Southern set to choose Odums

Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNONSouthern interim football coach Dawson Odums eyes his team during the Atlanta Football Classic against Florida A&M earlier this season.
Advocate staff photo by RICHARD ALAN HANNONSouthern interim football coach Dawson Odums eyes his team during the Atlanta Football Classic against Florida A&M earlier this season.

Ninety days after Dawson Odums took over as interim football coach at Southern University, 19 days after the end of the regular season and 10 days after Athletic Director William Broussard began digging into a pool of six semifinalists, the Jaguars have apparently ended their search where it began.

With Odums.

According to sources familiar with the search, Broussard will recommend Odums’ name to the SU System Board of Supervisors at their on-campus meeting Friday afternoon, ending a search that effectively began when Southern reassigned Stump Mitchell on Sept. 14.

Broussard declined to confirm the recommendation.

The move to keep Odums will surely please many players and alumni who have gotten to know Odums well, but will also probably frustrate other parts of a fractured fan base that perceived Odums as the ultimate fall-back option, and hardly a slam dunk.

The other finalist was James Spady, a Nevada assistant and former Grambling offensive coordinator, who has 20 years of coaching experience. His face-to-face interview with Broussard was Monday.

Bethune-Cookman coach Brian Jenkins was supposed to wrap up the interview phase with an on-campus visit Thursday, but both sides agreed to cancel. Instead, Jenkins was back at his post Thursday, agreeing to a contract extension with Bethune-Cookman.

“Southern has a great tradition and that is a great university with a wonderful athletic director,” Jenkins said in a university release. “But after spending time with God, my family at home, my family at work, and just hearing from so many passionate fans of Bethune-Cookman University — I just knew staying in Daytona Beach (Fla.) at B-CU was the right decision for me and all involved. Our fans are the best.”

Meanwhile, Odums declined Thursday to confirm a long-term agreement with Southern, but said in a text message: “Recruiting will pick up as soon as they name a coach, until then, I am still working hard.”

The Jaguars played nine games this season with Odums in charge, going 4-5.

Three of those wins came against their top rivals — Jackson State, Florida A&M and Grambling. Four of their losses were close. One of them — a 50-21 wipeout against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the eventual champion — was not.

At any rate, if the Board of Supervisors approves the recommendation, Odums will find himself with a challenging job.

Southern’s football program — once the envy of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, winning 18 titles overall and five from 1993-2003 — has wandered aimlessly for the better part of a decade.

Since the Jaguars lost to Alabama State in the 2004 SWAC championship game, they’ve gone 39-47 overall, with no Western Division titles.

Mitchell’s tenure ended after only 24 games in two-plus seasons. Hired in 2010, he came to Southern with a deep NFL background and unmatched work ethic, promising to graduate players and win games.

Lots of games.

Though Mitchell uncovered more than a few hidden gems — several of his first-year recruits, including quarterback Dray Joseph, cornerback Virgil Williams and linebacker Anthony Balancier, are now among the SWAC’s best players — the Jaguars never did achieve his stated dream of conference dominance.

Mitchell infamously said his first team had enough talent to go undefeated. Instead, the Jaguars went 2-9.

Mitchell finished with a 6-18 record as Southern’s coach. His tenure ended after a 6-0 home loss to Mississippi Valley State on Sept. 13. He was in the final guaranteed year of a contract that paid $200,000 annually.

Odums had joined Mitchell’s staff during spring practice in 2011, starting as defensive line coach and ascending this season to the role of defensive coordinator.

A native of Shelby, N.C., he played football at North Carolina Central, graduating in 1997.

Odums went straight into coaching after college, working as defensive ends coach at George Washington in 1998.

Odums then went to Georgia Southern for two years (1999-2000) before heading to Clark Atlanta in 2001. He served as defensive coordinator before being named interim head coach at the Division II school in 2004.

He eventually wound up at North Carolina A&T in 2008. Odums was promoted to defensive coordinator there in 2010, but was not retained when former Grambling coach Rod Broadway took over the program.

On Sept. 14, Odums took over a Southern team that had been embarrassed on national television less than 24 hours earlier. Shut out at home by a Valley team that was 1-24 in its previous 25 games, the Jaguars felt about as far down as a college football team could feel.

With Odums in charge, they won three of its first four games under Odums. But they soon faltered.

Though they came within two points of defeating Alabama A&M and Alabama State, they lost both games — part of a four-game slide that dropped SU from potential Western Division champion to also-ran.

Southern rebounded for its first Bayou Classic victory since 2007, but even that didn’t come easily. The Jaguars — facing a Grambling team that finished 1-10 — took a big second-half lead, but needed a last-minute turnover to hold on, 38-33.

Since then, Odums and his staff have continued to handle day-to-day operations of the program.

After interviewing Tuesday, he said: “I’m still the coach here at Southern University until I’m told otherwise.”