New coach seeks fresh era at Prairie View A&M

Updated: October 1, 2003, 2:04 PM ET

PRAIRIE VIEW, Texas -- First year football coach C.L. Whittington has a big advantage over his predecessors at Prairie View A&M: scholarships.

"When a parent who can't send his kid to college is sitting there and one person says, `Here's a scholarship,' and another person says `Come on down to Prairie View and we'll try to help you out,' it's a different thing," Whittington said.

For years, hope was all Prairie View recruiters had to offer when trying to attract athletes to the small NCAA Division I-AA Southwestern Conference school, located 45 miles northwest of Houston.

This season, the school has funded a full 63-scholarship limit by the SWAC, aided in part by the student body of 6,000 willing to boost their activities fees.

"Recruiting is brutal and they're still saying you're only Prairie View but I'm happy with the young men who gave us an opportunity to visit with them and their parents," Whittington said. "At least we're getting into the homes now."

The Panthers had an NCAA record 80-game losing streak during the 1990s and they are still losing by one-sided scores going into Saturday's Big State Classic in Dallas against Grambling.

Their only victory so far is against Paul Quinn, which plays a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics schedule. Prairie View (1-3) has been outscored 185-65 this season. But it's a start. It's better than the 1990s when the Panthers were a weekly trivia question as their losing streak mounted.

After the Panthers beat Langston 14-12 to end the losing streak on Sept. 26, 1998, Prairie View sank back into anonymity, occasionally winning a game.

Former Rice quarterback Donald Hollas is the offensive coordinator assigned to installing a new offense. It's a slow process.

"On signing day it looked like a mediocre class but it turned into a good class," Hollas said. "We are young and it will be baptism by fire but this year, our first year, we're going to be better.

"Next year we'll be better and rolling into that third year we ought to be up and going here."

Whittington wants to bring the Panthers back into the limelight, this time as winners.

When he was named as the replacement for Larry Dorsey after last season, Whittington's first chore was to dig out all of the old trophies and memorabilia from the glory days of the university, which included an NAIA national championship.

"Prairie View has been there but it's been a long time," Whittington said. "History, that's what we're trying to get these kids to understand."

Whittington was a defensive back for the Panthers, graduating in 1973 and he was an assistant coach in 1984 before getting his first head coaching job this season.

The Panthers haven't had a winning season since finishing 6-5 in 1976. Whittington wants more than just winning seasons.

"I look at winning when you win the conference," Whittington said. "You're talking about pre-1965, the last time we were winning championships. We are going to play the game and not talk the game. It comes down to what we can do as coaches and getting ready to play hard."

Whittington awarded some scholarships to athletes who have played as walk-ons out of respect for their hard work. He also has been appreciative of the school's student body.

"I can't talk enough about what the students did to tax themselves so we could have these scholarships," Whittington said. "They always talk about this is the generation that doesn't care but they stepped up to the plate for us and pay $150 per semester in student fees.

"I let my players know they're playing for their peers."

Dr. George Wright, who took over as Prairie View president in late August, hopes to upgrade the school's facilities as well as its athletic program. His first duty was to preside over groundbreaking for a $26 million architectural building.

"You always want an athletic program that is consistent with the academic goals of the institution," Wright said. "You have to do that and you have to win."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index