FORT VALLEY — When Fort Valley State football players line up under the new lights at a new stadium at the end of August, they’ll do so under the tutelage of perhaps one of the more diversified coaching staffs in Division II and certainly among historically black colleges and universities.
The resumes cover the spectrum, and the backgrounds are varied.
“I think that’s what he was trying to do,” new receivers coach Ivy Williams said of new head coach Donald Pittman’s hiring philosophy. “Everybody’s not going to be rubbing up on anybody. ‘Just give me some guys and let me go.’ I don’t think he wants to be pigeonholed.”
The first person hired by Pittman upon his appointment in December was a familiar one, Keith DeGrate. Pittman recruited DeGrate to Texas A&M-Kingsville in the mid-1980s, and they’ve been side by side for all but two seasons since then, including Albany State for nearly a decade.
One of the final people hired was Vernon Dean, who brings NFL playing and coaching experience to his first HBCU job.
And in between, Pittman added coaches he has worked with and competed against, almost all of whom have had success as a head coach or assistant.
In addition to Williams, Dean and DeGrate, Pittman added Terry Jones, Anthony Broadnax, Haskell Buff, Durwood Roquemore and Keith DeGrate
Pittman retained Glen Holmes (quarterbacks) and Roury Jones (tight ends/offensive line) from the staff of former head coach Deondri Clark.
The only new assistant Pittman has had no relationship with is Dean, whose resume includes seven years as a player in the NFL and coaching experience in Division II, Division I and the NFL.
Broadnax, who came from Livingstone in North Carolina, is the young gun on a staff that has experienced everything, including some NCAA issues.
Williams was an assistant at Alabama when the Albert Means recruiting scandal broke in 2000 and attached itself to Alabama, Georgia and Memphis. Means’ high school coach was caught trying to sell Means to the highest bidder, and Alabama went on NCAA probation for its part in the situation and others that came to light, exacerbated by booster Logan Young, who eventually was banned from associating with the school.
Williams was cleared by the NCAA of wrongdoing in 2005.
Jones was on the staff at Florida A&M, which the NCAA said committed nearly 200 violations — primarily compliance problems, Jones said — under head coach Billy Joe. Jones and four assistants were fired by the school, which reported that they had resigned. The coaches sued and settled.
Williams was at Northwestern Oklahoma and Jones at Northeastern (Okla.) State before taking jobs at FVSU, which is sort of a return to the “real” world of football for each.
“I was in the South for quite awhile before I went back to Oklahoma,” said Jones, whose last job was 60 miles from his hometown. “I wanted to get back this way, and when this came open and (Pittman) got it, I was filling a couple of my wants.
“It was a chance to get with him. It’s really getting back into football and being part of a great coaching staff.”
Williams’ resume covers just about every level of football available, short of Pee Wee or Pop Warner: Middletown (Ohio) High, Marshall, Kansas State, New Mexico State, Kansas, Arizona State, Akron, Texas Tech, Alabama, Savannah State and the Detroit Lions.
He has coached under Gene Stallings and Spike Dykes, as well as Mike DuBose and Gerry Faust.
Williams has the biggest names on his resume and likely the best stories, but he’s part of a staff that has vast experience on all levels.
Defensive coordinator Buff had the same position at Texas A&M-Kingsville for seven seasons before moving to Mt. San Antonio College as associate head coach and linebackers coach. A dean’s list student at Southern Utah, Buff also played at Tulsa and coached at UNLV for three seasons, as well as Texas Southern and West Texas A&M.
A&M-Kingsville had a top-20 defense several times under Buff, who was a finalist in 2005 and 2006 for the American Football Coaches Association assistant coach of the year award in Division II and coached five All-Americans.
Defensive line coach Jones was a high school and collegiate All-American and part of an NAIA national title team at Central State in Oklahoma. He was drafted by Tampa Bay in 1980, and returned to Central State for his degree two years later.
Jones coached at Central Oklahoma, Central State, Florida A&M and Northeastern (Okla.) State.
He also has special teams experience, and his alma mater won a pair of NAIA national titles with him on the staff.
Roquemore brings plenty of pro playing experience to the Wildcats.
The Dallas native and member of the Texas A&M-Kingsville Hall of Fame played with Kansas City and Buffalo in the NFL, Houston with the USFL, Chicago in the Arena Football League (twice), as well as AFL teams Albany (N.Y.) and Orlando.
He was picked to the Arena League’s 10th anniversary team in 1996, and was first team five times, becoming an Arena legend of sorts. He was an assistant with Albany and Houston and then head coach at Richmond.
Pittman thinks he has one of the nation’s most underrated coaches in DeGrate.
“He won’t network with other coaches, so people don’t know about him,” Pittman said. “I think he’s an unknown superstar. I think he’s one of the best in the country.
“He’s a technician. He’s just a football coach. He’s a guy that should be in Division I football or the NFL.”
Dean was a second-round pick in the 1982 NFL draft out of San Diego State, and played six seasons with Washington and one with Seattle. He had 17 interceptions in one three-season span with Washington, returning two for touchdowns.
Dean, the NFL’s top defensive rookie, played in three NFC championship games and three Super Bowls with Washington.
His coaching career began at Georgetown, and he spent time with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001 before joining the Western Illinois staff in 2002.
Dick Vermeil hired him for the Kansas City Chiefs, but Dean wasn’t retained when Herman Edwards took over in 2006. This is his first job since then.
“I was working on an opportunity with a good friend of mine that I played with, at Arkansas-Pine Bluff,” Dean said. “Just couldn’t get it together for whatever reason.”
Former Washington Redskins teammate Darrell Green, one of Dean’s best friends, got Pittman and Dean talking.
“(Green) knew what type of person Pitt was and had a longstanding relationship with Coach Pittman and he had a longstanding relationship with me,” Dean said. “We had a personal relationship as well as a professional relationship.
“Everything (Green) said about Coach Pitt was true,” said Dean, who also coached at Division II Western Oregon. “Pitt told me what he was planning on doing here, he was extremely enthusiastic and very excited about being here.”
Pittman knows he has bargains galore on a staff with experience and success.
“When I knew we were gonna have an exceptional staff was went we went through spring football,” he said. “We had Vernon Dean, who’s a very experienced defensive backs coach and in the NFL, and Durwood Roquemore, an experienced defensive backs coach and head coach with experience.
“Those two types of quality guys, you never could get ‘em at the price we got ‘em at the same time. I saw the chemistry between those two. It was right there.
“Now you have eyes on every position, and you very seldom get that at this level with this quality of people.”
And he’s not necessarily done. He’s hoping to find the money to hire Lew Carpenter as quarterbacks coach.
Carpenter played at Arkansas and in the NFL for 10 years, and then spent 30 years on NFL sidelines with Minnesota, Atlanta, Washington, St. Louis, Houston, Green Bay, Detroit and Philadelphia.
“The guy is unbelievable,” Pittman said. “He doesn’t have to work again, but he has a passion for coaching. It’s in his blood. He’s a genius. He can coach any position on offense.”
But even if Pittman can’t get Carpenter, Pittman is almost giddy when discussing the staff he was able to compile, thanks to his years in different parts of the country and some help from increased finances.
“Every ol’ ball coach, assistant coach, dreams of the staff he’s going to have,” said Pittman, who got almost everybody he wanted on the first try. “All these guys, I had on my list. To get these people with our budget, it’s definitely a home run. To be honest, it’s a grand slam. All the way.”