Howard is Looking for a Football Coach. It Shouldn’t Look Far to Find Henry Frazier

An HBCU Comeback Story for the Ages

An HBCU Comeback Story for the Ages

The Howard University Hilltop reports that Bison head football coach Gary Harrell will not be renewed after six years leading his alma mater to a middle of the road presence in the MEAC’s football imprint.

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It is a predictably quiet departure for a program that, from most indications, is ready to take advantage of the resurgence of popularity in HBCU football. From a splash hire at athletic director, a wonderfully unconventional apparel branding launch, and specialty coverage of the men’s basketball program, HU appears ready to break through in the sport that serves as the front porch to university culture.

And if the Bison are ready to truly break through in a coaching hire, they won’t have to look far for the ideal choice.

There was more peace than excitement in Henry Frazier’s voice. Even over a teleconference, it was clear that he was looking forward to being inducted as a member of the Prairie View A&M University Athletic Hall of Fame , but in reflecting on it, he mostly only cared to talk about the calm in his life inside and outside of football, and its prospects moving ahead.

“I have a 24-hour rule,” Frazier said during his press conference referring to his time away from the field and the controversies that led to his absence. “When I go through something, after 24 hours, I let it go. When I got arrested, I got out that night and read the whole book of Job. Job never questioned God. All of the stuff that he had and was taken away, so surely, I’m not going to panic in going through a divorce or getting fired from a job.”

Frazier is the athletic director at Dunbar High School in Washington D.C., a position that he never thought he would fill, following a firing he never expected to happen. He still roots for North Carolina Central University, the program that terminated his contract in 2013 after an alleged domestic violence incident resulted in his arrest, but no conviction.

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In the three years since his departure, the Eagles have emerged this year as one of the MEAC’s premier football programs, last week capturing its football championship and securing a berth in the second annual Celebration Bowl.

It’s a similar story for programs which have fallen under Frazier’s magic touch over the last 18 years.

There are few Cinderella stories in black college football more alluring than Frazier’s, the DMV native who starred at quarterback for Bowie State University and led the Bulldogs to the 1989 CIAA football title, the school’s first.

He later found success at BSU as a head football coach, delivering a division title in 2002 before moving on to PVAMU, where he broke one of the nation’s longest and most dubious records after the school’s infamous 80-game losing streak — its 31-year-old record of consecutive losing seasons.

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He became the first black head coach to win the Eddie Robinson award, secured three straight winning seasons, and capped it off with the 2009 SWAC football championship. Some would say that his foundation is the soil that helped to build the Panthers’ $61 million football facility, which opened this fall.

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Others like Panther legend KJ Black say its Frazier’s personality that helps to engage a team and a culture of winning and support.

“I wasn’t here when they initially started to change the way things were going,” he says, “But Coach Frazier stood out to me. You’ve got to have a guy the players will play for and the community will get behind. And if he’s doing what he’s supposed to do, he’s going to get guys who want to be there.

Frazier-to-Howard instantly boosts the Bison football brand with a proven winner, and galvanizes regional support for a native son who, against typical recruiting strategies among mid-Atlantic HBCUs, actually knows how to find talent proximate to where he, fans and donors live and work.

Where he goes, he wins; and when he leaves, teams tend to keep winning. Bowie State, Prairie View and NCCU all remain competitive programs in the years following Frazier eras, which says a lot about the culture he builds and the ways administration seeks to maintain them.

Howard has unique challenges in recruiting high caliber athletes who can academically qualify for admission, a prospect made more difficult in trying to sell them the attraction of a total rebuilding project under a new head coach. But what the school may lack in recent history, facilities and name recognition, it makes up for in the attraction of playing in Chocolate City, high caliber academic programs, and media access.

Everything seems to align for a union that will vault both Howard and Frazier back into the HBCU football spotlight. And if Howard can become nationally competitive with a marquee coach at the helm, HBCU football will benefit at large.