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Prairie View coach deserves award
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - Henry Frazier III had to change much more than addresses when he accepted the job as head coach at Prairie View A&M six years ago.
It was not just a culture of losing that was firmly entrenched into the program, located in the town of Prairie View, Texas near Houston. He had big things and little things to change.
The obvious challenge was turning around a program known for losing football games. From 1988-98, the Panthers lost 80 straight games, almost double the 44 games Columbia lost from 1983-88. During that stretch, the program was giving out “about 14 scholarships” that it had to spread around the entire team.
“It wasn’t easy to do what we did,” Frazier said. “Eighty games - that’s a lot of losing. We’re just 10 years removed from that and here we are the champions of the conference with back-to-back 9-1 seasons. I think that’s the greatest story in college football this year.”
Frazier may be right. His Panthers bussed 12 hours to beat Alabama A&M in Birmingham 30-24 to win the SWAC championship. It’s the Panthers’ second straight league championship.
It also earned Frazier the Eddie Robinson Award, giving by The Sports Network to the Football Championship Subdivision’s Coach of the Year. He edged Stephen A. Austin coach J.C. Harper by two points, the closest balloting in the award’s history.
The Panthers also finished 15th in the final Sports Network poll, a school record. Last year, the Panthers were ranked 25th in the final poll, the first time they had even been ranked since the Division I-AA/FCS division was created.
In 2008, Prairie View beat Grambling and Southern in the same season for the first time in 35 years, and won its first league championship since 1964, back when the Panthers were a small college powerhouse.
Prairie View also put together three winning seasons under Frazier for the first time since legendary coach W.J. Nicks coached the Panthers to nine straight winning seasons from 1957-64.
But the program landed on hard times since then. Much of the problem was financial, according to Frazier. Once the leadership at the university, which put money into the program was in place, things started to change.
“They had about 14 scholarships,” Frazier said of the hard times. “They had to mix them up among the players. That attributed to a lot of the losing. You’ve not going to win when you’re playing against a team that’s playing with 63.”
Frazier said Prairie View is full funded with a coaching staff that just coaches football and is not required to teach classes. He even used the $250,000 earned from the Panthers’ bus trip to Birmingham (instead of using it to fly) to allow players to attend summer school.
It’s those sacrifices that have allow the Panthers to change a culture of losing into a program that can compete at the FCS level.
“We have everything we need to be successfully compete with the teams in our conference,” Frazier said.
Taking over the program in 2004 after a successful stint at Division II Bowie State, Frazier has built a 36-27 record at Prairie View. The team went 3-8 his first year and improved to 5-6 his second.
The Panthers slipped to 3-7 during Frazier’s third season, but improved to 7-3 his fourth, which was 2007. The 2008 season was a breakout season as the Panthers went 9-1 and, combined with their 2009 season, is 25-5 their last three seasons.
“Once you finance a program and get competent people in there, then you’ve got a shot,” Frazier said. “It levels the playing field.”
Frazier heard the warnings about going to a program that snapped an 80-game losing streak with a win over Langston State, a NAIA program from Oklahoma, 14-12. Prairie View finished 2-9 that season.
Frazier left a Bowie State program that was returning 17 starters. Instead of walking into what many though was a horrible job to have, Frazier saw an opportunity to make history by rebuilding the program.
“Everyone told me when I took the job that you’re going to the graveyard of coaching,” Frazier said. “I thought it was the greatest opportunity of college football. I really did. Everybody talked about the 80 games. Now, for us to go in there and win, can you imagine what people are going to talk about?”
“It never crossed my mind that we were not going to be successful,” he added.