In a season-long celebration of college football’s 150th anniversary, ESPN released a list of the top head coaches who impacted the sport.

A blue-ribbon panel of 150 media members, administrators and former players and coaches, span more than a century of the sport ranked the 150 best coaches in college football history, with several HBCU representatives.


Below are names and rankings of the HBCU coaches who made the list and the excerpts that were written about them.

5. Eddie Robinson, 408-165-15
Grambling (1941-42, 1945-1997)

Robinson did it all at Grambling. That’s not an overworked cliché about an outstanding coach. That’s the truth. He lined the field. He directed the band. He taped the ankles. And he sent hundreds of players to professional football, four of whom — Paul “Tank” Younger, Junious “Buck” Buchanan, Gary Johnson and Doug Williams — reached the College Football Hall of Fame. Robinson took over in 1941 at age 22. In his second season, the Tigers went 9-0 — unbeaten, untied and unscored upon. Under Robinson, Grambling won nine black college national championships and 17 SWAC titles.

34. Arnett (Ace) Mumford, 233-85-23
Jarvis Christian (1924-27; 6-8-3), Bishop (1927-29; 22-7-1), Texas College (1931-35; 26-9-6) and Southern (1936-61; 179-61-13)

Mumford’s coaching techniques were timeless: His Texas College and Southern teams won a total of six black college national championships in four different decades. From 1948-51, his Southern teams had a 38-game unbeaten streak and won three black college national titles. In 1948, the Jaguars went 12-0 and beat San Francisco State in the Fruit Bowl.

53. Alonzo (Jake) Gaither, 203-36-4
Florida A&M (1945-69)

Gaiter famously said he liked his players to be “mobile, agile and hostile.” For a quarter-century, his Florida A&M teams certainly displayed those characteristics. Gaiter coached 42 future NFL players, including “Bullet” Bob Hayes, Willie Galimore and Ken Riley. The Rattlers went undefeated in 1957, ’59 and ’61 and won 18 conference titles and six black college national championships. His .844 career winning percentage ranks 11th among coaches at any NCAA level.

71. John Merritt, 235-70-12
Jackson State (1952-62; 63-37-5) and Tennessee State (1963-83; 172-33-7)

“Big John” Merritt was one of the most accomplished coaches in HBCU history, winning seven black college national championships. From 1955 until his death in 1983, his teams had 29 consecutive winning seasons. Merritt coached future NFL stars Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Claude Humphrey and Richard Dent.

103. Billy Nicks, 188-57-21
Morris Brown (1930-35, 1937-39, 1941-42; 65-21-13) and Prairie View A&M (1945-47, 1952-65; 123-36-8)

In 28 seasons as a head coach, Nicks won six black college national championships, including five at Prairie View A&M, where he also served as athletic director and coached basketball and softball. Nicks would claim eight SWAC football championships at Prairie View A&M. Atlanta honored him with a Billy Nicks Day in 1982.

113. Vernon (Skip) McCain, 102-21-5
Maryland State (1948-63)

Maryland State (now Maryland Eastern Shore) was a football powerhouse among historical black colleges under McCain, who was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006. He never had a losing season, won four conference titles and was 4-0 against legendary coach Eddie Robinson.

122. Marino Casem, 159-93-8
Alabama State (1963; 2-8), Alcorn State (1964-1985; 139-70-8) and Southern (1987-88, 1992; 18-15)

In 22 seasons at Alcorn State, Casem won seven conference titles and four black college national championships, including back-to-back titles in 1968 and 1969. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003, and he gave this legendary quote summing up the sport to the Hattiesburg (Mississippi) American in 1983: “In the East, where the Ivy Leaguers are, it’s a cultural experience. In the West, with Stanford and all those people out there, it’s a tourist attraction. In the Midwest, with Nebraska and those folks, it’s a form of cannibalism. But in the South, where we reside, football is a religion and Saturday is a holy day of obligation.”

143. Earl Banks, 95-30-2
Morgan State (1960-73)

Banks couldn’t lose at Morgan State. In 14 seasons, he never had a losing record. He sent 41 players to the NFL and posted three unbeaten seasons and 31 straight wins from 1965-68. Banks was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1992.

145. W.C. Gorden, 119-47-5
Jackson State (1976-91)

Gorden won conference coach of the year six times during his 15-plus seasons at Jackson State, where he finished with the most wins in program history. He led his team to eight conference titles and nine playoff appearances. Gorden was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Coach William “Billy” Nicks is way too low on this list!!! Some of the information in the article is also incorrect.

    His career record for 28 years was 193-61-21, a winning percentage of .763.

    As head coach at Morris Brown College, he compiled a 66-22-13 mark and one Black College National Championship.

    While at Prairie View, Nicks’ teams won five national championships, eight Southwestern Athletic Conference titles and produced five undefeated seasons. His teams produced back-to-back national championships in 1953-1954 and 1963-1964.

    Nicks is the only college coach to produce a national championship in all three decades he coached (40’s, 50’s and 60’s). He had a winning record against every SWAC school, including Eddie Robinson at Grambling.

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