New NCCU football coach Jerry Mack lays down the law
Spring ball at N.C. Central looked like fall ball.
NCCU coach Jerry Mack, hired in December, set the tone at the beginning of Thursday’s practice at midfield of O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium by singling out two players at a time to knock the daylights out of each other.
“You can see the energy it generates,” Mack said. “That sets the tone to let guys know you have to show up and compete today.”
A year ago, Mack was coaching wide receivers at South Alabama. This is his debut as a head coach, putting him ultimately in charge of both sides of the ball and the special teams in between.
Mack said he’s game, and he’s looking for some players to roll with him.
There’s been some installation of the fast-paced offense NCCU will run this season, and the defense is coming along, but just establishing good habits is a big part of the deal right now, Mack said.
“The devil’s in the details,” Mack said. “If we call a 3 o’clock meeting, the doors are locked at 3 o’clock.”
Mack said he was told during the interview process that NCCU football needed a different mindset.
“We have to create a mentality around here,” Mack said.
NCCU quarterback Malcolm Bell said things have been different since Mack showed up with his new staff.
“They pay attention to the little details of everything, and that’s a real big thing that we didn’t do last year,” Bell said.
NCCU cornerbacks coach Andre George said he’s been though seven NCCU coaching regimes between both playing and coaching for the Eagles.
Mack is bringing some structure to the team that was lacking last season, George said.
“We had our moments where we could have improved on our discipline,” George said.
Mack replaced interim head coach Dwayne Foster, who was appointed after Henry Frazier III was fired for what NCCU athletics director Ingrid Wicker-McCree described as personal problems that had become too distracting.
George wasn’t taking any shots at Foster or Frazier, explaining that the blame was on all of NCCU’s coaches for allowing success to get them away from holding players accountable for how they were performing on the field.
Mack is putting his stamp on the program, George said.
“I’m sure if Bill Belichick left the Patriots right now, I’m sure the next (coach) is going to try to one-up him, and that’s Bill Belichick,” George said.
Mack said it’s not like he inherited a program that was out of control.
“We’re just going to create some more discipline,” Mack said. “Just simple things that in society our young men need.”
NCCU’s football players can’t wear hats in buildings, Mack said. No earrings on Eagles at football-related functions, he said.
“A lot times, it’s about image,” Mack said. “A lot of times, that’s what people judge you on as soon as you walk through the door.”
Bethune-Cookman football coach Brian Jenkins preaches similar sermons, and his Wildcats last season were the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference co-champs with S.C. State.
That has a nice ring to it — MEAC champs, Bell said.
NCCU fell short of that last season, finishing 5-7.
Undisciplined teams can and do win. Mack said he gets that.
But the byproduct of instilling discipline on the field is yielding quality young men away from it, Mack said.
“It’s a carryover,” Mack said.
“From what I’ve seen so far, the team has grown and is more disciplined,” NCCU defensive end Felix Small said.
When Mack, 33, was hired, he was the third-youngest active head coach in Division I football behind Davidson’s Paul Nichols and Western Michigan’s P.J. Fleck.
Quips and comments about Mack’s age are good bets for easy punch lines.
“I embrace it,” Mack said.
There are advantages for coaches who are closer in age to their players, Mack said.
“I know what they listen to. I know what, kind of, makes them tick at times,” Mack said. “But nothing can replace experience.”
Mack sure has that, Small said.
“It feels like he’s much older. He brings a lot of wisdom to the team,” Small said. “I’m ready to follow him.”
Mack was flying around at Thursday’s practice in shorts with tights underneath, and he had on sports gloves as if he were ready to run routes and catch a few balls the way he used to as a player at Arkansas State and Jackson State.
The head coach was setting the tone. NCCU’s no-huddle offense is going to have plenty of octane, Mack said.
In fact, everything at practice seems swifter, Small said.
“It’s much, much faster; way, way faster,” Small said.
Ready, set, hut-hut!
“Just ready to get out here and work,” Bell said.