/Marino Casem, Hall of Fame Alcorn coach and ‘Godfather of the SWAC,’ dies at 85

Marino Casem, Hall of Fame Alcorn coach and ‘Godfather of the SWAC,’ dies at 85

This one is the most memorable of all the many trips that were made over the years to cover different athletic events. Number one, Richardson and Casem were long retired by that time and had become close friends. Number two, these were authentic Mississippi sports heroes, who spent their college football careers in relative anonymity and finally got their due on the national stage. They shared the stage that weekend with Reggie White, Dan Marino, Kellen Winslow, Ronnie Lott, and Reggie White. This is what they were meant to do: Richardson, an NFL player for the Baltimore Colts would have caught touchdown passes at Southern Cal and Notre Dame, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Alabama if he had been given the opportunity. Casem, who was referred to as The Godfather Of The SWAC, would have won as coach at any of these places. He charmed national media just like John McKay and Bear Bryant. You can’t take my word for it. Leslie Frazier played at Alcorn for Casem and won a Super Bowl Ring with the Chicago Bears. He is now the respected defensive coordinator of Buffalo Bills. Frazier stated that all the success Coach Casem enjoyed at Alcorn in SWAC would have been translated into the SEC, Big 12, the ACC and anywhere else. “The reason I say this is because discipline is the foundation at all levels of football and he was a disciplinarian in the first order. He was also a great teacher who was kind and compassionate to his players. These qualities are a great asset at all levels. They will play for you if they feel you care about them and that you provide structure and teach. It’s a fact. This was written after the sad news of Casem’s passing Saturday. At 85, the former coach and athletic director of Casem passed away in Baton Rouge. Four years ago, we lost Willie Richardson unexpectedly and too soon. The 17-year-old assignment was also memorable because of the way the two elderly gentlemen took in the much-deserved acclaim. Here’s Casem’s statement: “After 42-years of coaching college football, the best thing that ever happened to me is happening today.” Richardson said, “When I was at Jackson State we had players who could play anywhere, and I do mean anywhere. Although many people didn’t realize it, we players did. “I feel like I represent many players here,” Casem shared with me that weekend about his almost failure to become a football coach. Casem was born in Memphis, and he graduated from college at Xavier University in New Orleans. He had previously studied to be a physical therapist. While Casem waited for an offer of employment, his future wife arranged for Casem to coach football at Utica Junior College. She then served as assistant president. Casem stated that “the day I accepted the coaching job, all the hospitals began calling.” “So, later on, whenever Betty Jean would complain of the coaching business, and all the long hours it took, I’d tell them, ‘Well, if it hadn’t been for you, I would be running a hospital by now.’” Casem was magnetic, had a high intelligence, and a strong work ethic that never stopped. Casem assumed control at Alcorn, which was a remote post, even for SWAC. Casem once said to me, “One way in, one route out, unless your roads are gravel roads.” Casem stated that Alcorn was “the perfect place to coach football.” It was an ideal place to train athletes because it didn’t have the distractions of other places. Our players were focused on football. “You had their attention.” Casem stated that the Alcorn’s winning formula was the same as at Notre Dame or Southern Cal. Casem stated, “Hardwork, discipline, integrity and fundamentals, as well as more hard work.” “We didn’t take any shortcuts at Alcorn.” He said that there were times when he wondered what it would have been like to be a college football coach and make the same amount of money as “big-time” coaches. He said, “But I never considered it back then; i never envied what other had.” “I was completely focused on winning where ever I was. It was plenty. The Godfather has put the impact of college football on society’s life with these words: “On East Coast, football can be a cultural experience. It’s considered a form cannibalism in the Midwest. It’s a popular tourist attraction on the West Coast. In the South, football is a religion and Saturday is the holy date.