It’s not often a school finds a head coach who both has a winning pedigree and is familiar its program. That’s the lottery Arkansas-Pine Bluff won in 2007, when it landed Pine Bluff, Arkansas, native -- and three-time Super Bowl winner -- Monte Coleman.
One of the most heralded players in Washington Redskins history -- Coleman played in parts of three decades, the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s -- the longtime, hard-hitting linebacker still holds the team’s fourth-highest career sack total (56.5) and is a member of both the University of Central Arkansas Athletic and Arkansas Sports Halls of Fame.
As Coleman prepares for the 2015 season, the team’s first game -- the 11th annual MEAC/SWAC Challenge presented by Disney on Sept. 6 -- is priority No. 1.
“I haven’t started to scout South Carolina State,” Coleman said of his team's opponent in that game. “I’m sure they’re going to be pretty challenging. We’re excited about playing the game. It’s a great concept to be able to play a MEAC school pretty much every year. It’s great for both conferences.”
Coleman, whose Golden Lions finished 4-7 (3-6 in conference play) in 2014, is the latest SWAC coach tasked with bringing home the title for his conference; the SWAC has only won two MEAC/SWAC Challenge games in the last 10 years.
The man on the opposing sideline who will look to block Coleman’s quest is Oliver “Buddy” Pough, himself no stranger to this game -- and winning. Pough is making his third appearance in the MEAC/SWAC Challenge, having previously guided the Bulldogs to victories over Alabama State (2005) and Grambling State (2009).
“It’s a fun affair for our guys,” said Pough, who is entering his 14th season as South Carolina State's coach with an impressive 100-45 record. “It’s been fun for us because most of the time we’ve been successful. We’ve won the times we’ve played in the past.”
In truth, both programs are solid representatives of their respective conferences. Last season, South Carolina State (8-4 overall, 6-2 conference) grabbed a share of the MEAC championship with its 30-20 win over Norfolk State in the season finale. In 2012, UAPB captured the SWAC championship by defeating Jackson State 24-21 as the Golden Lions won their first league title.
This year sets the stage for new challenges, and milestones.
“At our level you don’t get many opportunities for your kids to go off and experience a weekend like this," Pough said. "It gives our young men a chance to meet their young men and to get our fan base involved. It also gives two great universities a chance to play each other.”
Monte Coleman: At a glance
Entering his eighth season as head coach at Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Played collegiately at Central Arkansas (1975-78)
Drafted by the Washington Redskins in the 11th round of the 1979 NFL draft
Played 16 seasons for the Redskins (1979-1994), winning three Super Bowls ('82, '87 and '91)
Last won SWAC championship in 2012
Top returning players for Arkansas-Pine Bluff:
Demarcus Berry, DL (53 total tackles, 8.5 sacks)
Kevin Rucker, CB (50 total tackles, five INTs)
Willie Duncan, LB (100 total tackles, 2.5 sacks)
Willie Young, WR (45 receptions for 727 yards, nine TDs)
Oliver “Buddy” Pough: At a glance
Entering his 14th season as coach at South Carolina State
Played collegiately at South Carolina State for Hall of Fame coach Willie Jeffries
Has won two MEAC championships outright (2008, 2009) and shared in four others (2004, 2010, 2013, 2014)
Has made four trips to the FCS playoffs (2008, 2009, 2010, 2014)
Top returning players for South Carolina State: