Football Coach Willie Jeffries of Howard University says the Bison paid "a tough price" on the field this year to get their program turned around. Several seniors, who have played for three head coaches, maintain a big price still must be paid off the field.
Jeffries, whose first season at Howard will end Saturday at home against winless Morgan State, made major offensive and defensive changes. Still, the Bison have won only once in nine games. They have lost 15 of 16 over the past two years and have not won at home since November 1982. Howard has been outscored, 129-38, in the second half this year.
"It's been a good year for myself and the coaches as far as collecting data," said Jeffries, who will start six freshmen and six sophomores against Morgan State, "but a 1-8 record is a tough price to pay."
Jeffries says he was surprised by the lack of talent at Howard. And trying to find leaders among the players was difficult because there were so few upperclassmen. Seven juniors will return as seniors next year.
"Maybe our offense is one you need a junior or senior quarterback for," said Jeffries, who has used freshman quarterback Leon Brown over the last half of the season. "Our problem all season has been a lack of depth and players not being able to make some split-second decisions when they had to."
Several seniors feel Jeffries will be limited in what he can do unless the administration makes a stronger commitment to athletics. They call the training table inadequate, stress the school must go ahead with plans to improve facilities to attract better recruits and say tutoring programs must be upgraded to combat the continuing problem of academic ineligibility.
"I definitely believe things are getting better under Coach Jeffries, but there must be more support from the administration," said defensive tackle Robert Sellers, who will graduate in May. "You have to spend money to make money and I don't think the administration here is committed to a winning program.
"If you want a I-AA, high-level program, you have to spend money. Otherwise, expect mediocrity and be happy with a 4-6 record . . . you can't put out a three-alarm fire with a bucket of water."
Linebacker Martin Brown, the defensive captain, said one improvement has been the assembly of a weight room, but that is only a beginning.
"The meal table we have now is not even adequate," Brown said. "No one is going hungry, but for Division I-AA football, it's not enough . . . . This is not a football meal table, it is an athletic meal table. A football player cannot be expected to eat the same thing as a girl running track."
Sellers said an independent academic adviser is needed. Earlin Humes, who coaches defensive backs, also acts as academic adviser.
"If you invest some money in an adviser, you will eventually get players who stay in the program and become 265-pound all-conference guards and such," Sellers said. "It's tough to see someone busting his butt lifting weights and adding 60 pounds to his bench press, then when the first game comes, he's sitting in the stands academically ineligible."
Athletic Director Leo Miles and Carl Anderson, vice president of student affairs, say they are pleased with the job Jeffries has done. Miles said there should not be an independent academic adviser to the team and disagreed with the students' contention about the meal plan. Anderson said he would welcome suggestions concerning an academic adviser, increased meals or a nutritionist.
"The funds are not limitless, and we would have to prioritize things," Anderson said. "But I'm not adverse to any proposal that would help our situation."
When Jeffries took over, he declared the first thing he wanted to do was change the "losing attitude" he perceived. That goal has yet to be accomplished.
"That is still a long ways away," he said. "I think they believe they can win now, but it takes winning some games to change the whole attitude."
Sellers said the program could be reversed in five years with the administration's support. "I'd like to come back here in 10 years and see one of the top Division I-AA programs in the country," he said. "But I don't know if it will happen. There is a whole lot of potential being wasted here."