Doug Porter is in his fourth season as head football coach at Howard University. His team lost only five of 22 games in his first two seasons. Howard lost two of its final three games in 1976 and is off to a 1-3 start this year. Staff writer Donald Huff talked with Porter about the difficulties of fielding a winning team and other aspects of coaching.
Q. You inherited many holdovers from an 8-2 season. You finished 8-2-1 and 8-3 your first two years. Last season, you slumped to 5-5-1. You are off to a poor start this year. In your four years, have your recruiting efforts been successful?
A. Recuiting has been no problem. The problem has been keeping the recruits enrolled in school and academically eligible. I think our retention rate compares favorably with any school in the country.
Q. Howard has always had the reputation for academics first, athletics last. Have you found that to be a major problem in recruiting high school blue-chippers for the university?
A. It's tough competing for the same youngster with the bizer schools. He is looking for the school that will provide him with the exposure of a program already well-established, as well as the academic training. Howard has not had te winning football tradition or that name or image that will cause people to recognize us and say, "We're from Howard University."
The youngster has that image of Ohio State and Woody Hayes, and it's a good picture in their mind. If we tell a youngster about Howard right now, he won't light up with excitement. Only a few black schools, like Gramblin or Florida A&M, have developed that charisma or image that causes instant recognition.
Q. Do you receive the necessary amount of money o radministrative support to field a successful football program?
A. The university has provided a comparable amount of money as alloted by Division II standards. A lot of schools are able to sign youngsters that we can't. Our academic standard is higher than some schools and our tuition is more ($4,200 a year). Some youngsters can obtain a basic opportunity grant and go right to school. At Howard, a BOG alone (up to $1,400) is not going to pay his way. (A full athletic scholarship is $3,280 a year) . . .
We might get seven or eight socalled blue-chippers. We also hope to get 10 to 12 other good players not highly sought after by the big schools. These are the players that make your program. That's the big difference but a good one. There are many factors that contribute to that. Many of the D.C. schools work under the same conditions that we do. It can be discouraging. That's why I have to admire the coaches. The area produces many good players but the coaches have to push academics more.
Q. At Grambling, you were the offensive coordinator. The school had an exciting and wide-open offense. Here, you've been accused to putting a dull, listless brand of football on the field. Have you changed your coaching philosophy?
A. That's amusing because we use the very same offense we used at Grambling. The big difference is the people who run it. If you have the Doug Williams' (Grambling quarterback) or the swift receivers and backs, your offense will be exciting. If you don't, your offense will be conservative. You have to get one or two highly skilled people at key positions to have a wide-open attack. At Grambling, when we didn't have the people, we were accused of being a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust team. But we knew. You have to have the people.
Q. Has Howard considered withdrawing from the MEAC and going independent? Would you also like to schedule predominantly white schools?
A. I feel our conference has made tremendous strides. There were talk of leaving because we were concerned about the conference management. We didn't want to be a part of something not headed in the right direction . . .
As far as scheduling white schools, we'd love to do it. But being realist, they have everything to lose and nothing to gain. We have sent out letters to virtually every school on the East Coast. Only the University of Delaware has shown an interest . . . Many schools say their schedules are booked up until 1986. That's nine years away . . . We may have to schedule them long-range like that; pin them down to play us in 1986.
Q. Has playing games at RFK stadium presented a problem? Are any plans being made to provide Howard with a suitable stadium in the near future?
A. I'm not partial to playing at RFK one way or the other. If I had my choice, I'd much rather play on campus if we had a suitable facility. Right now, we are at the bottom of the totem pole as far as a field goes. The physical education classes use it (Howard stadium), the soccer team uses it and the band. We practice on it and then have to play games out there. At any university, you have priorities and right now a stadium is not high on the list at Howard.
Q. Your team is off to a rocky start. Are you disappointed and have you considered a major shakeup?
A. No, we won't make any big changes to speak of. You have to consider we lost to the No. 1 and 3 black schools in the nation. Both of them have the type of programs we are reaching for. Our youngsters have steadily improved and I'm encouraged.
Q. Have you been under any pressure from the alumni or the administration to win?
A. None in the least. When I first arrived, they were afraid I might turn Howard into a football factory and forget academics.
Quite the contrary, Leo Miles (Howard's athletic director) and I share the same philosophy about Howard football.
Q. Have you considered quitting?
A. I would not want to leave any program until I had done as much as I felt I could do . . . I have never been a quitter and I try to instill that in my players. Life itself will test you many times and you don't want to establish a pattern of giving up.
If I even considered leaving, it would be for a job in the pros. But I don't think the NFL, is ready for a black offensive coordinator.
Q. Have you ever had trouble relating to your players?
A. Not that I was aware of. I talk a lot and I imagine many of them in our meetings aren't interested in what I have to say. But I tell them that's the price they pay for being at Howard. We discuss many things outside of football. I talk to my children the same way and sometimes they don't want to hear it, either, but I feel I have a duty to tell them certain things.
The players and I talk about life, responsibilities, relations with black women and ability to assume responsibility in a given situation. I talk about being on time and the importance of giving your word and then honoring it, regardless. We want him to leave our program understanding, as a man he has responsibilities . . . We want the youngsters in our program to leave as men.
Q. What do you hope to accomplish the remainder of this season and what does the future hold for Howard football?
A. We would like to go 8-2. That means win the rest of our games. There is that capability on this squad. But I'm not deluding myself, we have to play teams that are stronger than we are on paper. We need to get a few breaks. Our quarterback, Ronald Wilson, has tremendous leadership qualities and he could provide the spark we need. Not putting him on the spot, but we have seniors on the team who do not have the personality to pick up a team. Wilson is just a freshman, but he can do that.
Our defense needs to be more consistent and not give up the big play . . .
Howard is heading in the right direction as far as the football program is concerned. But we know we have to take it slow. We don't want to take four big steps too fast and then be forced to take one backwards. We've done a lot here but there's still a lot to do. Howard Homecoming
Howard will attempt to snap a two-game losing streak when it hosts Virginia State 4-1) in a non-conference game at 1:30 p.m. Saturday in the first of two games this fall at RFK Stadium. This 28th meeting (Howard is 8-18-1) between the two teams in the highlight of homecoming weekend for Howard.
A. It's a good area; not a great one, between Division I and II. In Division I, a team may have 90 blue-chip athletes where in our division you might get 25.
Q. How have you found the metropolitan area for recruiting?