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HBCU’s 10 Greatest Football Dynasties

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You would be hard-pressed to find a more dominant team in Black college football from 1923-30 than Tuskegee University which won six national championships (1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1929). (HBCU Gameday)
By Donald Hunt
For The Birmingham Times

College football fans have seen a lot of great teams over the years. However, it’s one thing to have an outstanding team, but to sustain a level of greatness over an extended period of time is another.

There are several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) with dominant football programs that went on to become dynasties. These teams were able to showcase their talents in different eras. No matter what decade you followed HBCU football there was at least one team that stood out.

With the 82nd Magic City Classic between Alabama A&M and Alabama State University on Saturday, Oct. 28, at Birmingham’s Legion Field it’s time to present our list of the most dominant HBCU football teams alphabetically.

CENTRAL STATE

Dynasty: 1987-93. Combined record of 72-11-3 during this period, which produced two NAIA national titles in 1990 and 1992.

Central State had one of the best small college football programs in the nation. The Marauders had two major stretches under head coach Billy Joe. Central State was really dominant as an NCAA Division II independent program from 1982-86. The Marauders were 46-11-1 during those seasons. Then, Central State became a NAIA Division I independent. They were a powerhouse from 1987-93. They had an tremendous 72-11-3 during this period, which produced two NAIA national titles in 1990 and 1992. Joe coached Hugh Douglas, Erik Williams and Vice Buck who all played in the NFL.

FLORIDA A&M

Dynasty: 1950-62. Eight Black college national championships.

Florida A&M has one of the most prolific Black college football programs in the country. The Rattlers are well known for their football prowess.

William “Bill” Bell was a tremendous coach at FAMU where he had his moments with a 49-9-6 record from 1936-42. They had quite a run from 1937-42 where they grabbed two national Black college championships in 1938 and 1942.  The ’38 and ‘42 team were both undefeated with 8-0 and 9-0 records respectively. They were 35-5-5 during this stretch. The Rattlers dominated the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference during those years.

Alonzo “Jake” Gaither was an assistant coach on Bell’s staff. Gaither was the head coach of the Rattlers from 1945-1969. He had an incredible 204-36-9 record. He had an unbelievable stretch from 1950-62 where he won eight Black college national championships. His 1959 and ’61 teams finished with undefeated 10-0 records and were winners of the Orange Blossom Classic, which usually had two of the nation’s top HBCU teams. Gaither had three sensational players – running backs Clarence Childs and Robert Paremore, Jr. and center Curtis Miranda who catapulted them to the top of HBCU football.

Gaither went on to coach some magnificent players such as Hall of Famers Ken Riley and Bob Hayes, Willie Galimore and Hewritt Dixon. He sent 42 players to the NFL. They’re all part of the FAMU football tradition.

GRAMBLING STATE

Dynasty: 1972-77. A record of 60-13 which included four Black college national crowns (’72, ‘74-75 and ‘77 and shared two SWAC titles in ’74, ’75 and captured one outright in ’77.

Grambling State has a strong history producing some of the best teams in HBCU football under legendary head coach Eddie Robinson who was the Tigers’ mentor from 1941-1997. Robinson captured nine Black college national championships and 17 Southwestern Athletic Conference crowns. In his 56 years, he had an overall 408-165-15 record.

His strongest run at Grambling State was 1972-77 where they were really dominant. The program put together a 60-13 record during those seasons. This includes four Black college national crowns (’72, ‘74-75 and ‘77 and shared two SWAC titles in ’74, ’75 and captured one outright in ’77.

In1974, Grambling State had a sensational year losing just one game to Alcorn State. The Tigers were led by quarterback Doug Williams who was just a freshman at the time. Of course, Williams had a 37-5 record as a signal caller with the Tigers. He would go onto become a 1978 first round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 1988, he became the first Black quarterback to lead a team to a Super Bowl victory as the Washington Redskins (now Washington Commanders) to a 42-10 win over the Denver Broncos.

There were three other NFL players on that ’74 team – wide receivers Carlos Pennywell and Dwight Scales and defensive tackle Gary “Big Hands” Johnson.

Robinson also coached Hall of Famers Willie Brown, Charlie Joiner, Buck Buchannan and Willie Davis.

MORGAN STATE

Dynasty: 1932-37. Six straight undefeated seasons. Honorable mention: 1943 season: Undefeated and unscored upon.

The successful stints of the Morgan State football program can be directly attributed to two Hall of Fame coaches Eddie P. Hurt and Earl Banks. Hurt coached the Bears from 1929-1959 where he compiled a 173-59-19 record. He had six straight undefeated seasons from 1932-37. Overall, he had 11 undefeated seasons in his career.

His best team may have been the 1943 team that was undefeated and unscored upon. Clarence “big House” Gaines was an All-American on that team. Gaines later became a Hall of Fame basketball coach at Winston-Salem State who coached NBA legend Earl Monroe. Hurt also coached NFL standouts Len Ford and Roosevelt Brown.

Banks was Morgan State’s head coach from 1960-73 posting a 94-30-2 record. He had three straight undefeated teams from 1965-67. Banks coached Hall of Fame middle linebacker Willie Lanier, running back Kenneth Duke and lineman Carlton Dabney. He coached Hall of Fame running back Leroy Kelly too.

NORTH CAROLINA A&T

Dynasty: 2014-17. A combined 40-4 record with two Celebration Bowls in 2015 and ’17 giving it two National Black College Championships.

North Carolina A&T certainly had its moments of taking over the HBCU landscape. The Aggies clearly demonstrated their ability to win consistently from 2014-17 under the tutelage of head coach Rod Broadway.

NCA&T had a 40-4 record during that era. The Aggies also won two Celebration Bowls in 2015 and ’17 giving them two National Black College Championships.

NCA&T had a real special player in running back Tarik Cohen who became the MEAC’s all—time leading rusher with 5,619 yards. Cohen is one of four Aggies that went on to play in the NFL. He currently plays for the Carolina Panthers. The other standouts were Brandon Parker, Darryl Johnson and Franklin “Mac” McCain. They all played in the NFL. The 2017 season NCA&T went undefeated with a 12-0 record. They won three MEAC crowns too.

PRAIRIE VIEW A&M

Dynasty: 1953-64. A combined 51-2-1 record that included five SWAC titles and five Black college national championships (’53, ’54, ’58, ’63, ’64).

Prairie View A&M may not be a household name to some people who follow Black college football. But the Panthers had one of the best HBCU football programs under Hall of Fame coach William J. “Billy” Hicks from 1953-64.

During that stretch, PVAM had a 51-2-1 record that included five SWAC titles and five Black college national championships (’53, ’54, ’58, ’63, ’64). Charlie “Choo Choo” Brackens was the starting quarterback on the ’53 and ’54 teams. The ’53 team was 12-0. Brackens was one of the early African American signal callers in the NFL. He played for the Green Bay Packers.

Jim Kearney was the star quarterback on the 1964 championship team. Kearney went on to play 11 seasons in the NFL as a defensive back. He played for the Kansas City Chiefs 1970 Super Bowl championship team.

SOUTH CAROLINA STATE

Dynasty: 1973-78.  A combined record of 50-13-2.

South Carolina State had some football teams that regularly stood in the winner’s circle of HBCU football. The Bulldogs major success took place from 1973-78. South Carolina State had a 50-13-2 record during that time. Under head coach Willie Jeffries, South Carolina State had some brilliant players like Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Donnie Shell along with NFL standouts Robert Porcher, Orlando Brown and others.

Jeffries led the Bulldogs to five MEAC titles. He guided South Carolina State to two Black college national championships.

Jeffries, a College Football Hall of Famer, had two stints at South Carolina State. In 1979, he became the first Black head coach at a NCAA Division I school at a white university when Wichita State hired him. He was the Shockers’ head coach for five years (1979-83). After that, he left to coach Howard University’s football team. He coached the Bison for five years (1984-88) before returning to South Carolina State.

His best team was the 1976 club that would was led by defensive tackle Robert Sims, Sr. who was named Defensive Player of the Year.

SOUTHERN UNIVERSITY

Dynasty: 1948-50. A combined 32-0-2 mark that included three national Black college championships; 1993-99. A 66-5 record during winning four Black college national championships (1993, 1995, 1997, 1998) and four SWAC crowns (’93, ’97-’99)

Southern had a huge three-year reign in Black college football. The Jaguars under Arnett “Ace” Mumford had an amazing 32-0-2 mark from 1948-50 that included three national Black college championships. He won three SWAC titles too. Running back Warren Braden and offensive tackle Normell Keller were key players on those teams.

Southern had a good length of supreme dominance under head coach Pete Richardson from 1993-99. The Jaguars had a fantastic 66-5 record during those years winning four Black college national championships (1993, 1995, 1997, 1998) and four SWAC crowns (’93, ’97-’99). Richardson had a 128-62 record during his 16 years tenure at Southern.

The Jaguars have developed some marvelous players such as Hall of Famers Harold Carmichael, Mel Blount and Aeneas Williams and NFL standouts Isiah Robertson and Frank Pitts over the years.

TENNESSEE STATE

Dynasty: 1970-83 with a combined record of 130-22-4 mark that included two undefeated seasons. The 1970 (11-0) and ’71 teams (9-1) featured star quarterback Joe Gilliam who later played for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tennessee State has a long- standing history of generating some great teams. This goes back to when the school was known as Tennessee A&I (1912-68). The Tigers had a number of years with easily some of the best teams in HBCU football history.

The school had sustained greatness under two head coaches Henry Kean and John Merritt. Kean coached from 1944-54 with a 93-14-3 record. During those years, he never lost more than three games. He had two undefeated seasons along with six Black college national championships (’46, ’47, ’54). His best team may have been the 1947 club that finished with a 10-0 record defeating Kentucky State, 20-13, for the national Black college crown.

Merritt coached the Tigers from 1963-83 compiling a 172-33-7 record where the program had two undefeated seasons. In 1965 and ’66, the school had back-to-back undefeated seasons. Eldridge Dickey was an All-American quarterback for the TSU. He led the Tigers to 1966 national Black college championship. Dickey was the first Black field general selected in the 1968 AFL or NFL draft. He was selected by the Oakland Raiders.

TSU had a great run from 1970-83 where the team posted a 130-22-4 mark that included two undefeated seasons. The 1970 (11-0) and ’71 teams (9-1) featured star quarterback Joe Gilliam who later played for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 1970, he led TSU to a 26-25 win over Southwestern Louisiana in the now defunct Grantland Rice Bowl. They were also selected as the Black college national champions.

In addition to Dickey and Gilliam, the Tigers have sent a lot of players to the NFL such as Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Jim Marsalis along with Hall of Famers Claude Humphrey and Richard Dent.

TUSKEGEE UNIVERSITY

Dynasty: 1923-30. Six national championships (1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1929).

Tuskegee’s dominance spanned several eras: You would be hard-pressed to find a more dominant team in Black college football from 1923-30 than Tuskegee University. Under the brilliance of head coach Cleve Abbott, Tuskegee won six national championships (1924, 1925, 1926, 1927, 1929). Abbott spent 31 years (1923-54) on the sidelines finishing his career with a 206-99-27. During the Golden Tigers’ big run, he had a fabulous all-around player with Ben Stevenson who was an All-American running back and defensive back.

In the modern era, Tuskegee had some marvelous years in the SIAC under Rick Comegy. The Golden Tigers were dominant from 1998-02 with a 64-3 record that included five SIAC titles and one national Black college championship in 2000. His top players were Drayton Florence and Frank Walker who both had NFL career.

Tuskegee had another strong run from 2006-09 under then head coach Willie Slater. The Golden Tigers were 42-3 winning four SIAC championship and three Black college national titles (2007-09). Jacary Atkinson was a great quarterback who starred on the 2009 Black college national championship team.