Braxton leaves Morgan moving on right track Departing AD notes school's progress


November 14, 1992

Leonard Braxton was named coach of the Arizona State cross country and track and field teams on Oct. 9, but he has spent most of his time since cleaning up loose ends at Morgan State, where has worked since September 1977.

He was the Bears' track coach for 15 years -- his athletes earned All-America honors 136 times -- and since 1988 he also has been the university's athletic director.

He took over leadership of Morgan State athletics at a time when the football and basketball teams were trying to recover from ineligibility scandals. Both programs continue to struggle. The football team is nearing the end of its 13th straight losing season, and basketball has had just one winning season since 1979.

The Bears' non-revenue teams, meanwhile, have had more success. The wrestling team has won the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship eight straight times, and 1991 is the only season in memory in which the Bears didn't qualify a woman for the NCAA track and field championships.

Braxton, who turned 46 Wednesday, was to leave this weekend for Tempe, where his Arizona State women's track and field team is expected to contend for an NCAA title next spring. On Tuesday, he discussed Morgan State athletics with staff writer Paul McMullen.

Question: Division I athletic programs are often judged by their -- football and basketball teams. With that as a gauge, how is Morgan State progressing?

Answer: Don't judge us entirely on the won-lost records of our football and basketball teams. Throughout Division I, more emphasis is being placed on non-revenue sports. Look at our entire program. All of our sports have come up a notch in recent years, but they still need additional money for recruiting.

Our volleyball team went from last [in the MEAC] to champions this year, because of the money invested in that team. We just added softball, and that has two scholarships this year. Until football and basketball change, it's successes like volleyball that give us something to cheer about.

Even with football and basketball, I see improvement. I think it's a matter of time before those teams turn things around.

Q: What changes have you made?

A: I wanted a younger staff than we've had in the past. I wanted to hire people younger than me so that we can better bridge the gap between generations. We've gotten away from in-house shuffling to actually doing some real hiring. I've seen eight

football coaches come through and nearly as many basketball coaches.

Compared with the experiences I had -- sleeping on the floor of a bus, for instance -- our kids are traveling better. They're staying in better hotels on the road, eating better. Football flies on its longer road trips, so they're not missing as many classes.

In football, [head coach] Ricky Diggs teaches and has two full-time assistants. I understand it's difficult to win with only two full-time assistants, but until we have more funds, he'll have to deal with it.

Q: Has funding improved?

A: The growth of the university has helped. When I became athletic director, we had around 3,000 students and the student athletic fee was either $75 or $100. Now, we're close to 5,500 students, and the athletic fee has gone through a gradual increase that will put it at $300. That's going to help.

Our budget for everything -- coach's salaries, grants, travel, equipment -- is about $1.4 million this year. One of our proposals to the president was to hire a full-time fund-raiser. They wanted me to do that as well, but you can't spread yourself too thin.

Q: Does Morgan State belong in Division I?

A: Of the colleges with funding similar to ours, who else has made it in Division I? The ones who are making it are spending more than us, and hopefully we'll catch up there.

If you talk football, in most cases through the years, we played people with the same caliber of talent as us, but we were losing for other reasons. I think we've taken steps to rectify that situation. Basketball is working with 14 scholarships, and it has to get better.

Q: Can historically black colleges expect to repeat the successes of the past?

A: The past is gone; you're looking at a different type of kid. Integration has wiped out the talent pool of top prospects that used to be available. Some kids still believe [in historically black colleges], but you're never going to have a Ray Chester and a Willie Lanier on a football team at the same time.

Q: Besides improving won-lost records, what were your other responsibilities?

A: When I was given the job in 1988, the president, Dr. [Earl S.] Richardson told me to hold everything in place until good times came back.

Basically, I was charged with making sure that everything was done legally, that we followed NCAA rules and regulations and that our staff understands the rules.

We've done everything according to NCAA rules and regulations. A couple of years ago we had an example of something slipping through the cracks, a situation where a student on scholarship was going off campus to work and not notifying anyone in the department. The student stopped working. I called the NCAA about it, and that satisfied them.

Q: Since you became athletic director, your track and field teams have fallen off. Will they come back?

A: It's been difficult being both a coach and an administrator. I had to deliberately put track and field on the back burner, but for the first time in a while I went out and seriously recruited this year. We've got five girls in from California, and two of them were half of the nation's fastest high school relay team.

Q: Are you glad you're done working in administration?

@4 A: No. I'm going to get back into it eventually.

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