HBCUs have long been a bastion of athletic talent that served as a pipeline of Black talent for professional sports. Some of the greatest players in football and basketball got their start at some of the finest Black colleges in the country.
In the Pro Football Hall of Fame, names such Walter Payton, Mel Blount, Deacon Jones, Jerry Rice, John Stallworth, Shannon Sharpe, and many more played college football at HBCUs. In the Naismith Hall of Fame, Earl Lyod, Sam Jones, Earl Monroe, and Willis Reed are just a few of the all-time great NBA players who graduated from HBCUs.
From 1968 through 1976, between 53 and 70 players from HBCU ranks were selected each year in the NFL draft. Since 2000, there have only been 70 HBCU players drafted into the league.
When the color line was broken and powerhouse schools with unlimited resources began to recruit Black players to southern schools, it hampered the cultivation of athletics at HBCUs in a variety of ways. The poaching of Black talent to schools that would not have even hired their ancestors as employees is now a common practice.
Recently, a new and welcomed phenomenon has emerged of former pro athletes who are bringing their expertise to HBCU campuses as coaches and athletic directors. Former WNBA, NFL, and NBA players are either beginning their coaching careers or continuing their coaching journeys at these hallowed institutions. If this trend keeps up, the trajectory of HBCU athletic programs will garner the attention they deserve and attract top-level prospects.
To celebrate the storied history of HBCU athletics, below, we rounded up a list of 15 former professional athletes who are now coaching at historic Black colleges and universities.
Head Football Coach of the Jackson State University Tigers
Deion Sanders, also known as “Primetime,” is one the greatest professional athletes ever. At Florida State University, he was a two-time All-American in football, played baseball, and ran track. He played in the National Football League for 14 seasons and as an outfielder for nine seasons in Major League Baseball. The Hall of Famer holds the distinction of being the only player to appear in a World Series and a Super Bowl. In his first coaching position, he was hired as head coach of the Jackson State University Tigers in 2020.
Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Fisk University
A basketball prodigy, Kenny Anderson was receiving offers from colleges when he was just a teenager. He had a standout college at Georgia Tech University and went on to play 14 seasons in the NBA, making one All-Star team in 1994. After his retirement, he was the basketball coach at the David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie, Florida and in 2018, he was hired as head basketball coach of men’s basketball at Fisk University.
Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Texas Southern
Cynthia Cooper-Dyke is regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of Women’s Basketball. Recently, she was named as one of the top 25 WNBA players of all time. The Naismith Hall of Famer is a 2-time NCAA champion, 4-time WNBA champion with several MVP awards and scoring titles. After her retirement, she was head coach of the women’s basketball team at Prairie View A&M, UNC Wilmington, USC, and Texas Southern. In 2019, she returned as the head coach of the Texas Southern Lady Tigers.
Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Coppin State University
As a collegiate star, Juan Dixon led the University of Maryland Terrapins to their first NCAA championship in 2002, earning the Most Outstanding Player honors award of the Final Four. He went on to play for eight years in the NBA. After his retirement, he joined the Maryland Terrapin coaching staff as a special assistant and was hired as head coach of the women's basketball team at the University of the District of Columbia. In 2017, he took over coaching duties of the Men’s Basketball team at Coppin State University.
Head Football Coach of Texas College Steers
In his 12-year career in the NFL, Greg Ellis played for the Dallas Cowboys and the Las Vegas Raiders. 10 of those years, Ellis served as the team captain for both teams he played for. In college, he played for the North Carolina Tar Heels football team from 1994 to 1997 where he was also named honorable mention All-American. He became the head football coach at Texas College in 2020.
Head Football Coach of Tennessee State Tigers
Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George was a standout at Ohio State University, played nine seasons in the NFL. Over the course of his career, George made four Pro Bowls and rushed for over 10,000 yards. In September of 2021, George was named head coach of the Tennessee State Tigers.
Head Football Coach of the Livingston College Blue Bears
For 11 seasons in the NFL, Sean Gilbert was a defensive tackle, making one Pro Bowl in 1994. He was selected by the Los Angeles Rams as the third overall pick of the 1992 NFL Draft. Since 2020, he’s been head coach of the Livingston College
Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Coppin State University
Former WNBA player Laura Harper has been head coach of the women’s basketball team at Coppin State since 2020. Before taking over the Eagles, she was head coach at Montverde Academy, one of the top high school programs in the State of Florida. She was also an assistant coach at George Washington University and High Point University.
Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Mississippi Valley State
Lindsey Hunter was the 10th pick overall in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Detroit Pistons after concluding his stellar college career at Jackson State University. In his 17-year NBA career, he played for several teams, gained a reputation as a steady floor general, and won championship Lakers in 2001-02. Hunter was an assistant coach for player development for Phoenix Suns and was named interim head coach of the Suns in 2013. He moved on to become an assistant for the Golden State Warriors during the 2013-14 season and has been Mississippi Valley State University's head men’s basketball coach since 2019.
Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Clark Atlanta University
George Lynch enjoyed a 12-year NBA career and was known for his defensive tenacity. He made the NBA Finals with the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001. When he retired, he worked at the University of California-Irvine, first as an assistant athletic director for Community Relations and then as a strength coach for the men’s and women’s basketball programs. He was an assistant coach with the Grand Rapid Drive of the NBA’s “G” League in 2017 and he’s in his second season as head men’s basketball coach at Clark Atlanta University.
Head Women’s Basketball Coach at Langston University
Elaine Powell is in her fifth season as head coach of the Lions of Langston University. A standout at Louisiana State University (LSU), she was a Kodak All American. She spent nearly a decade playing in the WNBA, earning numerous awards and honors. Previously, she served as an assistant coach for women's basketball programs at Alabama A&M, Ohio University, and Grambling State University.
Head Men’s Basketball Coach of Bethune-Cookman Wildcats
Reggie Theus was one of the premier guards in the NBA during his 13- year NBA career with several teams. The UNLV graduate was a two-time All-Star with the Chicago Bulls. After he retired, he was the head coach for the NBA's Sacramento Kings and in college with the New Mexico State Aggies and the Cal State Northridge Matadors men's teams. He was also an assistant coach for the Louisville Cardinals under Rick Pitino. At Bethune-Cookman, Theus is the head coach of the men’s basketball team and athletic director.
Gawen DeAngelo “Bonzi” Wells
Head Basketball Coach of LeMoyne-Owen College Magicians
In his 10-year career, Bonzi Wells was a reliable scorer for five different teams. He was selected eleventh overall by the Detroit Pistons in the 1998 NBA draft, after playing four years at Ball State. He began his coaching career as an assistant coach for his former high school, Muncie Central. In August of 2021, Wells accepted the position of head coach the men’s basketball team at LeMoyne-Owen College
Head Football Coach of Morgan State Bears
At Michigan University, Tyrone Wheatley was a highly-regarded collegiate athlete earning first-team All-Big Ten Conference honors on Big Ten Champion football and track teams. For 10 seasons, Tyrone Wheatley played running back for the NFL. In 2019, Wheatley was named head football coach at Morgan State University.
Maurie “Mo” Williams
Head Men's Basketball Coach of Alabama State University Hornets
For 13 seasons, Mo Williams played in the NBA, making an All-Star in 2009 and won a championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016. He played his college ball at the University of Alabama. In 2018, he became an assistant coach for the Cal State Northridge Matadors men's basketball team and in 2020, he was named head coach of the men’s basketball team at Alabama State University.