'Papa Bear' Earl Banks is named to hall of fame Football coach spent 27 years at Morgan

January 17, 1992|By Kent Baker

Earl Banks, Morgan State's "Papa Bear," who put the school's football team in the national spotlight and put 40 players into the professional ranks, was selected yesterday for induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

"Of course, this is the greatest thing that can happen," the former coach said last night. "Among the many honors I've received, this is the top of the iceberg. All of us in the Morgan community are very happy. You know they say, 'The guy who gets the money acts kind of funny,' but I plan to be the same Earl Banks."

Mr. Banks, 67, will be formally inducted Dec. 8 at a ceremony in New York and will be enshrined at the Hall of Fame in Kings Island, Ohio.

Mr. Banks was associated with Morgan State as football coach or athletic director from 1960 to 1987. He relinquished his football duties after 1973, finishing with 14 consecutive winning seasons, an overall record of 96-31-2, four appearances in bowl games and 40 players in professional football.

Among his pupils at Morgan were future all-pros Leroy Kelly, Raymond Chester and Willie Lanier. Earlier, when Mr. Banks was the line coach at Maryland State, now the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, his students included pros-to-be Sherman Plunkett and Roger Brown.

"He was directly responsible for the success of a whole lot of guys," said James Phillips, who played and coached under Mr. Banks and was later a head coach of the Bears football team. "I make jokes about it that he turned out 'sophisticated hoodlums,' but what he did was make nice people out of a lot of guys with poor backgrounds and sufficient energy to better themselves."

John "Frenchy" Fuqua, a former Pittsburgh Steeler who's now a supervisor in the Detroit city penal system, said, "I was 17, an only child and away from home. Coach was like a father to me. He always pushed his players to get the education. He was so involved with them. We called him 'The Tiger.' He really deserves this.

"I thought he was very fair with the players, and I might not have had a path to the pros if not for Banks and the relationship he had with [the Colts'] Buddy Young. Coach had a lot of the pros from the Colts over to help out while I was in school. I'm delighted he finally made it in, but, looking back, I'm surprised it wasn't sooner."

Bobby Hammond, an assistant coach with the Phoenix Cardinals, called Mr. Banks "an impact person on my life. I truly miss him. You're not so aware when you're in college, but you really start to think about it afterward. He developed our moral attitude, talked to us about leadership and setting examples."

Among others coached by Mr. Banks were Bob Wade, former Dunbar High and University of Maryland basketball coach, and the current Dunbar basketball coach, Pete Pompey, who was his first quarterback at Morgan.

JTC From the last two games of 1964 through the first four of 1968, Mr. Banks' teams won 31 consecutive games, at the time the fourth-longest streak in college football history. For a decade, he was the most successful coach in NCAA college-division football, recording an .839 winning percentage.

"The winning streak was one of the high points, and beating Jake Gaither's Florida A&M team in Florida [36-7 in the 1965 Orange Blossom Classic] was another," Mr. Banks said. "Winning the college-division championship [14-6 over West Chester] in the 1966 Tangerine Bowl had to be a highlight.

"But nothing pleased me more than my last year, when Bill Cosby came to campus for a benefit, Willie Lanier became the fifth linebacker in the [Pro Football] Hall of Fame and Bob Wade became the coach at Maryland."

Mr. Banks' teams were always tough on defense. They led the nation in total defense twice and in rushing and scoring defense once. That strength served them well in 1968, when the Bears beat Grambling, then the perennial powerhouse in black college football, 9-7, at Yankee Stadium.

Mr. Banks was one of the founding fathers of what became an annual game between Morgan and Grambling to benefit the New York Urban Coalition.

But he said his most satisfying achievement is that "more than 90 percent" of his players finished college.

"Winning football games was nice," he said, "but to teach them about life and how to become successful citizens was my biggest satisfaction. I had come from their environment myself, and I knew what it took."

"Look at what his guys are doing to contribute," said Mr. Phillips. "They're teachers, lawyers, professional men. I know I came in in a class with 13 guys, and 12 of us graduated."

A native of Chicago, Mr. Banks was an All-Big Ten and All-America guard at the University of Iowa, graduating in 1950. After an injury shortened his career in professional football, he intended to return to Chicago's Wendell Phillips High School to teach and coach.

But when a job opened at Maryland State, he came East intending to stay one semester. He never has left the state, and still advises Morgan "whenever I'm called on. But I try not to interfere."

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