Shades of Mississippi in Historic Kentucky State Athletics Appointment

Six years ago, Alcorn State University named Jay Hopson as its football coach. The Mississippi native was the first white head football coach in Braves history, and in the history of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, and his appointment stirred enough attention throughout the HBCU community that outlets and observers beyond our campus borders took notice.

Last week, the president at the heart of that hiring six years ago again looked to sports as a catalyst for reformation of the HBCU administrative identity; this time using his athletics director vacancy to make another historic hire. Former University of Kansas Associate Athletics Director Etienne Thomas will now oversee the Thorobred athletics program, becoming what is believed to be the first administrator from a Power 5 conference to make the jump to HBCU Division II athletic leadership.

The immediate benefits to KSU’s leadership in the HBCU sports space are obvious; fundraising and sponsorship relationships, brand enhancement and media coverage of the Division II program have taken a huge leap forward just with Thomas’ appointment to such an important gig in the landscape.

But just as important is that M. Christopher Brown II has twice pulled off an unconventional hire in the most uncommon of places, and shifted the ways we think about the future of HBCU athletics and how they will grow. When Hopson was hired at Alcorn, the only point of debate was the merit of racial infiltration at this particular point in HBCU history. White coaches had thousands of places to get jobs; why, alumni and supporters wondered, did one of our schools have to add to their opportunities at the expense of one of our coaches getting the same shot?

But everything on Hopson’s resume’ read as an ideal hire for SWAC football, and specifically for Alcorn Braves football. A Mississippi native with strong recruiting ties to the region and a coaching philosophy which fit the area’s talent, the school’s identity for style of play, and one which would could help the Braves contend with other growing powers in the division and conference at large.

Dr. Brown basically put his job on making a splash hire, and it paid off. The Braves won early, and even after the president’s departure, eventually won big.

And now it is the Throbreds’ turn. Even after naming an AD who eventually withdrew from appointment for family reasons, there was always a sense that Kentucky State would be the landing spot for a major sports hire. Situated between two Power 5 programs in the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, there was a sense that somewhere, KSU would find an administrator or coach which would go against the typical format of black college tradition in sports.

We’ve seen it at other DI HBCUs throughout the landscape. Milton Overton going to Florida A&M, Stacey Danley at Alabama State, Bryan Hicks at Alabama A&M and Jason Horn at Xavier of Lousiana. Black sports executives are finding homes at HBCUs after strong showings within PWI programs.

But these names have also been tied to the worst of HBCU leadership stereotypes. Fallings out with alumni boosters and presidents, compliance issues, and fundraising malaise among stakeholders have all played a role in departures and building acrimony against their leadership, even in the face of success.

Thomas puts KSU and the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference on firmer ground as a leader in gender equity and opportunity in administration and puts more pressure on Kentucky’s two biggest sports brands to provide similar looks for their sports exec suites.

Not bad for a DII school with a unique racial profile and stationed in an unconventional HBCU city, but working towards big HBCU dreams of success. And it certainly helps that the approach is one we’ve seen before.

5 comments
  1. Please, make an effort at professional journalism! KSU has historic and current graduation rates which are unacceptable and immoral. Forget about athletics, first and foremost, KSU is supposed to be an academic institution. There is a correlation between the demographic makeup of the full time teaching faculty and the full time enrolled students. Don’t let them fool you by counting everybody in the African American teaching faculty. You can count them on both hands.

    Stop falling for the hype. In exchange for a contract, and a chance at redemption from his failings at Alcorn, Brown has sold himself and KSU to the devil. Brown has delivered on historic efforts of Frankfort power brokers. He has in turned the place into a community college.

    Speak with former employees, oh, that’s right you are focused on new hires. Research the huge number of African Americans he has fired, and the incompetent non African Americans, people without doctorates, people who never hired African Americans, who are now in leadership roles. Stop focusing on personality and look at the facts. Stop being silent. Spin, spin, spin…. that is the only truth about Brown and his inner circle.

    History tells us that oppressors always need help from someone who looks like the oppressed. We see you, Chris Brown. God sees you too,
    Reverend Brown and racist, ill informed, Stepin Fetch It Board members.
    Alumni, you better stop dancing at Brown’s parties and lapping up his crumbs and realize that the KSU you attended is about to be a memory.

  2. Yeah I like the move some former non HBCU executive can find a home at HBCUs and be successful. If the new AD at KSU improves graduation rates and increasing KSU athletic footprint in KY and the region than it will prove to be a good hire. Quit hatten John P. says, recognize KSU along with a lot of HBCUs need to change how we run our athletic programs. Although his does shore the oppressor getting help from the same people that they are oppressing. Recent history shows we need to think better and do better as HBCUs if we are going to weather the big storm and conservative attack on our HBCUs. Although i did not agree with Alcorn State hiring the first ever white football coach in the SWAC. But as it turns out not only did he win two conference championships, he helped grow the athletic program and ultimately it increased the enrollment at Alcorn and its presence overall. So some people may think he used Alcorn to get to S. Miss but Alcorn turned out to benefit greatly as well. So lets wait an see on KSU move. And in the meantime make sure you financially support your HBCU.

  3. Sir, I don’t think that anyone is hating. Mrs. Thomas is CIAA born and bred; later MEAC; then Kansas University. There are those of us who are protective of our own and do not wish to see their careers hurt by those who are looking to selfishly make a name for themselves. Mrs. Thomas is not to be bullied! I submit that Dr. Brown is not always transparent and was not so when disclosing his full credentials as an applicant for the Presidency of KYSU.

    When the Alumni is at a fragile state, you don’t ignore them when you come on board. You don’t hijack the University’s Founder’s Day at Homecoming to be inaugurated and invite Billy Ray Cyrus, a native of Pikeville, Kentucky to be the entertainment at your inaugural luncheon at $130.00 per person; expecting a minimum of 500 people and a good 200 show up and staff is outside the venue flagging down people to come have lunch, because it was already paid for.

    The athletic field was never correctly built so as to have a significant crown for the rainwater to run to the side. Several attempts were made, but unsuccessful. A new tuft is in order. However, funding is needed. Several former players have been kicking around the idea of working on this project. However, a beautiful track field was built and never maintained. It is now part of the designated area for Tailgate City during football games. If you can not take care of what you already have, who wants to continue to put good money into bad situations? There is a practice field for football practice that is never used. The playing field is used for practice as well as competition. After a good rain early in the season and the field is cut-up, morale is down, injuries are more prone, and you find yourself in a no win situation.

    How does the President of KYSU go to the National Alumni Association and tell them that he has to cut the budget $20 million dollars and brings in VPs and other administrators making 6 figure salaries in addition to other top level administrators making 6 figure salaries without degrees and these people have been there 12 of more years. They could have gotten a bachelors and two masters in that length of time. And the final statement to the alumni is “they need to put-up or shut-up.”

    It is not a matter of hating, it is a matter of needing for President Brown to regroup and start by apologizing to the Alumni for not trying to get to know them and wanting to work together.

    If Dr. Makola Abdullah at Virginia State University had proceeded at VSU the way Dr. M. Christopher Brown did at KYSU, Dr. Abdullah would never have been the 2017 Male HBCU President of the Year and VSU would not be the 2018 HBCU of the Year. Several HBCU Presidents in the circles have said that Dr. Brown has done himself an injustice. You don’t win friends with vinegar nor do you, a black man flaunt the fact that you are a Strome Thurmond disciple in a HBCU community.

    My question to South Carolina State, Alma Mater of Dr. M. Christopher Brown is, “What did he do to try and protect South Carolina State as an HBCU when it was in serious jeopardy of being closed two years ago. How did he help??

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