NCCU’s football coach has 17 reasons to sleep better at night

NCCU's head coach Jerry Mack, center, watches his team play during a 2015 game at O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium.
NCCU's head coach Jerry Mack, center, watches his team play during a 2015 game at O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium.

Coaching turnover on college staffs is expected, especially on successful teams. Assistant coaches leave to become head coaches or coordinators. Staffers search for greener pastures or bigger paychecks.

When a team wins, and wins a lot, other schools come calling, wanting some of the ideas and philosophies that make programs successful. That makes what happened at North Carolina Central even more impressive.

The Eagles, fresh off winning a share of the MEAC title for the third year in a row and their first outright league championship, will open camp next month with all 17 staff members from last season intact. Every assistant, every coordinator, even the strength staff, are all back from the 2016 season. That’s a first for head coach Jerry Mack, who took over in 2014 and has had to replace at least one staff member each offseason. But not this time. Mack devoted that energy to improving his team and chasing recruits. Not having to worry about who will be coaching those recruits makes a huge difference.

“It’s such a relief,” Mack said. “You always have guys come to you, they have interview opportunities or other people are going to try and steal them away. One of the things I like about our staff right now is everybody is very happy, they are content with their (position) rooms. They are content with where we are as a program and the direction we are heading more than anything.”

The Eagles return 13 starters from last year, and every coach who led those starters to a perfect 8-0 record in MEAC play. That means the players are familiar with their leaders and, most importantly, all parties involved know what it takes to win. Having each coach return is no different than having a player in the program who has lettered for a few years. The coaches know the dynamics and everyone on the staff is on the same page. Mack said each year they start from the ground up, but with the entire staff returning, the transition is a lot easier.

It also plays a big part on gameday, something that has nothing to do with the X’s and O’s.

“Guys are going to play harder for guys they trust,” Mack said. “They know they’ve been with them for (certain) amount of years and that’s where we are as a program.”

Bringing in a coach in the winter or spring, which Mack did last season with wide receivers coach Jarmaine Gales and special teams coordinator Chris Schultz, means a period of adjustment. They have to sit them down and explain the way business is done. Gales and Schultz, Mack said, were quality coaches, and they quickly adapted to the program.

Not only does it help that this crew is intact, an even bigger factor is they all get along well, which the players see.

“Kids sense when coaches don’t vibe with one another, when coaches are not on the same page and that’s when a lot of confusion comes,” Mack said. “I think that’s when a lot of internal problems come within organizations and within teams. The people that work with one another either don’t like one another or don’t respect one another. More than anything we have a group of coaches that respect one another, but I think they also like one another. They hang out with their families outside of work and it’s just a tight bond.”

Now having guys in the program who have been around two or three years, Mack has to micromanage less. He knows his staff will be efficient in their coaching and how they influence the players off the field. The staff knows how to take care of all the little things, which helps Mack sleep better at night. It’s not lost on the 36-year-old coach how big a deal it is that his entire staff is returning full strength. He realizes just how rare a feat that is.

“It’s tough, just because when are in a situation where we have success,” Mack said. “People want to copy cat or be around people and find out how they have done that and in such a short amount of time. It’s tough because opportunities arrive every year, sometimes every month. That’s not a norm to keep an entire staff in tact from year to year.”

Jonas Pope IV: 919-419-7001, @JEPopeIV