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Transition: WSSU Sees Positives after Tough Year
Winston-Salem State’s roller-coaster ride of a season ended Saturday in a 17-14 loss to Norfolk State.
It was one of the most trying seasons for Coach Kermit Blount among his 16 at his alma mater. The young Rams struggled to establish consistency, but thanks to a strong defense were never far from competing in every game.
They finished at 3-8, the worst record in Blount’s tenure at WSSU, and it was also the worst since 1982, when the Rams went 3-7.
From losing their offensive coordinator, Nick Calcutta, after two games to losing as many as 14 starters throughout the year to various injuries, the Rams managed to make it through another season of transition to Division I.
At one point the Rams were 1-6 and Chico Caldwell, the athletics director, heard complaints from fans about Blount’s job status. Caldwell, who has been at WSSU since 2000, said that the job that Blount did this season is the best he has seen.
“Since I’ve been here I think with the adversity and injuries and everything else, it’s Coach Blount’s best effort,” Caldwell said. “I know how fans are, they want to always fire the coach, but they don’t see what I see on the inside of the program and how he kept these guys focused even though they were losing.”
Just when it looked as if the Rams might stumble through a one-win season, they rallied to beat Hampton and Delaware State on the road. They took a step back in a loss at N.C. Central, but nearly pulled off another big win on Saturday.
Sometime this week Caldwell will meet with Blount like he normally does after every season, but most of the discussions will be about the extension of Blount’s contract. (Once they agree, the board of trustees at WSSU has to approve the extension.)
Blount makes around $105,000 a year and his contract expires after next season, according to Caldwell.
“I hope I never have to worry about hiring a football coach,” Caldwell said. “We want him to stay here. He’s got the graduation rate up to about 56 percent, he’s recruiting character kids and he’s got a bunch of good, young assistants who work hard.”
Blount was caught off-guard when told about the high praise from Caldwell.
“I think what (Caldwell) is referring to is being able to keep the kids together,” Blount said. “As a football coach that’s the biggest part of going through a season like this. You have so many kids to keep together, but I attribute that to my coaching staff and being able to keep them all together and committed to this thing even when we were 1-6.”
Caldwell went on to say that Mike Ketchum, the defensive coordinator, has also done an outstanding job. The Rams’ defense, which losses two starters in cornerbacks Jamaine Mack and David Irizarry, was a strength this season.
One of the main offseason priorities for Blount is to hire an offensive coordinator. He took over those duties after Calcutta was fired.
Blount became the all-time wins leader in school history when he picked up his 90th career victory against Delaware State to pass Bill Hayes, who is the athletics director at Florida A&M and was Blount’s coach at WSSU in the late 1970s.
Before Saturday’s game, Caldwell and chancellor Donald Reaves presented Blount the game ball from the Delaware State win that was signed by all of the players.
Keeping Blount, who is 50, might be a little more difficult than most realize. Last summer, sources said that Hayes was set to go after Blount if Joe Taylor wouldn’t have left Hampton to take the job at Florida A&M.
Blount said that money isn’t an issue with regards to signing an extension.
“I know where we are right now in the state of North Carolina and I understand where we are with the economy in this country,” Blount said. “Those are some of the things we’ll talk about, but it’s not about the money, it’s about being at a place where you feel comfortable with and being at a place you can call home.”
When the school decided to make the leap to Division I there were plenty of fans who questioned if Blount could lead them there.
“I’ve heard people make that comment,” said Blount, who has compiled a 10-15 record against MEAC opponents since the Rams left Division II. “I also heard that in my first year here I was going to last one season and be fired. But here I am 16 years later and I’m still here.
“I just never have worried about what people say on the outside because it’s easy to look at a house from the outside and not see what’s inside.”
Since leaving Division II, after the 2005 season, the Rams have beaten every MEAC school at least once except for Norfolk State and S.C. State, this year’s conference champion.
The next challenge for Blount is when the Rams officially join the MEAC for the 2011 season.
“One thing I’m looking forward to are the challenges ahead as we join the conference in a couple of years,” Blount said.
“That’s what we are building for.”
Transition: WSSU sees positives after tough year
By John Dell, The Winston Salem Jornal