By Solomon Crenshaw
For The Birmingham Times
A room full of Miles College boosters, board members, faculty, alumni along with media assembled in the school’s Welcome and Enrollment Center on Friday to officially welcome Sam Shade as head football coach as he succeeds Reginald Ruffin, who recently left his posts as football coach and athletics director to assume the same positions at Tuskegee University.
President Bobbie Knight introduced Shade and also took the occasion to name Fred Watson as the school’s athletic director at the Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in Fairfield, just outside of Birmingham.
Knight said Shade was selected from about 45 applicants and has already spoken virtually with his new team and hopes to speak with them in person soon. She also said his brand is as strong as any other in the HBCU and that includes Jackson State and its coach, former NFL star Deion “Coach Prime” Sanders.
“Coach Shade is a brand and he was already a brand,” Knight said. “He became a brand and he developed his brand in high school, continued in college, then in the NFL, and then in his coaching career.
“We don’t need a Deion,” the president said. “We’ve got a Sam Shade.”
A product of Birmingham’s Wenonah High School, Shade was a standout football player who went on to win a national championship as a player for coach Gene Stallings at the University of Alabama.
Shade said he’s already spoken to members of the Golden Bears coaching staff as he determines who may be retained. He called himself his worst critic and said if things are done the right way, “we’ll have success. Sometimes that success isn’t a conference championship. But you do know when you’ve gotten players to buy in, and they’ll trust in you and they’re disciplined, to me you’re having success.”
Shade acknowledged that he’s inheriting a program that has achieved at a high level under Ruffin.
“I look at this as an opportunity to come to a program that’s on good footing, (to) come in and take it to the next level,” Shade said. “That’s my plan for Miles College. That’s my vision. We’ve won conference championships. My plan is, ‘Why not go compete for national championships?’”
Of course, Shade isn’t just replacing Ruffin. He’ll be competing against him for the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC) West Division title and the overall league crown. The new Golden Bears coach, who won the 2020 Class 6A state football championship at Pinson Valley High School, said he and Ruffin have long been friends as each is a member of the coaching fraternity.
“I actually spoke with Coach Ruffin,” Shade said. “We’ve known each other for years. Bottom line, we said, ‘one Saturday out of the year, we won’t be friends.’”
After playing for the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals between 1995–1998 and the then Washington Redskins from 1999–2002, Shade was a special teams and defensive passing game coordinator at Samford University, was cornerbacks coach at Georgia State and an assistant special teams coach with the Cleveland Browns before replacing Patrick Nix as head coach at Pinson Valley High. His Indians went 12-2 in his first season, which ended with a state title.
While Shade will replace Ruffin as head coach, Watson will replace Ruffin as AD, a decision Knight called “a no-brainer.”
“I’ve gotten resumes from people saying they want to apply for the athletic director position and I’m like, ‘Oh, we don’t have one open,’” Knight mused. “We decided (to) just take care of that and put that to rest. Coach Watson’s successful coaching career, his vision for the athletic program, his successful fundraising efforts and his management skills are just what we need to continue to inspire student athletes and build onto the rich history and championship mentality that we have here at Miles College.”
That “championship mentality” included Ruffin leading the football program in particular and the athletic program overall. In nine seasons, Ruffin led the Golden Bears program to four SIAC football championship titles, two NCAA playoff appearances and an NCAA Division II bowl appearance.
During that stretch, Miles won two championship titles in basketball, a Western Division championship in women’s basketball, a Western Division championship in baseball and a Golf D2 PGA Works National championship.
That resume would yield some big shoes to fill for Shade and Watson but neither shied away from the challenge.
“No shoes have ever been bigger for me to fill than those of my father,” Watson said. “The skills and the traits that [my father] instilled in me as a young man – being a good father, being a good husband, being a servant leader – are the same skills and traits I’ve used to be successful as a college basketball coach and the same skills and traits I’ll use to be a successful athletic director.”