MAXWELL:  A coach’s inspiring effort

11/29/1994 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Sports always serve as a convenient source of heroic people. Last Saturday’s Florida Classic at Tampa Stadium was no exception. This event is traditionally the last regular-season football game for historically black Bethune-Cookman College and Florida A&M University, and this year it produced a bona fide hero in the person of Jack “Cy” McClairen, Bethune’s head coach since January.

But how can the 63-year-old McClairen be a hero when his Wildcats had just five victories and six losses? The heroic part _ not just the fact that his team upset heavily favored FAMU 27-24 _ comes when you consider that he inherited a program that was in chaos and near collapse. The team’s previous coach, Sylvester Collins, had been fired just as the recruiting season was gearing up. The board of trustees, seeking ways to save money, was thinking of getting rid of football. But the board asked McClairen for advice. The upshot was that McClairen, who was in semi-retirement as a fund-raiser after having coached the Wildcats from 1961 to 1972, became the head man again. He also coached basketball and other sports at B-CC for 37 years.

With only 12 players, all seniors, on the team, McClairen and two assistants traveled the state, made telephone calls and wrote letters to recruit 23 new players. After taking the required battery of standardized tests and undergoing the other evaluations for scholarships, 21 of the 23 recruits were eligible.

No one, except McClairen, expected the team to win a single game. After all, discipline did not exist, few of the players were considered good and three assistants who did not have contracts resigned.

“I came in with a new concept,” McClairen said. “I demanded discipline and hard work. Everyone had to be a gentleman. Those who weren’t willing to work hard and be gentlemen couldn’t play.”

McClairen’s stern, grandfatherly style inspired the players to perform beyond all expectations _ some beyond their abilities. Even Sports Illustrated took note of McClairen’s success in an October issue. Before the season started, McClairen hinted that he would coach for one year. On Monday, asked if he would return for a second season, he said: “I’ll be back. I’m not going to quit after winning the biggest game in Bethune-Cookman’s history. Now I’ve got a bigger mission: making sure all of my players graduate with college degrees.”

Bill Maxwell is a columnist and editorial writer for the Times.

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