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A Brief History of UMES Football

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For more than a quarter of a century, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore (UMES) was recognized as a football powerhouse among Historical Black Colleges and Universities. From 1946 to 1970, UMES had a combined win-loss record of 139 wins, 36 losses, and 7 ties, or an outstanding 76.4 percent winning percentage. Therefore, the decision to discontinue football in 1980 was a particularly painful one for the University and its Alumni.

The decision to discontinue football as an intercollegiate sport at UMES has generated more interest than any other single issue in the 116-year history of the University. No other single issue has posed such an immediate threat to the disenfranchisement of UMES from its varied constituencies. Reinstatement of intercollegiate football at UMES would be the catalyst needed to unify the whole UMES community. There have been many failed attempts to reinstate intercollegiate football at UMES.

The Pre-1970 Era
No one person was more instrumental in UMES' success than Vernon “Skip” McCain. The history of UMES' football program is inextricably linked to Coach McCain’s tenure. A profile of Coach McCain can be found in the appendix. During his tenure Coach, McCain had a phenomenon success record of 101 wins, 16 losses, and 5 ties.

Those who knew him say Coach McCain was the embodiment of the teacher-coach. From 1948 to 1963, he was the most successful coach in the country. Coach McCain, himself a student of the game, did miss many coaching clinics during his tenure. In 1950, he was selected “Coach of the Year” by the Pigskin Club of Washington. Coach McCain’s dedication to understanding the deeper qualities and disciplines of the game laid the foundation for what many have called the “ Golden Years of Hawk Athletes.”

In addition to being a head football coach, Coach McCain was also the head basketball coach and athletic director. As a result, Coach McCain had almost total control over the UMES athletic budget and pool of athletic talent. Further, during this period of time UMES' president was John T. Williams. President Williams was an avid football fan and provided the type of supportive leadership necessary to build a winning program.

As a result, during the period from 1946 to 1970, over twenty (20) UMES student-athletes went on to pursue professional careers in the National Football League. In addition, several others went on to successful careers in the Continental and Canadian Football Leagues. The most notable of these athletes is Art Shell, eight (8) time Pro-Bowl player, NFL Hall of Fame Player, and the first African American head coach of the modern era of professional football with the Los Angeles Raiders (now the Oakland Raiders).

Further, UMES holds the distinction of having more players play in a Super Bowl Championship game than any other single institution. In the 1968 game between the New York Jets and the Baltimore Colts (now the Indianapolis Colts), UMES was represented by five (5) of its former student-athletes: Earl Christy (1961-1964), Johnny Sample (1954-1957), Emerson Boozer (1962-1965), Charles Stukes (1963-1967), and James Duncan (1968-1971).

The Post-1970 Era
From 1971 to 1979, the retirement and subsequent death of President Williams combined with: escalating costs, poor management, lack of leadership, and a shared vision between the administration and alumni laid the groundwork for the demise of this once-storied program. Not only was this a period of great trial and tribulation for the football program, but for the University as a whole. This was a time when the very existence of UMES was being debated by many state politicians, school administrators, faculty, staff, and representatives of the local community, many of whom did not hold a favorable view of UMES.

The lack of leadership coupled with aggressive recruiting of “quality” African American athletes by “majority” institutions was too much to overcome. In conjunction with this problem and a lack of perceived importance of athletics in general and football in particular, a number of poor decisions were made by personnel entrusted to run the program’s day-to-day operations. But even doing this period of trials, the program was not without its successes.

From 1971 to 1979, 12 Hawks received All Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference honors and several others went on to successful careers in the NFL. On 01/08/80, after a year of in-depth review and discussion, Dr. William P. Hytche, Chancellor of UMES officially announced the suspension of intercollegiate football at UMES. The reasons cited for discontinuing the program were spiraling inflation costs and the cost of compliance with Title IX of the Education Act.

Lessons Learned
Central to determining whether or not football can be viable at UMES is developing a clear understanding of what factors govern the ultimate success of a program. Our research indicates that there are four (4) key elements needed to successfully manage a “winning” intercollegiate football program:

  • UMES' varied constituencies must unite and develop a shared vision for the program.

  • UMES' alumni must be willing to commit themselves to the development and implementation of significant and ongoing fundraising and endowment building effort.

  • UMES' athletic department’s organizational structure must be modified to include an assistant athletic director for football, whose primary duties would be: developing a quality academic enhancement program, complying with NCAA rules, fundraising, and acting as a liaison between UMES' varied constituencies.

  • And probably most importantly, the leadership of the University of Maryland System Board of Regents and UMES must help to foster the type of supportive environment needed to develop and maintain a “winning tradition.”

In today’s environment, there are numerous obstacles that tend to limit the ability of small institutions, particularly Historical Black Institutions, to operate and manage successful intercollegiate football programs. First and foremost, there is the need to develop a clear and coherent strategy for the program and the commitment necessary resources to implement that strategy.

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