Football Coach Joe Fired As FAMU Begins Shake-Up

By Doug Carlson
Updated: June 15, 2005

Billy Joe

Billy Joe

TALLAHASSEE – Citing the need to protect “institutional integrity,” Florida A&M University on Tuesday fired popular and successful football coach Billy Joe, along with two of his assistants.

Five other assistants, including Joe’s brother, resigned abruptly and without explanation in February at a time when they were being questioned by the NCAA.

More coaches in other sports at FAMU also could be on the way out, according to interim athletic director E. Newton Jackson, who said “others will be affected.”

FAMU has been under an official NCAA investigation for rules violations throughout the athletic program since June 3, 2004. But the NCAA has been looking into problems within the program dating to August 2002, according to documents obtained three weeks ago by The Tampa Tribune.

The NCAA began scrutinizing the Rattlers football program in 2002, and in 2003 sent two investigators to campus at the start of preseason practice to perform an eligibility audit of the entire 85-man roster.

Documents obtained by the Tribune show that Joe and several of his former or current assistants were questioned by the NCAA at least two times recently. Though none of the documents implicates Joe directly, Jackson said, “that will be a decision the [NCAA] Committee on Infractions will make when they meet.”

Offensive line coach Gregory Black and running backs coach Mario Allen, a former Rattlers quarterback, were the other coaches dismissed Tuesday. Both have been questioned by the NCAA within the past three months, records show.

Under pressure from the NCAA and the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, FAMU was forced to hire an independent auditor, whose report led to the discovery of 196 NCAA rules violations, most of which pertain to the use of academically ineligible athletes.

Jackson, who succeeded former interim AD Joseph Ramsey II in May, said he made the decision to fire Joe in agreement with interim university president Castell Bryant.

Jackson said in addition to the eligibility issues, recruiting violations within the football program led to the decision. Records show that the NCAA, in particular, has been interested in a December trip four FAMU assistants made to a junior college all-star game in Mississippi.

All four were among the five who resigned in February. In addition, Ramsey accused Jimmy Joe, Billy Joe’s brother, of unethical conduct and of obstructing the NCAA investigation weeks before Jimmy Joe’s surprise resignation.

Billy Joe was not at his office Tuesday afternoon and was unavailable for comment. He did not return a message left on his cell phone.

“We’re completely stunned by this,” said Demetrius Burkes, a junior defensive end from Miami. “We had absolutely no idea anything like this was coming. We all love Coach Joe and thought he would be here with us this season.”

Joe earns $135,000 a year. But a FAMU spokesman told the Tribune three weeks ago, in response to questions about Joe’s future and that of assistants being questioned by the NCAA, that any coach found in violation of NCAA rules is subject to immediate termination without compensation.

“At this point, we’re just severing all ties,” Jackson said when asked if FAMU will honor any of the terms of Joe’s contract, which expires after the 2006 season.

That leaves the Rattlers, who play in Tampa against the University of South Florida on Sept. 10, without a head coach less than two months before the start of practice.

“Effective [today] we will have a nationwide search for a new head coach,” Jackson said, adding that he is confident the school will have numerous attractive candidates despite the timing and the pending NCAA decision.

Joe had been the winningest active coach in Division I-AA with 247 wins. He spent 11 seasons at FAMU, compiling an 86-46 record and leading the Rattlers to the semifinals of the 1999 I-AA playoffs. Youngstown State, led by current Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, rallied late in the fourth quarter for a 27-24 victory.