New vision for Coppin

As AD, former NFL player Derrick Ramsey wants the school to become synonymous with the city

August 19, 2008|By Mike Klingaman | Mike Klingaman,SUN REPORTER

At first glance, it seems an odd choice - Coppin State naming Derrick Ramsey as athletic director.

Ramsey, an All-America football star in college, played nine years in the NFL. But Coppin has no football team.

Ramsey last worked as Kentucky's deputy secretary of commerce, where he oversaw the state's Fish and Wildlife Service. Around Coppin, the only fish are the fried lake trout in North Avenue carryouts, and wildlife consists of a few squirrels that scrounge for food on the campus quad.

But yesterday, as Ramsey, 6 feet 6, surveyed his new domain, he saw nothing but opportunity - a chance for Coppin to become Baltimore's hometown favorite.

"This city is up for grabs," said Ramsey, 51. "There is no one school with which everyone identifies. Baltimore screams out for an institution to take it over, and we're going to do that with integrity and character."

Academics, accountability and accessibility will mark his regime at Coppin, said Ramsey, who was chosen for the job last month by Reginald Avery, Coppin's first-year president. The two met at Kentucky State University in 1999, when Avery was vice president and Ramsey the AD.

There, Ramsey developed an outreach program between Kentucky State's athletic teams and neighborhood middle schools - a mentorship he promises to duplicate at Coppin.

"This city has a [high school] graduation rate of 42 percent," he said. "Can we save all of those [dropouts]? No. Can we save some? Absolutely."

Ramsey succeeds Mary Wanza, Coppin's interim AD since 2006, when she replaced Ron "Fang" Mitchell. He had stepped down to devote more time to coaching the men's basketball team at the 4,000-student school in West Baltimore.

"Derrick has a stellar background as an athlete and scholar," Avery said. "He's a principled leader who is committed to ensuring that our students graduate."

A graduate of the University of Kentucky, where he was the team's first black quarterback, Ramsey led the Wildcats to a 19-4 record in his final two years, including a Peach Bowl victory in 1976. The next season, he took the Wildcats to a 10-1 mark and No. 4 national ranking.

"I remember calling my mom to tell her I'd been drafted [in the fifth round] by Oakland," Ramsey said.

Her response?

"Fine, but call me when you graduate from college."

A tight end in the NFL, he played in two Super Bowls, with the Raiders (1980) and New England (1984), where he played for coach Raymond Berry.

A former Baltimore Colts star, Berry recalled Ramsey as "a quiet guy but highly intelligent, with a great physical presence."

Ramsey's focus will be as much on the classroom as on the court. After all, he knows firsthand what can happen when an athlete's playing days end.

"Academics is No. 1," he said. "I've seen guys [in the NFL] who, when their football careers are over, end up with nothing.

"One of them played in the Super Bowl and parlayed that into a 15-year career loading boxes for Federal Express. That's not right."

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