James named Livingstone football coach
By Ronnie Gallagher
Rudy Abrams proved over a decade ago that you can win football games at Livingstone College. He led the Blue Bears to back-to-back CIAA championships in the late 90’s.
No one has come close.
Not Greg Richardson. Not George Johnson. Not Robert Massey. Not Lamonte Massie.
Now, it’s Elvin James’ turn.
James, who comes from Elizabeth City State University where he was assistant to the athletic director, was introduced Wednesday as the new Blue Bear head coach. He follows Massie, who was fired after an 0-4 start, and Eric Brown, who served as an interim coach for the last six games of last season.
“I truly believe the spirit is here,” beamed James, who never stopped smiling once he put on the Blue Bear ballcap, which matched his blue tie and blue shirt perfectly. “I truly believe the talent is here. We can turn this program around. We can win.”
It is a daunting task for James. Livingstone was 0-10 this fall and has won just three games in the past three years.
Why does James feel like he can change things on Monroe Street when so many others couldn’t?
He has done it before.
When he took over a Goldsboro High School team back in 1988, it was coming off 20 straight losses. By the time he left 12 years later for Elizabeth City State, Goldsboro had nine playoff appearances and two 4A conference titles to brag about.
“I had 18 ballplayers at a 4A school,” James recalled. “We had to convince the kids that football was a great opportunity to go to college.”
During his tenure, 79 Cougars received scholarships. One, David Thornton, is still playing as a Tennessee Titan.
James is hoping for similar success here.
“You’ve got to convince them that hey, this is the place to be,” James said. “No. 2, you’ve got to let them know it’s not just about football. I’ll hit on the graduation. I’ll hit on the environment ó the small-school atmosphere.”
James knows how to get good players. He was in charge of recruiting at Elizabeth City State during the first half of the decade before going into administration.
“You can’t put a mule in the Kentucky Derby and expect to win,” James said. “You have to go out and get quality athletes. With the athletes we’re going to bring in and the athletes we have here, it’s a change of attitude. That’s the key to getting us over the hump.”
The competitive fire started burning when James heard of the Livingstone opening. He wanted back on the field and eventually won out over 85 other candidates.
“I still have the love, the passion,” the 54-year-old James said. “I’m still young in a sense and I have that energy and enthusiasm.”
He said Livingstone is doing the things needed to win, mentioning the weight room as an example, which he said is one of the best facilities in the CIAA.
“When I got the chance to come on campus and see the transformation, it was a done deal for me,” James said.
Not only can James talk from a coaching standpoint, he also played the game. He was a four-year letterman at Elizabeth City State at defensive tackle and offensive guard. He was signed in 1982 by the Boston Breakers of the USFL.
It took hard work and he’ll relate that to the Blue Bears. If they aren’t good enough, he’s confident he can bring in players who are.
“The free lunch is over,” he said. “Every position is available. The best man will represent this institution on Saturday. You’re going to see good football.”
Standing in the back of the room was returning Blue Bear quarterback Bryan Aycoth, a former West Rowan star, who went to Raleigh on Saturday to watch his alma mater win its second straight state 3A championship.
He considers James’ hiring his second victory of the week.
“He’s very outgoing and energetic,” Aycoth said. “You can tell he really wants it.
“I think a lot of us are excited just for the simple fact there is going to be a change. Hopefully, it’s for the better.”
James insists it will be.
“I really believe in my heart we can make a difference,” he said.
Aycoth is all for it. A lifting fanatic, he got pumped up just listening to his new coach talk about the weight room.
“We’re going to have to punch people in the mouth,” said Aycoth, who has two years of eligibility left. “We’ll have to have that fire and that drive. If he’s going to bring that to the table, I think the players will follow.”