When I was a first line supervisor and had to train some of the staff, I often found myself saying “trust the process.” I didn’t realize then that what I was really saying is “trust me.” It was hard for them to trust because they had never experienced what I was trying to get them to do. For me, the pleasure came from watching their reaction when they did trust the process and produce the desired results.
As Milton Overton leaves the position of athletic director at Florida A&M, one of the messages he is leaving is to trust the process. Beside leaving FAMU with the means to maintain a balanced budget, Overton began the process to elevate the program, so that FAMU can one day hire head coaches to match the direction of the program, rather than seek a Moses to take us to the promised land.
Those words, “Trust the Process,” bare repeating. You see, within that quote are the means to break the downward spiral that has been the fault of every Division 1 HBCU since integration. So much has changed within the universities and our communities since integration that HBCUs in the MEAC and SWAC have struggled to maintain. We have reached a point where we elevate coaches to genius status when they maintain a winning record, though the standard for so long a time was about being champions.
From the early 1900s to the late 1970s, FAMU’s athletic program was a winner in almost every sport. FAMU was solid at recruitment, able to sign the best black athletes in the state of Florida. Imagine, the University of Florida, Florida State, University of Miami, South Florida, and University of Central Florida now sign those same athletes. At one time, there was little competition when it came to recruiting Florida and the top black athletes went mostly to FAMU. Then other great athletes, like Althea Gibson, the first black women to win Wimbledon, came from other states too. FAMU had what it needed to attract the best athletes and the best coaches, and the other resources needed to win. Too, FAMU had a ready-made fan base that didn’t have many other choices.
Fast forward to the 1980s and 1990s and you will see an athletic department that had not changed much. Sure, as time went on the head coaches were paid a little more money and the old guard grumbled because they felt it shouldn’t take that much to win. When Overton arrived at FAMU, the athletic department was still structured much like it had been in the 1970s and 1980s. Yet, we had dreams of becoming a top Division 1 FBS school. For those who don’t know, that means we wanted to compete with schools like Notre Dame and Alabama. To this day, we still do.
There is nothing wrong with the desire to compete at the highest level, but you can’t do it on a dime and you can’t do it with a poor infrastructure. The athletic department must have all the tools to win: Fine head coaches and strong assistants; real marketing and a marketing strategy; units within the department that support the end game—to bring in money, lots of it; a recruitment budget for each athletic program; up-to-date facilities; and even an up-to-date mindset.
The infrastructure can be simple, or it can be massive. It can be the internet, or it can be what we used to call the athletic field house. For example, in this day of social media dominance, today’s athlete is raised with a cell phone in hand and diverse types of social media, the information hub, at their disposal. Just like employers who research applicants over the internet, high school talent research college programs the same way. The high school students and their parents look to the internet to see what colleges have to offer. A fresh, strong, and engaging internet presence is an essential means of attracting millennials; recruits and fans alike.
Just as it was with Moses in the Bible, FAMU has been in the wilderness for a long time. Since Jake Gaither, it has not been able to sustain a winning program in football or basketball, where the head coach’s position has been a revolving door. Even the Rudy Hubbard and Billy Joe eras were not sustainable because some part of the infrastructure failed.
With a sufficient infrastructure you have the means to recruit and compete. At that stage hiring a coach is about finding the right match for your program. Then and only then can you truly say that the coach has no excuse. It’s win or go home. There is not a HBCU at the Division 1 level that has reached that point yet.
FAMU may be on its way to building a program that is sustainable. Certainly, Overton’s vision is to establish such a program and he has been willing to put himself out there to make it happen. Surely, it has been stressful to set a vision, sell it over and over again, and push it forward while dragging people behind im. Yet, with an understanding for what it takes, and a vision for getting there, he really is trying to tell us to TRUST THE PROCESS.