Floyd Keith, beginning his fourth year as Howard's football coach, isn't interested in making friends or being "one of the boys." He wants only to win.
"I'm not as concerned with people liking me or being my buddy as I am with running this program," Keith said. "I only want to do two things here at Howard: build a winning program and assure the players of an education. I think we're accomplishing both goals."
Keith's 17-12-2 three-year record hasn't come easily. For openers, he wasn't welcomed with open arms after replacing Doug Porter, who was fired in a surprising and controversial move. Porter, now head coach at Fort Valley State, was a soft-spoken, open-minded coach who had a good rapport with players, students and faculty. Many players were so upset by the coaching change and Keith's hard-nosed approach that they considered boycotting practice.
"He (Porter) had one philosophy, I have another," Keith said. "That's not to say one is better than the other. I felt we had to make a complete change. We lost some players but we still finished 5-6. As for the so-called boycott, well . . . they didn't."
Keith's second season was chaotic. There were accusations of physical abuse and excessive disciplining of players, players being forced to practice while injured, one player's charge that he went hungry most of the season because the athletic department reneged on a scholarship promise and another near boycott of the homecoming game. The Bison's record of 6-2-2 was almost an afterthought.
"None of that hurt us; in fact, it helped us," Keith insisted. "We were tested and we held up . . . Those two years taught me a few things."
In Keith's three years, a half-dozen assistant coaches have left.
"Those six assistants have either gone to the pros or to bigger schools and I'd like to think the success of our program had something to do with that," Keith said. "People wouldn't hire them if they were no good. I'm not running anyone away. I'm demanding, yes, but everyone knows what to expect of me. You can look at our program the last two seasons and see we've all improved as coaches and the program is improving."
Last year, after injuries to several key players, Howard finished 6-4. Still, Keith said he was pleased overall.
"What was expected to be our strength turned out to be a big weakness," Keith said. "We lost both starting offensive tackles before we played a game. You can't expect freshmen or reserves to gain the experience needed that quickly. But we were still respectable."
Keith isn't predicting a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference title or victories over rivals Florida A&M or South Carolina State, but he is hopeful of success.
"We had a fine spring practice, last year's injured players are healthy again and, unlike our first year, when we lost 18 players because of grades, we might, might lose one guy this time," Keith said. "They've worked hard and are in real good shape. There's something special about this group."
Keith brightens when he mentions split end Tracy Singleton, quarterback Sandy Nichols, guard John Bilberry, defensive backs Robert Forte and Doug Jones and linebacker Martin Brown.
"These are some of the big-play people," he said. "In the past we haven't been able to hang with Florida A&M and South Carolina State (Keith is 0-5 against them), but for the first time, we have depth and good experience overall and healthy. If we get a few breaks, we could have a very successful season. We just have to go after it."