Hit the Ground Running

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — The Devil’s Den houses the football coaches’ offices at Mississippi Valley State and is just adjacent to the expanding Rice-Totten Stadium. But new head coach Rick Comegy has spent very little time wondering when construction of the new press box or any other addition to the stadium will be completed.

“I have been out there, but my mind has been on these guys,” Comegy said. “I know we’re going to continue building, but my mind is not on construction. And I don’t care if it was a sandlot field. I want to concentrate on these guys first.”

Comegy has hit the ground running at his new place of employment since his Jan. 21 hire. He spent the previous eight seasons at in-state rival Jackson State, where he won a 2007 SWAC championship and led the Tigers to the past two runner-up finishes in the conference, one of which was to Arkansas-Pine Bluff.

But Jackson State surprisingly let the 60-year-old go after posting a 55-35 mark in the Mississippi state capital. A month after the title game loss to Southern, Valley decided Comegy was the man to resurrect a program that has produced College Football Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Willie Totten but not a winning record since Totten coached the 2006 team to a 6-5 mark.

During SWAC Media Day on Friday, Comegy was asked how far away he is from turning the Delta Devils into a championship contender.

“I don’t know how far I’m off,” he said. “I don’t know that. I don’t want to tell you two years off or three years off. That might throw me off, you know what I mean? I just want to take it as I get it and plan it as I have it.”

He has some good ingredients to plan with, including 11 returning starters (seven on offense) and a defense that ranked second nationally in the Football Championship Subdivision. Valley often wasn’t far from victory in 2013, dropping five games by 10 or fewer points in a 2-9 season that led to coach Karl Morgan’s contract not being renewed.

Comegy has taken the Devils through spring drills, but he’s not sure what fortunes will come their way this season.

“I don’t know what this team will do,” he said. “I don’t know what this team wants, but I’ll know soon. I don’t want to put a pink elephant in a corner and then, all of a sudden, (I say) ‘Well, I’m going to go through this year with these guys and then the next two years I’m planning on doing this.’ I would hurt them and myself.”

As far as his plan to turn around Valley goes?

“I have a plan, but it’s an open plan and a plan that can change,” Comegy said. “It can change with personnel. It’s going to change with coaching. I’m not going to lock myself into a plan that I cannot get out of.”

Senior wide receiver Julian Stafford, an All-SWAC performer last season, notices Comegy’s involvement with every position on the team.

“With coach Morgan, he was just focusing on defense most of the time and he’d say something to the defense now and then,” Stafford said. “But coach Comegy, one minute he’ll be with the defensive line and you look up he’s with the offensive line, and you look up and he’s with the receivers, DBs and running backs. He’s got his hand in everything instead of letting everything out there.”

Comegy will return to Jackson on Oct. 11 when Jackson State hosts Valley, but he expects the reunion to be just another date on the football schedule. He said he has “no vendettas” against Jackson State for letting him go.

“They were good to me,” he said. “I got a paycheck. Just like the people at Itta Bena, they’ve been great to me and allowed me to work and feed my family.”