No one in the Howard University administration is talking publicly about the future of Coach Floyd Keith, but there is some grumbling among the players that the football program has made little on-the-field progress in his four years at the school.
Howard has started off the season losing three of its first four games, including a 50-0 drubbing at the hands of South Carolina State Saturday.
Many players were visibly upset, looking as if they couldn't believe what had happened, following that defeat. This week, a number of players were asked to discuss the program. All declined to be quoted by name, but several talked about some of the problems they feel have hampered Howard's progress.
One player said the South Carolina State players were in better physical condition than their Howard counterparts because of what he said was Howard's terribly inadequate weight program. He said there were not enough weights and the program is not properly structured.
Another player said some of his teammates don't have much confidence in the teaching abilities and knowledge of Keith and some of his assistant coaches. Two seniors complained that much of what they've learned in the past four years has been self-taught.
Several questioned Keith's offensive play-calling in critical situations, particularly near an opponent's goal line. In a 19-9 loss to Bethune-Cookman, Howard had first and goal at the nine, and ran the ball four straight times. On another series, with first down at the Bethune-Cookman 11, the Bison ran three straight times and failed to complete a pass on fourth down.
And two other players said team meals were still a problem, pointing out that the players received some potatoes and a thin slice of roast beef just before the home opener against Bethune-Cookman.
Keith said he has been criticized since he came here in 1979 and that he is not worried about his team's poor start or the criticism.
"When things don't go well, there will be complaints, but my players are good, no question about it," Keith said. "I'm not satisfied with the play of some people but I've been pleased with the play of others who have played above their abilities. It's been a breakdown here, a breakdown there. You can't win when you have turnovers."
When Keith replaced Doug Porter in 1979, he said the Bison would be competitive, disciplined and entertaining. Five weeks ago, during a preseason press conference, Keith said he had a good feeling about this team and was expecting a fine season because he had recruited most of the players on the roster.
Although many of Keith's recruits have not yet lived up to expectations, he defended them, saying, "We recruited good players and I have no doubts or second thoughts about any of them."
Keith wasn't happy with sophomore quarterback Brian Sloan's performance against S.C. State and may replace him for Saturday's game against highly regarded Florida A&M (2-1) in Jacksonville. Sloan, starting in place of Sandy Nichols (bruised shoulder), played well early before S.C. State tightened up defensively and made four interceptions.
But even when Nichols played, the Bison had problems. Howard is averaging 328 yards per game, but much of that has come after the games are out of reach. In the last two games, the Bison advanced inside opponents' 40-yard line six times, inside the 15 three times and had first and goal twice, but failed to score.
Keith's won-lost record at Howard is 18-15-2.All of his victories have been against either Division II teams or the weaker schools in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference.
Howard has never been a serious contender for the MEAC championship, simply because it has had such a hard time beating South Carolina State, Florida A&M and Bethune-Cookman. The Bison are 2-13-1 against those three schools. Keith's record against them is 0-9-1.
Keith hasn't beaten any other nonconference Division I-AA school, either, losing three games and tying one. In those games and the 10 against the three MEAC powers, Keith's team has been outscored, 405-155.
When any team starts to lose and lose badly, there is talk of replacing the coach. When asked about the status of Keith, Athletic Director Leo Miles said:
"Of course we have expectations for all our programs, but this is not the proper time to evaluate the football program; not in the middle of the season. Evaluating the performance of Keith now would serve no useful purpose. I'm not concerned about the wins and losses that much as long as the kids give 100 percent and keep trying.
"No one wants to lose, 50-0, but I feel we've been competitive . . ."
Carl Anderson, vice president for student affairs for the university, said his office is watching the team's progress closely, but has not sought to evaluate Keith on his won-and-loss record alone.
"Yes, what we've done thus far has been disappointing," Anderson said, "and we know we haven't done well against certain teams in the conference and outside the conference. We can just look at the total program and hope it improves."