Southern coaches hoping success this season will translate into jobs next season
Virgil Williams needed a can opener.
So the junior cornerback called up a friend who lived nearby in a Southern dormitory, and in true neighborly fashion, the friend was happy to lend one.
It’s the kind of exchange that’s common among college students, who find themselves on their own and without the comforts of mom’s fully stocked kitchen. Except Williams wasn’t borrowing from a student.
He called defensive backs coach Manny Martin.
“Did I get it back? I don’t know if I got my can opener back,” Martin said. “I might have to check with Virgil.”
The idea of a college football player going to a dorm to borrow kitchenware from a coach is as funny as it is rare, but it also underscores the tough predicament the Jaguars’ staff finds itself in heading into Saturday’s 4 p.m. kickoff against Prairie View in the Shreveport Classic.
Martin is one of three coaches who live in dorms, sharing a two-bedroom apartment-style unit with interim head coach Dawson Odums on the west side of campus, where defensive line coach Myron Jackson also calls home.
Temporary housing for temporary coaches.
After head coach Stump Mitchell’s firing in September, his former assistants know the future is uncertain. A month from now, none of them can be sure whether they’ll be coming back for another year.
If there’s a way to better the odds of a return to SU, it starts with beating Prairie View (2-5, 2-3 Southwestern Athletic Conference) and giving Southern (3-4, 2-3 SWAC) a winning finish to the season.
“The only thing in the air is a lot of prayers,” Odums said. “That’s how we look at it. I’m only concerned with PV. The end of the season is going to be the end of the season. As a coach, you don’t really worry about all the stuff that goes on around you.
“We’re trying to get the best team ready for PV, and we know that if you win, you have a chance. If you don’t win, who knows?”
The future of the program is very much uncertain, and athletic director William Broussard said he will wait until after the season to make any decisions.
But under Odums, the Jaguars have shown enough signs of life to keep his hat in the ring.
After an 0-2 start, they’re 3-2 with two rivalry wins, and although a shot at the SWAC West title is all but gone after a loss to first-place Arkansas-Pine Bluff, other motivating factors remain.
The seniors want to leave on a high note, and everyone would like to improve on last year’s 4-7 record and notch a winning season with three wins from the final four games.
And there’s no doubt that after seeing their poor early season performance lead to Mitchell’s dismissal, the Jaguars want to atone by keeping the rest of the staff in tact.
“We don’t want to see any more coaches go,” left guard Zach Brown said. “We want to keep what we have here, because if we get a whole new coaching staff, who knows what that’s going to do to our team chemistry?
“We want to make sure coach Odums gets this offer, and we want to make sure we keep as many coaches as possible. Losing coach Mitchell was a big loss, and we don’t want to have to go through losing any other coach.”
Last week was a step in the wrong direction.
Playing for the division lead against UAPB, Southern sputtered to a 50-21 loss, blowing what Odums called “a golden opportunity.”
That’s a feeling the Jaguars are eager to erase, but the Panthers aren’t the easy rebound win that their record suggests.
Coming off two straight wins — including a 52-37 win over Alcorn State last week — PV is finding its stride, and doing it while SU is seemingly in reverse.
Southern has flashed potential on offense, but its only consistent performance came against the league’s worst defense, Texas Southern. Prairie View, which ranks ninth in scoring (38.3 points) and total defense (443.3 yards), presents another chance for a breakout, especially as the Jaguars take their top-ranked passing attack against the SWAC’s worst secondary.
But SU will be without center Aaron Hall, a loss that will complicate matters for an already suspect offensive line. And on defense, the team is just hoping to weather a hellacious storm of injuries that has torn apart the secondary.
Of the usual four starters, free safety Mychal Bell is out for the year, and strong safety Levi Jackson and cornerbacks Virgil Williams and Johnathan Mack all missed practice time this week with their own ailments. Those three should play Saturday, but at less than 100 percent.
That amounts to a big headache for Martin, especially against a PV attack that now ranks second in scoring (24.9 points) and yards (374.9).
“It’s like the Aflac commercial when the duck is in the boat and he has a wing here and a wing there, a foot there and a foot there trying to plug the holes. I’m running out of things to plug holes with,” Martin said.
If there’s a blessing in all that, it’s that Martin and his fellow coaches are too busy to worry about the future.
“Being a coach, I always came up knowing there are two types of coaches: the ones that are being fired and the ones waiting to be fired,” Martin said. “Right now, I guess I’m in the boat of waiting to be fired. … I learned a long time ago not to worry about anything I don’t have control over. When that time comes, it comes.”
And until then, Martin, Odums and the rest of the coaches will keep plugging away. It’s not a glamorous lifestyle — especially for those in the dorms, who work from dawn until late at night, rarely leave campus and are living apart from their families.
One way or another, they’ll probably be moving out of the dorms soon. The question is whether their next step is a more permanent set-up in Baton Rouge or a job search.
For now, they’re not looking past Prairie View, intent to make the best of a difficult situation.
“Whatever is going to happen is going to happen,” Odums said. “I’m quite sure if I’m named the head coach here I won’t be living in the dorm.
“But it’s good to be close to work with the way gas prices are.”