The names associated with the Prairie View A&M Panthers football opening reads more like a who’s who list of football royalty.
Former University of Houston and Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin, along with Pro Football Hall of Famers Ray Lewis and Rod Woodson and ex-NFL greats Ed Reed and Bubba McDowell have been the most prominent names associated with the job that was vacated last week by Eric Dooley.
Just a couple of years ago, it would have seemed like a long reach for any of these names – aside from McDowell, who is a longtime assistant coach on the Panthers’ staff – to consider Prairie View. But the present-day narrative on HBCU football, particularly in the SWAC, has started to shift.
Some will call it the Deion Sanders effect.
Ever since Jackson State had the vision to hire the flamboyant and outspoken Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback to take over its struggling football program in 2020, HBCU football has experienced a re-awakening of sorts. Sanders and his huge personality have brought the attention of ESPN, not to mention a caliber of recruits that once exclusively took their talents to Power 5 programs.
Sanders’ immediate success with the Tigers has sparked the interest of other big-name former NFL players who have been interested in breaking into coaching. Eddie George was hired as the head coach at Tennessee State with no coaching experience and most recently Grambling State was able to lure former Raiders and Browns coach Hue Jackson as its new head coach.
PVAMU athletic director Dr. Donald Reed can feel the Deion Sanders effect as he sets out to make his first coaching hire for the athletic department. Reed equates it to boys and girls standing on either side of the room at the middle school dance awaiting someone to break the ice or that aunt or uncle setting off the party at the family reunion.
“That’s the Deion effect in this,” Reed said. “He stepped out there and he was the most high-profile person to do it.
“There have been others but nobody as high profile as Coach Sanders. He does it and it almost validates what other people have done prior to him because his stage and platform are so high. That’s definitely a part of it.”
TSU athletic director Kevin Granger agrees Sanders has been a game changer for the SWAC.
“Anytime you bring legends to the conference it only means that the conference is doing better,” Granger said. “And obviously, Coach Sanders is a living legend, one of the greatest players to play the football game. And his personality, think about his personality and things of that nature, that brings a lot of attention.
“Anytime you bring positive attention to your conference it only helps your conference.”
While Reed would not confirm or deny any of the rumored candidates, he does admit the PVAMU opening has attracted the attention of some impressive candidates. The Panthers, of course, are coming off their first SWAC West title and conference championship game appearance since 2009.
“I would say it is, it’s extremely attractive,” said Reed, who hopes to have a hire made by the end of the year. “There is a lot of interest and it speaks to the university and all of the folks who have come before me, that what they have put in place is allowing us to build on a really solid foundation that is attractive to a lot of people. It’s very exciting about what the future holds for us as we move forward.
“I feel quite a few people feel the same way and want to be a part of what we are doing here at Prairie View as a university and as a football program.”
When looking for the Panthers next coach, Reed said he is looking for someone who is a leader of young people, understands the mission of the university and the purpose of athletics within that, has competitive excellence, has experienced success in football at either the college or professional levels and can galvanize the fan base as well as other supporters.
“All of those different facets are integral parts to the person that we are looking for to be in the position,” Reed said.
That doesn’t mean the person necessarily has to have head coaching experience but Reed said he envisions the right candidate having some level of coaching experience. Rumors have leaked that Sumlin has already been contacted to gauge his interest after he sat out of coaching all of last season after being fired at the University of Arizona.
“I don’t think it’s vital, but coaching experience is very important whether it’s professional, collegiate or even high school,” Reed said when asked if prior head coaching experience was a priority. “That doesn’t necessarily mean head coaching experience – that would be a value add. But having coaching experience at the collegiate or professional level are things that are indicators of a person who has been in the competitive arena.”
The only candidate Reed would discuss is McDowell, whom he appointed as interim head coach after Dooley left for Southern. McDowell, a former Houston Oilers safety, has been on the PVAMU staff for more than a decade and has worked for a few head coaches during his time.
It’s known that McDowell has an interest in becoming PVAMU’s full-time head coach.
“I do not disqualify anyone who is currently on the staff or those who would like to apply and be vetted,” Reed said. “I welcome Coach McDowell to do so formally and anyone else who would like to explore the opportunity.
“I admire Coach McDowell. He is a long-standing coach on our staff and he is willing and able to do what is expected of him in his role.”