Building excitement on Kerr's Morgan list

New AD sees publicity as key step toward rebuilding programs

Colleges

October 09, 2005|By CHILDS WALKER | CHILDS WALKER,SUN REPORTER

Once a breeding ground for such pro stars as Willie Lanier and Marvin "The Eraser" Webster, the Morgan State athletic program hasn't gotten much attention in recent years.

But Floyd Kerr, the university's new athletic director, hopes to change all that. He figures the school has a tradition and some pretty good coaches.

Publicity? Kerr thinks he knows how to get that. He comes to Morgan State from Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.,, another traditionally black school with a rich sports tradition. There, he hired a professional marketing agency to tell the "Southern story."

FOR THE RECORD - An Oct. 9 article misstated the age of Morgan State University's athletic director, Floyd Kerr. He is 58.
The Sun regrets the error.

The publicity push dovetailed with the school winning a black college football championship and with a baseball star, Rickie Weeks, being picked second in the 2003 amateur draft by the Milwaukee Brewers.

"When that machine is in place and extraordinary things happen, you suddenly have the situation everybody wants," Kerr said. "The athletic department is helping the school get the kind of attention it wants."

Morgan State has long searched for such nirvana. The sporting fortunes of historically black colleges, including Morgan State, declined after major university teams integrated in the 1960s. Morgan State fell on particularly hard times in the 1980s, when the school's teams began long streaks of losing games and money.

But administrators and coaches believe Kerr, known for his promotional skills, can re-create some of the old excitement.

"He just has so much energy and he has a plan to resurrect the athletic department as a whole," said football coach Donald Hill-Eley, who served on the search committee that selected Kerr. "I was impressed with the things he accomplished at Southern and with his background in coaching."

Kerr replaces David Thomas, who stepped down unexpectedly in November.

Kerr comes off as an easy talker who's eager to ask questions about his new home and tends to find a positive side to any episode. At 63, he lopes the halls of Hill Field House with the grace of a basketball star, which he once was.

He grew up in South Bend, Ind., where he and his twin brother, Lloyd, were star athletes - Floyd as a defensive back in football, a guard in basketball and a hurdler and quarter-miler in track.

Colorado State recruited the brothers and they starred as the backcourt on an NCAA tournament team. The Phoenix Suns then drafted both, though neither played a regular-season game in the NBA.

The brothers then hooked on with legendary ball-handler Marques Haynes and his Harlem Wizards, an offshoot of the Globetrotters. Haynes was in his 50s then, but every so often he'd drop the clowning act and teach the opposition some lessons in old-school basketball, drilling set shots and long hooks and running the point impeccably.

"He's the one who really helped me learn to set goals in my life," Kerr said. "Because Marques Haynes always knew what he wanted to do."

The twins also played in Belgium for a year before Floyd Kerr moved into coaching. He spent 22 years as a Division I assistant at seven schools. He once thought he was on track to become the head coach at his alma mater, but a change in administrations scuttled that dream.

"In college sports, when you lose your track like that, you have to go back and refind a whole new track, and I never did," Kerr said. So he finally abandoned coaching in 1996 to become an assistant athletic director at Youngstown State.

He had been making high-level contacts all along, he said, and one, a Utah Jazz scout, recommended him for the Southern job.

Southern was already the leading sports power in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. But Kerr thought the athletic program had never done enough to tout itself. He also thought Southern needed to improve its 27 percent graduation rate for athletes.

So he retooled the department's publicity and academic counseling offices. Southern's teams continued piling up wins, its graduation rate for athletes climbed to 65 percent and, after the 2003 season, the school's 12-1 football team shared a parade with Lousiana State's co-Division I-A championship squad before 100,000 Baton Rouge residents.

In a personal triumph, Kerr joined the selection committee for the NCAA basketball tournament. Sports Illustrated last year placed him 75th on a list of the 101 most influential minorities in sports.

But all was not well. The Midwesterner was often labeled an outsider at Southern and had a tense relationship with the university's board of supervisors, which criticized his handling of the football schedule.

Johnny Anderson, president of the board, called for Kerr's resignation last year in the midst of one such argument.

Kerr defended his practices, saying he guaranteed Southern five home dates a year, when it had previously had three or four. He said he also helped persuade the conference to take over most of the scheduling so the process would be less confusing.

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