 can't be repeated this year for a FCS conference with so much pride and tradition.

It was one year ago Thursday that Alcorn State introduced Melvin Spears Jr. as its new head football coach. Today the university seemingly can't get him out the door fast enough.

The 51-year-old Alcorn State alum has been on administrative leave with pay since Dec. 12 following a forgettable first season. Not only did the Braves fall to 2-8 (1-8 SWAC) for its fifth straight losing season, but attendance dwindled to create a shortfall in the athletic department budget, standout sophomore quarterback Brandon Bridge left the program amid a rocky relationship with Spears and the first-year head coach had an alleged profanity-filled verbal altercation with a player's father who is a pastor.

Spears, who was fired at Grambling State after a stormy three-year run as head coach from 2004-06, had pledged a more patient approach when he was introduced as Alcorn State's head coach. He didn't deliver that pledge just as he didn't deliver on victories.

Three assistant coaches have been shown the door since the end of the season and their positions are expected to be unfilled, whether Spears returns to the sideline or not.

Considering this all has played out during prime recruiting season, it's a volatile situation that craves for resolution.

Enter the SWAC.

Or at least the SWAC needs to enter the picture. Like yesterday.

Granted, the SWAC works for the 10 schools and not the other way around. But after what happened across the conference last year, it's imperative for commissioner Duer Sharp and his deputies to be more pro-active and help save the member programs from continually embarrassing themselves.

Last year, four of the SWAC programs had to replace head coaches, including Alcorn State after Earnest Collins Jr. left for Northern Colorado. Sadly, the other three changes involved the schools that had combined to win the three prior SWAC titles. Prairie View A&M's Henry Frazier III and Grambling State's Rod Broadway turned heads by departing for struggling programs in the Mid- Eastern Athletic Conference and Texas Southern's Johnnie Cole, who was the 2010 SWAC Coach of the Year, was fired because of the program's academic shortcomings.

At least Texas Southern was eligible for the 2011 SWAC Championship Game. Jackson State, considered the conference's top team with the top player, quarterback Casey Therriault, was ineligible - along with Southern University - following their NCAA Academic Progress Rate penalties.

Worst of all, the Southern and Arkansas-Pine Bluff squads had a wild post-game fight that resulted in 40 players being suspended by the SWAC.

Enough's enough? You bet.

The SWAC restored some credibility with Grambling State's win in the conference championship game on Dec. 10, meaning that head coach Doug Williams returned the storied program back to the top in his first season back on the sideline.

Now it's time for Alcorn State, with some nudging from the SWAC, to move on and change its head coach, even though the Braves already have had four different ones in the last five seasons.

Sure there's no doubt the situation could improve under Spears because time heals wounds. But Alcorn State basically would be buying time for two years until his contract ends. That's not a manageable situation for anyone, especially the student-athletes.

There's also no doubt Alcorn State is trying to prove justifiable cause in releasing Spears from his contract, which is a surprisingly low $130,000 per year.

If the university is faced with buying Spears out of the contract, then it has to do it.

Alcorn State is the only Division I program without a true head coach right now. With each day, it makes less sense that the SWAC program remains in this predicament.