Playing in front of former college coach Willie Jeffries on a day designated for him is both an honor and an added responsibility for South Carolina State head football coach Oliver "Buddy" Pough.
"You're always excited about the career and legacy of Coach and anytime we have a chance to honor that, then I take a lot of pride in it," Pough said.
Starting this Saturday against Howard, Pough will always have an extra incentive to see the Bulldogs perform well at Oliver C. Dawson Stadium. The S.C. State Board of Trustees voted unanimously at a special called meeting Thursday to name the football field in Oliver C. Dawson Stadium after Jeffries.
"It means a great deal," Jeffries said. "For all the time I spent on the field, we've had great victories. It makes you feel good to have something named after you. I'll call it my field from now on."
The winningest head coach in school history, the Union native spent 19 seasons at his alma mater. He led the Bulldogs to five Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference titles, two Black College Football national championships and sent numerous players to the NFL, including Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson and four-time Super Bowl champion safety Donnie Shell.
"He's pretty much been an icon at home and abroad and beyond," S.C. State Athletics Director Charlene Johnson said. "It's a very fitting honor."
"This (naming the field) just reflects the legacy and the work that Coach Jeffries has done for the university - the number of NFL players that he coached," board chairman Jonathan Pinson said.
Between Jeffries' two stints at S.C. State, he became the first black head football coach of a Division I program at Wichita State and also spent five years at Howard, where he led the Bison to the 1987 MEAC title.
Since Jeffries' retirement in 2001, he has continued to served as a fundraiser for the university and has acted as a radio analyst for Bulldogs football, executive director of the Capital City Classic football game, master of ceremonies for Orangeburg's Touchdown Club. This past year, Jeffries was named head football coach emeritus at S.C. State and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.
During halftime of Saturday's game between S.C. State and Howard, the National Football Foundation (NFF) & College Hall of Fame will jointly honor Jeffries with an NFF Hall of Fame On-Campus Salute as part of Willie Jeffries Day in Orangeburg. Following the game, a special ceremony in Jeffries' honor will take place at 5:30 p.m. at the Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center.
"He's definitely a guy who's well-deserving of the honor," said O-W head football coach Tommy Brown, who played for Jeffries in the 1970s. "He's been truly blessed and he's been a blessing for the game of football. I was very thankful to play for a man who's had such an impact on college football."
Discussions about naming the field after Jeffries go back to the late 1990s when the board initially discussed a deal with a group that promised a "sizable" donation for naming rights. The deal never materialized and the issue remained dormant until it was revived by school administrators.
"It was agreed and approved that we would name the field after Willie Jeffries regardless," Johnson said.
As part of the approval vote, it was also stipulated the administration find a way to raise $250,000 the university had expected to make in naming rights for the football field.
Trustee Maurice Washington said he agreed Jeffries was worthy of the recognition but questioned whether the board should name the field without raising funds associated with the naming rights policy. He noted that Vice President Anthony Holloman told the board in September that the naming rights might easily be worth $250,000.
"Has the bottom fallen out?" Washington asked. "What I would want to know is we have a chance to bring in some badly needed revenue to offset some of our budget shortfalls - whether that's a possibility still."
Pinson reported that Jeffries has been and still is a strong fundraiser for the university.
"He continues to help raise funds ... he has a lot of corporate supporters," Pinson said. "I think that the gesture we're making this morning will become a broader impact to some of the supporters of Coach Jeffries and to our athletic program."
Pinson noted that there was no guarantee that anyone was willing to pay $250,000 for naming rights.
Jeffries has a strong reputation across the state, and his contributions will be worth much more than the $250,000 the board hoped to raise on naming the football field, Pinson said.
"If we give him the honor he deserves, I think the return will be much greater," Pinson said.
Washington said he agreed with naming the field after Jeffries, but he said the board has the responsibility of following a policy that has been approved - that of putting a price on naming rights.
Give Jeffries the recognition he deserves, Washington said.
"But should we not ... tack some form of accountability to the measure? If the administration is going to bring such a measure to us, they should at least bring a plan of action to raise the value that we have attached," Washington said.
After discussion, the board agreed that the administration should find a way to raise the funds lost in naming the field.
"You always want to play well in front of your old coach," Pough said. "So now the field is named after him, I guess ... whether he's there or somewhere out of town, we will be always be playing in front of him."
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