The pile of recruiting mail mounted at Micah Mays's house during
his senior year in high school. He was a fine student, a natural
leader, a proven winner and the star quarterback at South
Florida's Palm Beach Lakes High. He was in demand. His dream was
to become an NFL quarterback or, if that didn't work out, an
engineer. He talked to Baylor, Pitt and Tulane. He visited
Purdue and Georgia Tech. Finally, he made an oral commitment to
Central Florida because he felt he could become a starter there
more quickly than at the other schools. The mail from only one
school went unopened, and that was the mail from Morehouse.
Mays knew all about Morehouse, the all-male, academically elite,
historically black liberal arts school in Atlanta. His lack of
interest wasn't because the Morehouse football program is
small-time, although it is. It wasn't because the Morehouse
talent scouts didn't try to woo him, because they did. He wasn't
put off by Morehouse's scholastic demands; in fact, those rigors
appealed to Mays. His opposition to Morehouse was personal.
Micah's father, Willie, had graduated from Morehouse, and he was
absent for much of Micah's youth. In the years since then,
father and son had patched things up. Still, Micah was not about
to go to Morehouse and give everybody the impression he was
honoring his father by following in his footsteps. No way.
Then one day Doug Williams called.
Yes, that Doug Williams, the first black quarterback to play in
the Super Bowl, which he did in 1988, leading the Washington
Redskins to a 42-10 win over the Denver Broncos. You could make
the argument that no quarterback has had a better Super Bowl
performance. Williams, then 32, threw for 340 yards and four
touchdowns. He was named the game's MVP. For a brief while he
was the center of the sporting universe. Two years later, his
body ravaged, his playing career was finished.
August 24, 1997
Williams has had a half-dozen jobs since then. He was, among
other things, an assistant coach at the U.S. Naval Academy for a
season and offensive coordinator for the Scottish Claymores of
the World League for another. He worked for the state of
Louisiana, lecturing at schools about the dangers of drugs and
the pleasures of sports. Then he spent 18 months as a scout for
the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last January he signed a five-year
contract to coach Morehouse, a Division II school that competes
against other historically black institutions in the Southern
Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. As soon as he got the job,
he began working the phones. One of his first calls was to Mays:
"Micah, this is Doug Williams, the new coach at Morehouse."
Football at Morehouse is a modest business. The Maroon Tigers'
stadium holds only 10,000. Last season, under coach Mo Hunt,
Morehouse had a 2-9 record, and Hunt resigned. The Maroon
Tigers' record over the past decade is 39-61-2. They haven't had
a winning season since going 6-5 in 1992. In trying to persuade
top players to go to Morehouse, a recruiter can't sell the
big-time facilities, or the glamorous schedule, or the Maroon
Tigers' history of success. So he sells something else.
Mays listened to Williams's resonant bass voice and rural
Louisiana accent. "Micah, I know a lot of schools are interested
in you, and I know you've made a verbal commitment to Central
Florida, and I respect that," Williams said. "But I want you to
know that if you're unsure at all of where you want to go, we'd
love to have you. If there's anything I can ever do to persuade
you to come to Morehouse, any question I can answer for you,
just call me and let me know, because I've been where you are
now, and maybe I can help you out." Williams held his breath.
You can't turn around a football program without a good
quarterback. If anybody knew that, Williams did.
"If you're really serious," Mays said, "come down and see me."
Williams hung up the phone and told his assistant coaches he was
going to West Palm Beach. Not so fast, they told him. First, he
needed to fill out a requisition form, in triplicate. Then the
requisition would have to be approved by the school's business
manager. Nothing happens quickly. "What you want, you have to
apply for," Williams was told. "Everything here is by
requisition." Football at Morehouse, the college that educated
Martin Luther King, Vernon Jordan, Spike Lee, Edwin Moses and
innumerable other prominent men, is an afterthought. Williams
would like to change that. He says the Ivy League treats sports
seriously but with a sense of balance. That's his model.
In all of football there are two jobs Williams would like more
than the Morehouse job, and one of them he has already had.
Williams would love to coach again at his old school,
Chaneyville (now Northeast) High, in Zachary, La., the town of
10,380 where he grew up, where he owns a home, where his mother,
Laura, his four brothers, his two sisters and other relatives
live, where his father, Robert Sr., is buried. Williams was back
home coaching football for the 1993 season, and he reveled in
it, leading Northeast High to a 13-1 record. But the salary was
$23,000 a year for coaching and teaching five periods of gym a
day. When the Naval Academy called, Williams figured it was a
promotion. Given the chance, he doubts he'd make the move again.
The other coaching job Williams covets is at Grambling, which
has produced more than 100 NFL players. Williams graduated from
Grambling in 1977 and has maintained close ties to the school
and to its living icon, Eddie Robinson, who has won more games,
405, than any other college coach. Robinson, 78, will retire at
the end of this season, and Grambling alumni often talk about
Williams as a possible successor. Williams says coaching the
Tigers would be a dream. But Grambling does not offer coaches
multiyear contracts, and Williams says he cannot afford to work
without one. Moreover, he's contractually committed to Morehouse
The assumption is that if you've had a career in the NFL, you're
set for life financially, but Williams says that's not
necessarily so. Athletes' salaries seem extraordinary to the
ordinary worker. But the money goes, says Williams, who made
more than $1 million in two of his 11 pro seasons--nine in the
NFL and two in the USFL. There's the agent, the taxman, gifts
for family members, expensive vehicles, houses in two places,
and before you know it, you're not as rich as everyone thinks
you should be. Williams has children to educate. He had a
daughter, Ashley, now 14, with his first wife, Janice, who died
from a brain tumor in 1983. (Ashley lives in Zachary with
Laura.) His second marriage, to Lisa Robinson, ended in an
acrimonious and expensive divorce; their son, Adrian, who is
eight, lives with Robinson in Atlanta. Williams and his current
wife, LaTaunya, a nursing student, have a son, D.J., who is
nearly five, and a daughter, Jasmine, who is three. They live in
suburban Atlanta. "Someday she'll work, but I'm the breadwinner
for now," Williams says. "We ain't rich and we ain't poor, but
I've got to work."
He means that in every sense. Rich or poor, he'd still want to
coach. Football fascinates him, and he knows of nothing more
satisfying than shaping the lives of young players. He's
particularly happy to be at a school devoted to educating black
men. He remembers when the Klan burned crosses almost every
Friday night in Zachary. He remembers an annual warning to stay
away from Highway 67, Zachary's main road, when the traffic for
the Ole Miss-LSU game was coming through town. There was always
the fear that a drunken redneck might throw a whiskey bottle at
a black kid standing by the side of the road. Education,
Williams believes, is the best defense against racism. Black
colleges, he says, create a sense of worthiness in a black
student in a way integrated schools cannot. When he goes on a
recruiting call for Morehouse, the sell comes naturally to him.
The day after his telephone conversation with Mays, Williams
found himself walking down the corridors of Palm Beach Lakes
High. (Nobody in the history of Morehouse had had a requisition
approved more quickly.) Mays was impressed. Williams visited
Mays's home and talked to him quarterback-to-quarterback,
man-to-man. "Coach, you have to stay tonight and watch my
girlfriend play basketball," Mays said to Williams.
Williams's mind raced. He hadn't put in for an overnight stay on
his requisition. He had planned to fly back to Atlanta that
night. Would the expenditure be approved? Would he be reprimanded?
"Watch your girl play hoops? Love to, man."
Before they left for the game in separate cars, Micah Mays
turned to Doug Williams--yes, that Doug Williams--and said, "I'm
coming to Morehouse."
Williams smiled. The old quarterback had found a new one. It was