"The thing I am most encouraged about during the process of the interviews with Dr. Lee and Larry (Templeton) is that this school, the people's university, was so interested in making changes that would be good, not only for this university, the state of Mississippi, the Southeastern Conference, and our country as a whole.
"Today, the reason a lot of you are here is because of me, because of my cultural heritage, which I'm proud of. At the same time, it is not about me. It is about these young men standing over here to my right (the football players in attendance). And that is why I am here.
"In a meeting that I just had with them, I sincerely expressed to them that my picture, my name never be in the paper again because it is truly about them becoming winning people, about them being developed as a whole person, it is about them being a student-athlete with the student been first, it is about them being the best that they can be.
"My job as head football coach is no different than that of the faculty and everybody else here. And that is to do our best to guide these young people through their time here so that they can have productive lives, raise families and be productive in their communities. Their success off the field will be a key with me. Their education I prize greatly. Ten years from now, I not only want them to have had a great football career, but I want them to have nice homes, nice families. I want to be a part of that. I want to go visit them and have their kids bounce on my knee and tell them what kind of people their dads were when they were young.
"Another thing I want everybody to understand: I am the first African-American coach in the SEC. But there ain't but one color that matters here and that color is Maroon.
"In closing, I just want to say to the Mississippi State football family, I'm glad to be home, the home is where the heart is and in my heart I am a Bulldog."
How much has it changed at MSU since you were last here?
"It has changed greatly. It has been over 10 years since I was here. I have seen their games on tv and saw the improvements in the stadium. I think they are first class facilities. One area that we have dicussed improving is where the players spend a great deal of time. Plans will be in the works in the near future to do that. We have told our players that. We want them to be in a first class environment."
When did you first realize you were a serious candidate for the job? And, when you got it, what was your initial reaction?
"As soon as Larry (Templeton) call me, they were serious right from the start. I'm sure some of you wondered why there was a delay. The delay was me. The delay was me deciding where I wanted to go in my career. I'll say this now, as much as anything for our players, I have learned a lot about myself through the course of this process. I was working for the best organization in the National Football League. I felt I had the best job in the National Football League. I had outstanding players. I had a coach who I pretty much allowed me to do what I wanted to do. I had sort of resigned in my life that I could be comfortable there forever. But it wasn't about just been comfortable. I was reminded during the process by my wife why I got into this business in the first place. It was about giving something back to the young people that are involved in this game. When I can make a difference coaching football, which I love to do, and still have an impact on someone else's life, then I have to take that opportunity even though it will mean me having to be away from my family. This was a way for me to still enjoy a game that I love and still do something more positive than what I was doing."
Was there any one factor that caused you to accept the offer?
"No, there was no one thing. It was just in the last week I have been through a lot of personal soul searching. I'll tell you these two gentlemen right here (Dr. Lee and Larry Templeton) had a lot to do it. Everytime I was in their presence, I was totally comfortable, I was totally at ease. I was impressed with their commitment and love for this university, their love for this state. And their genuine concern about these young people. I don't think sincerity can ever be faked and I don't see anything fake about those men at all."
Do you feel you might be held to an unfair standard being the first African-American coach in the SEC?
"When we first started talking, I thought about that. But I have been through that before when I was a coordinator in Detroit. Some of it was self-imposed because of the way things are in our society today. When I was a coordinator in Detroit, I felt, if I didn't do well, then it would handicap other minorities who aspired for that position. But after talking to my wife, I decided this time I'm going to coach football. I am going to enjoy being a part of the Mississippi State family. I am going to coach these young men."
Elaborate a little more about what message your hiring sends throughout this entire conference.
"One of the coaches on our staff said you just made Jeopardy. (laugh). So, one of these mornings, when you are watching Jeopardy, my name may come up on that board. Beyond that, I have never really thought about it. The significance of all of it is not so much me, but the significance is the people at Mississippi State. It is these two men going out to get who they thought was the best football coach who happened to be an African-American."
Do you have a timeframe on hiring your staff?
"I was working on my staff on the way down here on the plane. And have been working on it between the time I am working on my gameplan for the Packers. I haven't set a definite timetable."
Will you have to balance your responsibilities between Mississippi State and Green Bay until Green Bay's season is over with?
"Yes, I am still under contractual obligations to the Packers. We have devised a plan where I will spend part of the week there. I have been told I won't have any obligations if we make the playoffs. But it will extend through the regular season. But I am taking that week by week. Maybe that will change. If it doesn't, I will definitely honor the obligations that I made to that organization. It is a very good organization and they have been very good to me. Whatever has to be done to complete those obligations and also get us started in recruiting here, Larry (Templeton) is going to provide me the necessary means to do that and that is what I will do."
Have you talked to any of the other Division 1 African-American coaches to get some input from them as to what to expect?
"No, they are all out recruiting. Not really. I have been an African-American 49 years, so....."
What did you tell the players this afternoon?
"I don't know if I can tell you everything I told them (laugh). The main thing I wanted the players to understand is that we have a lot of work to get done. The most important thing I wanted them to realize is that for us to get to where we are going to go, the first thing that has to happen is they have to make a conscious choice as to which path we are going to go on. Then, the next thing they have to do is trust me and my coaching staff to lay out how we are going to get there. But they, ultimately, have to choose that they want to be a success. And when I say success, I'm not just talking about winning games. If they decide to make a personal choice to be a successful person in the classroom and in the community, winning will take care of itself. That is the choice that I want them to make."
Do you have an offense and defense in mind as to what you are going to run at Mississippi State?
"I'll start with the defense. A lot of that will be determined by the defensive coordinator. The main thing about it, whatever scheme we run, it will be designed to keep them out of the endzone.
"I told our players that we will run exactly what we run at Green Bay, the same terminology. Which means it may be the hardest class they have on their schedule."
Earlier, you were quoted as saying that race played a factor in you not getting the Alabama job. What does that say about Alabama and what does that say about Mississippi State?
"Alabama has a head coach. I'm the new head coach at Mississippi State. And that is all that matters."
Did you see this happening so soon after not getting the Alabama job?
"No, I didn't see anything happening. This happened to me about 1992. I was working at Indianapolis and I remember this plain as day. A friend of mine named Milton Jackson, who has recently retired from pro football, is one of the smartest coaches I know. We were laying in a run-down campground and we were talking about being head coaches. He said to me that it is better to be prepared and not be offered, than be offered and not be prepared. That has stuck with me, and from that day forward, I have let that be my philosophy in everything I was doing."
How would you judge the talent level you have to work with at Mississippi State?
"I haven't studied it in detail. In watching games, I was very impressed with how the team started out in the Egg Bowl. Things didn't work out in the end, but I was very pleased with the effort the players gave. I didn't think they did anything to embarrass Mississippi State. That is a start. We encouraged the players to help us get good football players in here, so we can improve and get back to the level we want to be.
"I would like to say this to those athletes that are contemplating where they are going to go to spend their next four years of college. There is a opportunity here for you. There is an opportunity for you to come and be a part of something special, be a part of something new and play competitive SEC football."
Have you and Coach Sherrill spent anytime during the past two weeks?
"No, I haven't talked to Coach Sherrill at this time, but I'm sure I will sometime in the future."
What is the challenge going from the NFL to the college game?
"I think the greatest challenge will be learning the NCAA rule book. The recruiting rules have changed drastically. I will be counting on Rockey Felker and the coaches that we hire to guide me through this. Beyond that, football and football. I will be calling on my friend Coach Perkins a lot. I will follow a lot of the blueprint he had when he came from the New York Giants to Alabama. He made the transition very smoothly."
When was the moment you said yes. Also, there is an assumption out there that the black athletes will flock to Mississippi State.
"During the course of the week, I went through a lot of emotions. Friday night, Dr. Lee and Larry (Templeton) came to visit me in Green Bay. It was during that conversation I began to think it might be time for me to do this. We talked throughout the weekend and I spent some long nights with my wife going back through this. And even my daughter, who has never, ever gotten involved in anything that I wanted to do in football. It was basically a family decision.
"As for as the perception that my heritage will cause athletes to flock to Mississippi State, some people will think that. And maybe it will influence a couple. But I don't think that will be the case. In fact, I'm almost sure of it. The people who will come to Mississippi State are the people who want to be a part of the Mississippi State family and the institution itself."
Were you ever indecisive about what you were going to do?
"Yes, I was very indecisive. Change, the older you get, is a little tougher to do. Breaking the comfort zone is tough. Dr. Lee even expressed that he went through that during his career. Then, it carried over to a conversation that I had with (Green Bay head coach) Mike Sherman. To be honest with you, we were talking about all the reasons why maybe I shouldn't take the job. He expressed something about when he broke his comfort zone when he didn't want to do it, but it turned out alright. During those conversations, it wasn't about negative about Mississippi State but about me breaking my comfort zone."
What do you say to those people who are concerned that you haven't ever been a head coach?
"I have been coaching for 27 years. I do know how to fill out a practice schedule. I have been an offensive coordinator. I do know how to run the offense. I had 5 or 6 All-American players in college on the defensive side. So, I do know a little about the defense schemes."
Will you recuit locally or try to recruit nationally?
"The first thing we have to do is keep the young men in this state that are close to home. The players who are in Mississippi need to come to Mississippi State, bottom line."
How concerned are you about the NCAA investigation?
"Larry and Dr. Lee went over that with me as detailed as they possible could. Whatever happens beyond this point happens. No one every really knows what is going to happen with an NCAA investigation. I am very pleased with their commitment that we don't have to go through this. And I am totally in line with the program they want to set up so that we don't have to go through this again."
Are you going to be your offensive coordinator?
"We are going to hire an offensive coordinator. But I will call the plays? Since I'm the only one who knows the offense right now, I may have to do that early on. But, at some point, I don't want to have to do that totally. This first year, I probably will. Whoever we hire as offensive coordinator, as soon as I feel like he has full mastery of the treminology and is in line with how I want to do things, then I will turn it over."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.