Road to Birmingham almost complete


Monte Coleman has worked his whole head-coaching career for the moment when his Arkansas-Pine Bluff football team clinches a spot in the SWAC championship game.

He admittedly hasn’t been very patient in waiting for that opportunity. He’s had to go through a long progression that started in the 2008 season, when he replaced Mo Forte as the Golden Lions’ head man.

If UAPB wins at Texas Southern (or technically at the off-campus BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston) on Saturday and Alabama State beats Prairie View A&M, the long journey to winning the West will finally be over. And what a journey it was.

Coleman recalled moving into the football fieldhouse when it opened that year, but practicing at what is now Robert F. Morehead Middle School because his own practice field wasn’t yet completed.

“Then we moved from there to old Pumphrey (Stadium) and back where the band is now, which conditions were very bad,” he said. “Then we practiced a little bit late in the season on the game field in preparation for the practice field, and it was just a bad situation.”

All the while he got off to a bad start to the season, losing his first seven games. UAPB finished 3-9 that season.

“Then the next year, I ended up getting rid of my offensive coordinator and other coaches, so it was almost like starting over again,” Coleman said. The moves helped because UAPB went 5-5.

Then it was 5-6 in 2010, missing out on a winning season by eight points against eventual SWAC champion Texas Southern in the finale. (Oh, how UAPB can flip the script Saturday.)

“The next year, the offensive coordinator I brought in the year before, (Jerry) Mack, decided he wanted to leave, and I was able to entice coach (Eric) Dooley to come, so it was almost like starting over again,” Coleman said. “Then my defensive coordinator (Alonzo Hampton) left.”

Coleman, a former NFL linebacker, took over the defense and made it one of the best in the SWAC and one of the top 30 nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision.

After Josh Boudreaux exhausted his eligibility, he had to find a new quarterback that would become the face of the offense. The man he chose, Ben Anderson, became Freshman of the Year in the conference.

On the field, the Lions increased in wins again, going 6-5 last year in a season that could’ve easily gone 9-2. This year, UAPB needed only eight games to get six wins.

Coleman is knocking on the door, waiting for Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala., to welcome him and the Lions into the SWAC championship game, one of the crown jewels in black college football. He wouldn’t trade the journey for anything else, but it’s not yet complete.

“There’s a song we sing at my church: ‘We Never Lost Our Praise’,” he said. “Even through all of it, we continue to praise God and I still believe He has me in this position for a reason.

“Last year, of course, we knocked on the door, relying on other folks to win, and one of our taglines this year was, ‘We’re not going to rely on anybody to win. We’re going to do it ourselves.’ It’s been a progression, and we’re glad to be where we are.”

So, the scenario is a little too tempting for Coleman to avoid paying any attention to Alabama State and Prairie View, which will kick off an hour before UAPB and Texas Southern do. His goal is to win the remaining three games on his schedule, but he’d rather not wait another week to clinch the West.

His impatience has been burning a long time, you see.

“I say I won’t be looking at that Prairie View score, but in the back of my mind, I’ll be looking at that score come Saturday,” he said. “I may even assign someone to keep me posted during the game to see what they’re doing against (Alabama) State. But the most important thing is that we have to go out there and win, and I know I’ll be concentrating on that.”

I.C. Murrell is the sports editor of The Commercial. Email him at imurrell@pbcommercial.com.