Can Prairie View A&M University Restore Its Football Program Back To The Glory Years?

By Joe Booker
Updated: April 13, 2006

HOUSTON — Can Prairie View A&M University restore its football program back to its once proud glory years? This is the question that I am often asked by alumni and friends of Prairie View.

Ken Houston

PVU enjoyed great success in the 50s and 60s

The 50s and 60s were the glory years for Prairie View football. The late Coach Jimmy Stevens started the Panthers football dynasty back in the early 50s when he signed such premier high school stars Charlie “Choo Choo” Brackins, Elijah Childers, Charles Wright, Ray Don Dillion , John Payton, Herron Tibbs, Harry Wright, and Johnny Price – just to name a few. Coach W.J. Nicks followed Taylor and took the Panthers to another level. Taylor won one national title and Nicks won five.

During the mid and late fifties, Nicks recruited players like Calvin Scott, James Ricketts, Gentris Hornsby, John Farrington, Jim Hunt, Clem Daniels, William Stell, Rufus Granderson, Freddie James, Archie Seals, Ezell Seals, Charlie Warner, Tommy Williams, Hensley Sapenter, James White, Arthur Sewell, Charles Broussard, Carl Jackson, Joel Smith, Frank McKee, Arthur Gillum, David Webster, Leon Brooks and Charlie Malone. That group won the national title in 1958.

After losing such stars as All-Americans Hornsby, Scott, Seals and Jim Hunt, Nicks recruited another star-Spangler class such as Jim Kearney, Otis Taylor, Eddie Hughes, Seth Cartwright, Richard Seals, George Dearborne, Ken Houston, Allen Aldridge, Alvin Reed, Thurman Thomas Sr, and Ray Scott. That group won the national title in 1963 and 1964.

Nicks retired at the end of the 1965 season and the Panthers have not been a threat toward a title since. The end of the Nicks era ended the glory years and the winning years.

Clem Daniels

Lost the edge in recruiting and hiring the best coaches

When Nicks retired Prairie View lost its recruiting edge. The name “Billy Nicks” recruited outstanding players to Prairie View. He got jobs for his former players and they showed their loyalty by sending their top players to him. Prairie View – even before Nicks – prided itself in hiring the best coaches. After Nicks retired, they lost that edge and never regained it. He got me my first coaching job.

Integration played a part in Prairie View’s downfall

The late 60s and early 70s brought about integration of schools. When schools like Texas, SMU, Texas A&M, Sam Houston State and Stephen F.Austin began to recruit outstanding black football players, Prairie View did not have a name like Nicks to compete, which helped to lead to its downfall.

Some alumni felt Prairie View has used that (integration) as a crutch for their lack of recruiting outstanding players. Grambling and Southern were also hurt by integration, but have not used it as a crutch. Both schools have recruited Texas players that Prairie View wanted.

“I feel that Coach Nicks – because of his personality and organizational skills – would be able to recruit and win today,” said NFL Hall of Fame player Ken Houston, who played for Nicks.

Enoch Morgan feels PVU should compete with other Div. 1-AA Schools

Enoch Morgan, a former star running back from Bay City, was a starting running back at Prairie View during the late 60s and early 70s. He turned down a scholarship from Stephen F. Austin to attend Prairie View. He feels that Prairie View should compete against other 1-AA schools like Stephen F. Austin and Sam Houston State for talent.

“I can understand that Prairie View cannot compete with such schools like Texas and Texas A&M for talent, but they should be able to compete against other 1-AA schools like Sam Houston State,” said Morgan. “I think they should concentrate on players from Texas and not players from out-of-state,” said Morgan.

Not hiring former Lufkin coach Elmer Redd was a big mistake

Coach Nicks told me that Prairie View made a big mistake by not hiring Elmer Redd from Lufkin Dunbar High School. “I tried to get them to hire Redd, but the money they offered him was less than what he was making,” said Nicks. Nicks also felt that one of the reasons for Prairie View’s failure was the lack of hiring coaches who had won championships. Nicks had won two national titles at Morris Brown when he was hired by Prairie View.

Redd was later hired by former UH coach Bill Yoeman. Redd helped to invent the veer offense that helped turn UH into one of the top football programs in the country.

The Billy Nicks file

Won seven National titles and 12 conference titles

Voted into the College Football Coaches Hall of Fame

— Voted into the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame

Voted into the NAIA Hall of Fame

Voted into the Morris Brown Hall of Fame

Voted into the Prairie View Sports Hall of Fame

— Voted into the Texas Black Sports Hall of Fame

Voted into the Prairie View Interscholastic League Coaches Hall of Fame

All-American end at Morris Brown College

Never finished below second in his coaching career

Ended his career with a winning record against every college he coached against

— Prairie View named its Athletics Complex in his name

Won more national titles than any college coach in the state of Texas

NOTE: The only Hall of Fame that has refused to recognize his outstanding achievements is the Texas Sports Hall of Fame.