Photo: Jacksonville State University head football coach Rich Rodriguez (left) has a word with former Glencoe High and JSU standout quarterback Ed Lett during a meet-and-greet on February 9 in downtown Gadsden. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
Gadsden laid out quite the welcome mat for Rich Rodriguez on February 9.
Local Jacksonville State boosters and supporters held a meet and greet for the university’s new head football coach in downtown Gadsden.
A former head coach at West Virginia (2001-07), Michigan (2008-10) and Arizona (2-12-17), Rodriguez sports a 163-119-2 career record and was named conference coach of the year five times. He takes over a JSU program that went 5-6 overall and 3-3 in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Gamecocks, which will join the FBS Conference USA starting with the 2023 season, posted 18 consecutive winning seasons from 2003 to 2020, won seven OVC championships and qualified for the postseason eight of the past 10 years.
While speaking at the Feb. 9 event, Rodriguez did set a timetable in terms of on-the field success but did promise that his team will be competitive.
“[Jacksonville State] has had great success and the Division II and then 1AA, and did it the right way,” he said. “Now we’re moving up to 1A, and we’re going to continue to do it the right way. I can’t tell you much about what kind of team we’ll have, because we haven’t seen too much spring practice yet. But I know we’ll play hard. I’ve learned over the years that if you’re honest and truthful with your players and don’t waste their time, you can do just about anything.”
JSU Board of Trustees member Clarence Daugette III, who graduated from Gadsden High in 1969 and from Jacksonville State in 1974, helped organize the event. Both his grandfather and father served on the school’s board of trustees.
“I felt like we needed for Coach Rodriguez to have a meet-and-greet here, because we believe that Gadsden is part of the heart of our school. So we wanted to introduce Coach Rodriguez to Gadsden to show him how much support the school has here. The football program is an important part of [JSU] and really puts our name out there. We really do appreciate that so many folks came out tonight to show their support.”
Former JSU and Southside quarterback and longtime local high school football coach Brian Mintz was in attendance.
“It’s great to see so many people out tonight,” he said. “I see a few former players that I know and some that I don’t know.”
Also in attendance was Ed Lett, who played quarterback from 1976-77 at Glencoe High School and from 1978-82 at Jacksonville State. The Yellow Jackets went 18-2 during Lett’s junior and senior seasons. He threw for 1,407 yards and 15 touchdowns during the 1977 season, after which he was selected as Etowah County MVP and made the Class 3A All-State team. While at JSU, Lett threw for 7,092 yards and 61 touchdowns while establishing several game, season, and career passing records. As the starting quarterback for three years, Lett led the Gamecocks to a 26-8 record, a pair of Gulf South Conference championships and three consecutive trips to the NCAA Division II playoffs. A two-time All-GSC performer, Lett was named Kodak and Associated Press All America in both 1981 and 1982. He was inducted into the JSU Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996.
“Tonight shows that Gadsden really cares about JSU,” he said. “I’m really proud of the folks who came out and showed their support.”
“This a new day in Jacksonville State football,” said JSU President Don Killingsworth. “We wanted to make a big splash with the hiring of our new football coach, and boy, did we ever with Coach Rodriguez.”