June 23, 1934 – Apr 25, 2020
“A winner, a (God)fatherly and an amazing football man”
Known as “The Godfather,” Casem had an overall record of 159-93-8 at three Southwestern Athletic Conference schools, coached four national championship teams at Alcorn State and was the National Black College Coach of the Year seven times. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2003.
Casem began his college football career as a center/linebacker at Xavier before the Gold Rush dropped the sport. He finished his playing days at Northern Colorado but graduated from Xavier in 1956.
After a stint in the Army, he honed his skills as an assistant coach at Utica Junior College and Alabama State before taking over as head coach in 1963. The first season ended with a 2-8 record, but the tone for success was already seen.
The next season, Casem accepted the head coaching job and athletic director’s role at Alcorn.
Casem was quoted as saying when he took over at Alcorn, a remote outpost, even for the SWAC. “[it was] one way in, one way out, unless you know the gravel roads.”
Casem went on to lead the upstart Braves, compiling a 132-65-8 record, and later showed he was a skillful administrator as well at Alcorn and later with Southern University at Baton Rouge.
One of Casem’s career highlights with the Alcorn Braves came in 1984 in one of the greatest SWAC games ever played. He exclaimed this capped his greatest victory in a showdown against his coaching rival Archie Cooley and the highly touted tandem of quarterback Willie Totten and receiver Jerry Rice of Mississippi Valley State. The Delta Devils were averaging 59 points in its first seven games when the showdown happened.
But Casem had the perfect defensive game plan and shut down the ‘Devils, 42-28 victory.
They finished the regular season 9-0 and became the No. 1 team in Division I-AA (now FCS) – a milestone for a historically black college.
Over the years, he sent more than 60 of his Braves into NFL and CFL, including All-America defensive back Leslie Frazier, (later the defensive coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings).
As an athletic director, he became an important player in the NCAA, serving on elite committees including the Division I executive committee and football rules committee, the I-AA football committee and I-AA athletic directors committee.
His leadership and guidance help to formulate winning programs wherever he served.
He led Alcorn State to seven Southwestern Athletic Conference championships and four black college football national titles in 1968, 1969, 1974 and 1984.
Casem left Alcorn State after the 1985 season to become athletic director at Southern (1986-99), and twice took over the coaching reins when the Jaguars were floundering with 7-4 records in 1987 and 1988 and 5-6 in 1992.
He bridged the gap between head coaches Gerald Kimble and the highly successful Pete Richardson before completing his coaching ledger with a career record of 159-93-8.
Casem at the helm of the Alcorn Braves
Directing the Southern Jaguars to victory
Coaching legends: Casem, Eddie Robinson, W.C. Gordon
He grew up in Memphis and graduated from college at Xavier in New Orleans, where he had studied to become a physical therapist. But while Casem waited for a job offer, his future wife lined up a football coaching job for him at Utica Junior College, where she then worked as an assistant to the president.
“The day I took the coaching job all the hospitals started calling,” Casem said. “So later on, every time Betty Jean would complain about the coaching business and all the long hours, I’d tell you, ‘Well if it hadn’t been for you I’d be running a hospital by now.’”
He probably would have, too, because Casem was a force of nature, possessor of a magnetic personality, high intellect and a work ethic that never stopped.
Quotes and Attributes
“On the East Coast, football is a cultural experience. In the Midwest, it’s a form of cannibalism. On the West Coast, it’s a tourist attraction. And in the South, football is religion, and Saturday is the holy day.”
“To be able to command strong-willed people,” he said, “you had to be innovative, you had to demand respect by the way you acted. And you had to adjust to rapidly changing situations.”
Casem said the key to winning at the Alcorn was no different than that at Southern Cal or Notre Dame. “Hard work, discipline, integrity, fundamentals and more hard work,” Casem said. “We didn’t take any short cuts at Alcorn.”
“To me, Alcorn was the perfect place to be a football coach,” Casem said. “It was a great place to train an athlete because you didn’t have all the distractions you had other places. Our players focused on football. You had their attention.”
On His Watch (as Athletic Director)
Casem witnessed these successful athletic programs:
While he was A.D. at Alcorn in 1979, the Braves became the first historically black college to win an NIT basketball game when coach Davey Whitney’s squad beat Mississippi State 80-78.
A year later, Alcorn was the first historically black college to win an NCAA tournament game; they defeated South Alabama 70-62.
At Southern, the Jaguars became the first HBCU to win an NCAA baseball tournament game when coach Roger Cador’s team beat No. 2 Cal State Fullerton 1-0 in 1987.
In men’s basketball, coach Ben Jobe led the No. 13 seed Jaguars to a 93-78 upset of No. 4 seed Georgia Tech in the NCAA tournament, .