Tigers 6-5, Bayou winners in '04 under Spears
GRAMBLING, La. -- Last football season was a difficult one by Grambling's standards, but school officials decided it was good enough to give the interim coach who oversaw it another shot.
"I'm humbled by the opportunity," said Melvin Spears, who led Grambling to a 6-5 mark last season. "Just to be able to coach at such a historically significant institution is an honor in itself. To be head coach, well, it's something even more special."
Spears has enjoyed strong support among players and was a part of Grambling's more dominant teams as offensive coordinator during six seasons under Doug Williams through 2003.
Williams left before the 2004 season to take a front office job with the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers, citing frustrations with the school.
After his one season as interim coach, Spears was one of three finalists interviewed by a four-member committee headed by school president Horace Judson.
The others were Texas A&M running backs coach Lee Fobbs, an All-American at Grambling, and Alabama A&M head coach Anthony Jones, who coached with Grambling athletics director Willie Jeffries at Wichita State and South Carolina State.
Last season, Spears' squad was hampered by the early loss of starting quarterback Bruce Eugene, but his team finished with a 24-13 upset of Southern in the Bayou Classic.
"I saw the marvelous job they did versus Southern ... . I noticed the coaching aspects that Grambling used," Jeffries said. "It always helps to win the Bayou Classic versus our archrival ... . It helped Coach. He knows that."
In the six seasons that Spears coached alongside Williams, Grambling went 52-18 with three Southwestern Athletic Conference championships.
Spears, 45, grew up in East Feliciana Parish and played quarterback and wide receiver at Alcorn State, graduating in 1983 with a computer science degree. He then worked as a software engineer and earned a master's degree in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University.
He coached high school football in Arizona in 1992 and became an assistant at Morgan State University, in Baltimore, in 1995. He became offensive coordinator at Grambling in 1997.
Eugene said he was pleased that Spears will remain.
"There's nobody who has more love and interest in Grambling State football and athletics than coach Spears," Eugene said. "We all love him because we know he has our best interests in his heart. ... It's not just about football. It's about life. It's great that he is now with us permanently."
Jeffries said Eugene's sentiments about Spears had been echoed by the vast majority of Grambling's players.
"It was the way he coached them. He was fair and he was like a father figure to those guys," Jeffries said. "We have a lot of players who are from one-parent homes, and they love to hang around the office and talk to the coaches. He did a great job there. They hold him with the highest regard, and they wanted him come back and be their permanent coach."
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press