From the start, Jay Hopson made it a point to emphasize Alcorn State's school colors are more important than skin color.
"I don't see black or white, we're all purple and gold," Hopson said Monday after he was introduced as Alcorn State's new head football coach.
In taking over the Braves' struggling program, Hopson became the first white person to hold the position in the historically black Southwestern Athletic Conference.
"This candidate won every round of the interview and he was supported by each group (of the selection committee)," university president M. Christopher Brown II said. "Naysayers could only comment on his race."
If it were up to Hopson, that factor would be an afterthought. The 43-year-old already has put his focus on restoring a program that has endured five straight losing records, including 2-8 last season before head coach Melvin Spears Jr. was put on administrative leave and then fired.
But there's no denying Hopson's hiring is historic for both Alcorn State and the SWAC. The conference has been home to legendary players such as Walter Payton, Buck Buchanan and Jerry Rice, and coaches such as Eddie Robinson, Marino Casem and John Merritt. Alcorn State, last a SWAC champion in 1994, has featured Steve McNair and a certain wide receiver-turned-star-dancer, Donald Driver.
Hopson, whose coaching influences have included Bob Pruett at Marshall and Jeff Bower at Southern Mississippi, will try to carve out his own niche in Alcorn State history. He will implement a spread-oriented offense and a multiple defense which will have the ability to go in and out of 4-3 and 3-4 schemes.
Hopson accepted a contract that will pay him $150,000 in each of the next three years. A head coach for the first time, he's getting a much later start on the 2012 season than other first-year coaches. His Braves will open the campaign on Sept. 1 in Shreveport, La. against Grambling State, the defending SWAC champion.
In Five-a-Side -- In the FCS Huddle's monthly feature of "five questions, five answers" with an influential person in the FCS -- Hopson discusses his historic hiring at Alcorn State.
Let's kick off:
TSN: Can you talk about the significance of being the first white head football coach at Alcorn State and in SWAC history?
JH: Well, I'm just honored that President Brown and the committee, the alumni, they chose me to be the head coach. Like I told everybody at the press conference, my vision's purple and gold, it's not black and white, and we have a job to do, we've got a lot of work to do. We're certainly on a mission to get this program back to where it once was.
TSN: With that in mind, how will you go about settling the program after it had such a difficult season and offseason?
JH: First of all, that's the fun process really that we're in right now. We're starting the hiring phase of the staff. Of course, we have two months to do eight months' work, so we're going to be running non-stop just getting the staff together and getting the kids here for summer conditioning. We have the fun task of implementing our offense and defense in August, right before the first game. We've got a tall order in a lot of those things we've got to get done, but we're going to roll our sleeves up and go to work.
TSN: You mentioned you don't see black or white -- it's all purple and gold -- but President Brown did talk about the challenge of a new situation. Can you describe how that challenge will affect you going forward?
JH: Like I said, the best thing that I can say, and the most honest thing I can say, is it's just a complete honor. Dr. Brown chose me. You know, I'm a football coach, I'm not running for president of the United States. I mean, our job is now to get these kids in a situation where they're able to compete for championships. We want to be champion on the field and off the field in the classroom to develop the total player. I'm going to have to depend on a good staff, I'm going to have to depend on the alumni that supported me getting the job as we go through the building phase to support me through those years. It's a process that, like I told the team, we'll win when we deserve to win and, hopefully, that's sooner rather than later. But the reality is, we know where we're at and we know what we have to do to get there.
TSN: How would you describe your coaching style?
JH: I think I'm a player's coach in the fact that with my office my door is always open. I feel like you have to be demanding, a little bit more of a fatherly figure than a brotherly figure. You definitely have to demand...and you have to demand that the kids do the right things in the classroom and on the field. But then again, I think you have to have the open-door policy where they know if they do have problems, if they do have issues, they know they can always come in and talk to Coach Hop.
TSN: With you becoming head coach, will the recruiting dynamic change at Alcorn?
JH: I don't know, because I'm just going to recruit the best players. Like I said, it doesn't matter to me if they're black or white, I want to recruit the best players. I've recruited this area my whole life in Mississippi and Southwest Mississippi. All the coaches and all the people in the area pretty much know Jay Hopson. I don't think it's a big transition.
I don't think anything will change. I'm just trying to find the best players that are the best fit for Alcorn. I think that's important, finding the kids that want to be here, are comfortable here and want to get their degree and go out and represent Alcorn in a positive light.