Morgan State, which hasn't had a winning football season since 1979, was expected today to give the job of turning around its once-strong program to 37-year-old Ricky Diggs.
Diggs, the wide receivers coach at the U.S. Air Force Academy, said he was aware of the Golden Bears' tradition that began to tarnish in the 1970s, and sounded confident that he could return Morgan State to the high status it once held among the nation's historically black colleges.
"Leroy Kelly, Willie Lanier, Roosevelt Brown, those are some people any football fan would know," Diggs said of past Morgan State stars. "When I was growing up as a kid, I looked up to them as a role model.
"There's no question about it, Morgan State can be a winner again. Winning, to me, is an attitude, and it's obvious to me that a lot of attitudes have to change. To be part of restoring a rich tradition is a heck of an opportunity, and I think Morgan State is in that position now because the administration is going to upgrade athletics."
Diggs, who was to be introduced at a news conference this afternoon, said Dr. Earl S. Richardson, the Morgan State president, and athletic director Leonard Braxton impressed him with their plans to upgrade the university's entire athletic program.
Diggs and six other finalists were interviewed by Morgan State officials last month. Despite his youth, the university was sold on his experience and familiarity with the region. Prior to moving to the Air Force Academy, Diggs spent six years as an assistant coach at the University of South Carolina, and four years before that at The Citadel. He coached the running backs at both schools, and also spent time as the wide receivers coach at South Carolina.
According to writers at The State in Columbia, S.C., Diggs left South Carolina unhappy over a promotion to offensive coordinator he said was promised to him but was never delivered.
Diggs grew up in Harrisburg, Pa., and was a standout running back at John Harris High. He then played at Shippensburg (Pa.) State, where he received his Bachelor of Sciences degree in education. After four years as an assistant coach at Harrisburg High, he joined the coaching staff at The Citadel, where he also picked up his master's in education.
Many problems beset Morgan State in the 1980s, when the Golden Bears had difficulty recruiting the necessary numbers of able prospects and then holding on to them. Diggs said he could reverse that trend, which included three wins between 1984 and '88.
"With my recruiting contacts, I think we'll do all right," Diggs said. "I've recruited from northern Virginia up into Pennsylvania, an area that hasn't sent a lot of players to Morgan State. Considering how close it is, that amazes me."
On retaining players, Diggs said "that's a matter of staying on top of everything.
"First, you have to bring in players who are capable of doing thschoolwork expected of them," Diggs continued. "Second, you have to give them help in the shape of tutors, study halls and counseling. Third, you have to keep good personal relationships with the teachers and deans, so that you're aware of any problems before it's too late.
"Football is just an extra-curricular activity. Players better realize that they're fortunate the good Lord gave them ability to get a scholarship, and that there are responsibilities that come with that."
It will be Diggs' first head coaching position, and his first at a historically black college, but he said he was very familiar with the Mid- Eastern Athletic Conference.
"Willie Jeffries [the South Carolina State coach] is a classic," Diggs said. "Bill Hayes [North Carolina A&T] and Ken Riley [Florida A&M], I know these guys."
He already has one friend at Morgan State. Michael Holmes, the Golden Bears' basketball coach, and Diggs developed a relationship when both were coaching in Columbia, S.C., the former at tiny Benedict College and the latter at South Carolina.
"Holmes and I lived in the same Columbia neighborhood when he was at Benedict," Diggs said. "His wife and mine are the best of friends. That's one reason it seems like everything fits like a puzzle with this job."