Willie Jeffries (1937- )

Willie Jeffries
© Van Hope, Fair use image

Willie Jeffries is a former American football player and coach. Jeffries served as the head football coach at South Carolina State University for nineteen seasons in two stints (1973–1978, 1989–2001), five seasons at Wichita State University (1973–1983), and five seasons at Howard University (1984–1988). Jeffries was the first African American coach of a NCAA Division I-A football program at a predominantly white college when he coached at Wichita State.

Jeffries was born on January 4, 1937, in Union, South Carolina, to Irene and John Jeffries, a house painter. He started his coaching career as assistant coach in 1960 at Barr Street High School in Lancaster, South Carolina. From 1968 to 1971, Jeffries was a defensive line coach for the North Carolina A&T Aggies football team. In 1972 he became an assistant coach at the University of Pittsburgh.

The first of Jeffries’s stints with the South Carolina State Bulldogs Football team came in 1973 when he was named head coach. During his time there, he won his first two Black College National Championships (1976 and 1977) and four Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Championships.

In 1979 Jeffries became head coach at Wichita State which made him the first African American head coach of a Division I-A program at a predominantly white school. Jeffries held that position for five seasons from 1979 until 1984. His 1982 team’s record of 8–3 proved to be the last winning season in Wichita State history as the program was discontinued after the 1986 season.  Jeffries’s overall coaching record at Wichita State was 21-32-2, which ranked him third at Wichita State in terms of total victories. During his time in Wichita State, however, his team was censured by the NCAA for repeated rules violations that included improper recruitment and unethical conduct by the coaching staff. That censure led to the team being placed on probation for the 1983 and 1984 seasons. The team was barred from appearing on television, docked five scholarships per season, and banned from postseason play. Some of the players that Jeffries coached while at Wichita State went on to play in the National Football League including Anthony Jones, Jumpy Geathers, and Prince McJunkins.

In 1984 Jeffries became the head coach of the Howard University Bison Football Team, remaining there until 1988. He led the Bison to win the MEAC in 1987. This title was forfeited, however, along with the all the victories the team had won that season because Jeffries used up to thirty ineligible players on the team. His coaching record at Howard was twenty-three wins and thirty-two losses. Some of the Howard Bison players who played under Jeffries and went on to the NFL included Jimmie Johnson, Harvey Reed, and Troy Kyles.

Jeffries left Howard in 1988 and returned to South Carolina State where he led them to win an MEAC and Black National Championship in 1994. Jeffries stepped down as head coach of the team in 2001. In 2010 he was introduced into the College Football Hall of Fame; also that same year, South Carolina State renamed the university’s football field after Willie Jeffries.