Joe ‘Anxious’ To Be Enshrined

By Jeff Shain
Updated: July 21, 2007

Former FAMU coach Billy Joe, shown in 2004, will become the ninth black-college coach enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Former FAMU coach Billy Joe, shown in 2004, will become the ninth black-college coach enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame.

MIAMI — Like any new visitor to the College Football Hall of Fame, Billy Joe has a list of plaques he intends to seek out in the hall where the game’s legends are immortalized.

Men such as Skip McCain. John Merritt. Earl Banks. Ace Mumford. And, of course, Eddie Robinson and Jake Gaither. Football’s black-college coaching pioneers. ”Some of those guys, I just want to see what they looked like,” Joe explained.

The former Florida A&M coach has a keen interest these days in the company he keeps. He joined their fraternity Saturday night, becoming the ninth black-college coach enshrined in the hall.

”I’m anxious now to get back there,” said Joe, named last May to join the 20-man enshrinement class set to be honored on the hall’s grounds in South Bend, Ind.

His addition only enriched the Florida flavor of the evening, joining four other enshrinees who made their names in the state: Miami safety Bennie Blades, Florida running back Emmitt Smith, Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward and FSU coach Bobby Bowden.

”I didn’t really anticipate this happening so soon,” Joe said. “I knew [the possibility] was out there, but I never gave a lot of thought about being in there.”

Joe arrives trailing only Robinson in black-college wins, amassing 237 at Cheyney (Pa.) State, Central State of Ohio and FAMU. His teams captured two black national championships, including 1998 at FAMU, and five Rattlers were named black colleges’ Player of the Year.


”He is certainly one of the true professionals of this profession,” said Joe Taylor, coach at MEAC rival Hampton. “His teams were proficient and played with high energy. If you weren’t prepared, you didn’t have a chance.”

Joe’s high-octane ”Gulf Coast” offense gobbled up yards and points in record fashion, giving defensive coordinators ulcers while Joe sat up in the press box and watched the mayhem unfold.

From 1996 to 2002, FAMU stood among Division I-AA’s top 20 passing offenses every year but one. The Rattlers also strung together six consecutive playoff appearances during that stretch.

In 1998, FAMU led the division with 535.7 yards of total offense, 400.6 yards passing and a 49.6 scoring average. ”It was really a two-minute speed drill that we used for 60 minutes,” Joe said.

Jacquay Nunnally (Miami Edison) went on to set the NCAA mark with 317 career receptions, breaking Jerry Rice’s record. South Florida also provided most of the key pieces in those years.

FAMU’s four other top receivers in 1998-99 also came from Miami — Cainon Lamb (Norland), Tariq Qaiyim (Southridge), Cedric Mitchell (Central) and Demetris Bendross (Coral Gables).

Their quarterback was Pat Bonner (Fort Lauderdale Boyd Anderson).

”Most of my great athletes in the state came from that Miami area,” Joe said.

The ”Gulf Coast” attack has its roots in Joe’s two seasons (1979-80) as a Philadelphia Eagles assistant. Coach Dick Vermeil’s staff included a quarterbacks coach named Sid Gillman — whose San Diego Chargers lit up scoreboards in the 1960s and ’70s.

Joe took the system to Central State (Ohio), where he won 120 games in 13 seasons. But the Gulf Coast version “didn’t really come to true fruition until I arrived here in Tallahassee.”


Taking advantage of the state’s penchant for turning out speedy ballhandlers, Joe spread the field even more. The Rattlers also never huddled, leaving the play-calling in the hands of his quarterbacks.

”When folks see Peyton Manning call three or four plays and not huddling up, [fans] get excited about that,” Joe said. “We’d been doing that since the mid-90s.”

Joe’s coaching perch was in the press box, getting on the phone with his quarterbacks between series. But he admits he often was no better than a fan in knowing what play might be called next.

”You just have to have faith and confidence that your quarterback is going to do the right thing,” he said.