But now, Kevin Porter is finding himself at the center of a CSU lovefest.
On Thursday, the former NFL defensive back for the Kansas City Chiefs and New York Jets and a long-time arena league and college football coach was formally introduced as the new football coach at Central State.
Athletics director Tara Owens called him “a coach with a championship pedigree” and CSU president Dr. Jack Thomas added: “Coach Porter is a proven winner.”
The small gathering of people at the University Center who had come to welcome him stood and applauded.
And this afternoon he’ll be introduced to the crowd at the Beacom/Lewis Gym during the Marauders’ women’s and men’s basketball games against Tuskegee University.
The 55-year-old Porter was hired, in part, because CSU brass hope he repeats what he did at the 2019 Homecoming game at McPherson Stadium.
Only this time they want him to do it for the Marauders, not against them.
Three years ago he was the head coach at Fort Valley State in Georgia. His Tigers already had beaten CSU in games in 2016 and 2017, but this time his team came in and ran roughshod over the Marauders.
His offense scored eight touchdowns that day. His defense forced back-to-back CSU fumbles and ran each back for identical 68-yard touchdown returns.
His place-kicker booted two field goals.
Add all that up and it was a 77-34 rout of the Marauders.
“Yeah it wasn’t a good day for Central State,” Porter recalled, then grinned.
“But they still gave me the job!”
Even so, he will need a “championship pedigree” to turn this situation around.
The Marauders went 1-9 last season. New coach Bobby Rome resigned after the sixth game. Veteran assistant coach George Ragsdale took over for the last four games and with the roster decimated by injuries and academic casualties, CSU lost all four, including a 63-0 rout by Kentucky State in the season finale.
CSU was outscored 379-116 last season.
Although Central State had great success in the early 1990s – winning three NAIA national titles – the program went dormant for financial and other reasons in 1997. Since the 2005 reboot, the Marauders – playing at the NCAA Division II level – have not had a winning season. They’ve lost 116 of 156 games.
Porter is their seventh head coach in that span.
And yet, at Thursday’s press conference, Thomas and Owens talked about the “resurgence” they expect to see once Porter takes command.
Microphone in hand, Thomas stood on the dais and looked over at his new coach:
“Coach Porter, I say to you as I say to all our coaches: ‘We want to win. We want to win national championships…No pressure.”
Porter managed some semblance of a smile and when it was his turn to speak, he touched on that point:
“Dr. Thomas has been quoted as saying, ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, you’re not dreaming big enough.’
“For him to come up here and say ‘Win the national championship’ – considering the circumstances – it would probably terrify some other coaches.
“It doesn’t scare me.
“I you dream big, your kids will dream big and then things will get accomplished… I appreciate the pressure.”
This time he managed a bit of a laugh.
When we spoke after the press session, he said he’s been part of football resurgences, both as a Kansas City player under coach Marty Schottenheimer and when he got the Fort Valley State job in 2016.
“This is similar to when I took over there,” he said. “I inherited a bunch of kids who were ineligible. And I inherited a program that didn’t have a bunch of scholarships.
“I inherited a program that had a bunch of broken kids.
“To be honest with you, it’s very similar to here.
“And that first year (at FVS) we lost our first four games, but then we won six in row and ended up winning the SIAC (Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) championship.”
And Porter was named the SIAC Coach of the Year.
His new football home may be just an hour from Cincinnati and his cousin is James Brooks, the Bengals’ former four-time Pro Bowl running back, their No. 2 all-time career rusher and one of the stars of their last Super Bowl team, but Porter is rooting for the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s AFC Championship matchup with Cincinnati at Arrowhead Stadium.
“Hey, I’m loyal,” he said with a smile.
He – like Brooks – came out of Warner Robbins High School in Georgia – a prep football powerhouse. He chose Auburn (again like Brooks) from several big-time college offers and became a two-time All-SEC selection, was the MVP of the 1984 Liberty Bowl and was named to Auburn’s All-Century team.
The Chiefs made him a third-round pick in 1988 and that first season he was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team.
Over five seasons, he played in 76 games for the Chiefs and started 52. He then played briefly for the Jets and in 1995 joined the London Monarchs of NFL Europe.
From 1999 through 2003, he coached teams in Orlando, Pensacola and Macon in the developmental league of Arena Football (af2.) He then became defensive coordinator of the New Orleans VooDoo in the Arena League and then head coach of the Kansas City Brigade.
In 2009 he began his college football odyssey, going from MidAmerica Nazarene University in Kansas, where he was the defensive coordinator, to Avila University in Kansas City as head coach, Point University in Georgia as the head coach and athletics director, West Georgia as an assistant head coach and finally Fort Valley State for four seasons.
The last couple of years he said he’s worked as a consultant at inner city schools in Georgia and as an assistant coach at a high school where one of his former players is the head coach.
At Central State he said he’ll draw not only from his experience turning around the Fort Valley State program, but from the way he saw Schottenheimer revive the Chiefs:
“He did a good job getting the organization and everyone in it going for the same goal.
“With him, it was a combination of the right guy coming in with the right message and the right work ethic. And guys bought in. We made the playoffs the second year Marty was there and we won our division.”
Belief in a turnaround
Porter, who lives in Georgia with his wife, Annjela – their oldest son Jacob is working on movie sets in Atlanta and their youngest, Kellen, goes to Kennesaw State – said he’s been “on the ground” at Central State for two weeks now and “it’s been eye opening.”
He didn’t expand on that, but while he said he likes the new turf at McPherson Stadium and the fact that the school finally is building a long-needed weight room, I think he was surprised by the work that will be required getting returning players to buy into his whole plan, which includes upgrading their academic effort and year-round conditioning.
He touched on the academic issues a few times in his press conference and said that as much as he’s here to win, he’s here to graduate players. Several times he stressed there is a lot of work to do.
At the end of his public remarks, he addressed his football players, a few of whom were in the crowd: “Bring your hard hats!”
He believes he can turn the program around and possibly have the team vying for the SIAC title this coming season.
“I don’t believe any program is beyond repair and especially not here,” he said.
“I have two people working with me – the president, Dr. Jack Thomas and the AD Tara Owens. They’ve told me and they’ve shown me that they are committed to playing winning football here.
“They felt they needed the right leader to do that and I hope I am that guy.”
Then again, he’s already shown he can win – and win big – at CSU.
His 77-34 Homecoming victory is proof.